Over recent seasons, Pro Evolution Soccer has imported an increasing amount of its DNA from fighting games. Scan PES 2013's move lists and you're left wondering if your Master League team would be better served signing Ryu over Rooney, such is the volume of button-and-stick combos for flicks, tricks, shimmies, special shots and off-the-ball manoeuvres.
While PES remains perfectly playable on lower difficulties, if you ignore all these fripperies, you're found out when you move up to the Pro levels or venture online. It's a far cry from the simple days of ISS Pro 98. However, even if you find learning Cruyff turns a turn-off, in PES 2013 there's one button that it's crucial to get to grips with, and that's R2/RT. This one button unlocks a whole new way of approaching PES, in both attack and defence, and almost singlehandedly makes 2013's offering the best of this console generation. When you're in possession, R2/RT is used to trap the ball, and, if you've timed it properly, will buy you a yard of space to prise open any defence.
It sounds (and is) relatively simple but once you've mastered its contextual application, it's a revelation. For years, football games have banged on about their 'unprecedented levels of authenticity', but coupled with masterly ball physics and contextual player animations, this really is a genuine step forward, not a nebulous claim.
In defence, R2/RT is used with X/A for hold-up play, a counter to the new attacking wizardry. Pressing the buttons together makes your defender stand a few yards off the attacker, which gives you a few moments to assess the threat they pose and time your tackle judiciously. Again, it's fairly simple stuff, although you will need to practice pretty hard to nail it. Either way, it makes the footy you play seem that little bit closer to the game you watch on a Super Sunday.
If you ignore the depth of options, you'll be found out on Pro levels...
For those who can be bothered to delve into the vast training menu, there are additional (if fiddly) new moves like double touch, nutmegs and instant flick ups, bolted on to the core R2/RT mechanic. Also new and of note is the 'dynamic one-two', where you can use the right stick to guide the player initiating the move in any direction you like before they receive the ball again. We found this fiddly to learn and stormed off the training pitch in a huff before getting our heads fully around it. More the fool us, as normal one-twos are now less effective, defenders tracking the move closer than they used to.
Keepers are more adept at parrying shots to safety, not into the path of strikers. Sadly, those of lesser ability are often 'megged or beaten at their near post. Player ID makes star players more effective. Messi's centre of gravity allows jock-strap-tight turns, but you'll need to learn player's styles properly to take advantage in the heat of battle.
Football Life returns with Master League, Become A Legend and Master League Online, while 2012's Club Boss mode is quietly - and sensibly - retired. The Champions League and Copa Libertadores are again present as standalone competitions for up to 32 players (32!) and the Copa now includes fully-licensed teams from the Brazilian league. We'll have to wait to find out how the online options, such as ranking matches and social communities, pan out after the game is released. As a package, PES 2013 offers hundreds of hours of value.
Inevitably, it's almost a given that the commentary is naff and lags way behind FIFA's. We're sick of writing the same thing about it every year so let's just leave you with this pearl from Jon Champion: "This is what threatens to kill football. Negative tactics. These managers should be ashamed of themselves." Jon, that's the least of football's worries.
Other minor niggles grate, such as the ref sometimes wearing an identical kit to one of the teams, Iniesta looking like he's been dead for six months and replays showing balls passing through body parts. Ultimately though, none of the complaints are game-breaking - they will, however, need ironing out in the next generation of Pro Evo (built on Kojima's Fox Engine) if, like R2/RT, it's going to offer that additional yard.
Tweaked in all the right places, 2013 is the finest PES of the generation, delightfully recreating the ebb and flow of the modern game.
- The best PES on this generation of consoles
- Complex, but beautifully rewarding
- Sprawling package of modes and options
- Terrible commentary, as per usual
- Not as technically slick as FIFA