My love affair with Pro Evolution Soccer goes all the way back to 2001 when the first game was released. In fact, it actually goes back further than that as I've owned every iteration of PES even before it changed names from International Superstar Soccer Pro in 1997.
I've played more than a thousand games against my best mate, I won the PES Media Cup in 2007 with series stalwart, Seabass, commenting on my 'perfect tactics' and I've forged a fearsome partnership with editor-in-chief, Dan Dawkins that has long had challengers quivering in fear at the thought of a lunch time whupping at our hands.
However, in recent years, our relationship has dwindled (PES and I, not Dan). I still play each new version, but it's not the same. Since the turn of this new generation the magic has disappeared as Konami initially struggled to deliver their usual brilliance.
Like pretty much everyone else I know, I've had my head turned by the more glamorous FIFA and its promise of slick, license-heavy football - a feat that I laughed at only a few years ago. Now I simply cling onto the hope that Pro Evo will come good again - and with PES 2013 it looks like my wait is over.
"I've had my head turned by the more glamorous FIFA and its promise of slick, license-heavy football"
From the tutorial where I learn new moves, such as The Sombrero (a chip and flick over an opponent's head) and the new Knuckle Shot (powerful low drive with lots of spin to fox a keeper) PES 2013 retains some of its personality that made it so great in the first place.
The first thunderball that I crash in off the underside of the bar with Man United's Antonio Valencia, has me beckoning my nonplussed missus into the room to show her the replay. Although Konami are still reaching for a perfect simulation, PES 2013 feels quicker, more arcade-like to me.
This is a good thing. As the ball pings about on the pitch there's an air of unpredictability about the action and a genuine thrill of which of the two rushing players will get to the ball first. This lack of visible scripting even makes games against the AI feel open and exciting - a gameplay fundamental that has been lost in football games in recent years.
Brilliant player runs off the ball are largely what you'd expect from an actual game of football, as the team curl runs, attack wings and latch on to accurate chipped through balls. And the new touch control (RT before a player receives a pass) means that you can bring a ball down and move past a defender in one fl uid movement. You can even chest the ball up and deliver a stylish scissor kick if you've got the gumption.
The Player ID stuff, where stars like Ronaldo jink and run like their real life counterparts, is a nice touch, but it requires practice to really get the best out of them. Think of it a little like learning the signature moves of a character in Street Fighter - the more you learn the player's quirks, the more devastating the effect you can execute with them. In truth, you can still have just as much footballing goodness without this, but it's there if you want it.
Even though I'm restricted to Exhibition games and the South American, Copa Libertadores, I'm completely taken with the on-pitch action, and can already see a potential shift in my go to football game of choice. The stop-motion animations of sprinting players still looks daft, and the lack of licenses is still as inevitable as it is depressing, but finally PES appears to have cleaned up its act and could once again reclaim my heart.