Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 Hands-On Preview

Soccer fanatics are lucky when it comes to video games because they have two dependable series to choose from. One of those two happens to be Konami’s ever-popular Pro Evolution Soccer franchise, which began its life in Japan during the 1990s under the moniker of Winning Eleven. Since those days, it’s constantly evolved, and has offered an interesting mixture of simulation and arcade soccer to those who understand that there’s more than FIFA out there.

This fall, Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 will head out towards the digital pitch, offering both newcomers and returning fans a redesigned experience. You see, instead of resting on its laurels, PES Productions decided to act on the feedback it received regarding last year’s above average release, resulting in overhauled mechanics. The team’s hard work has resulted in brand new PES TotalControl and Player ID systems, which have significantly changed the way that the series plays.

I recently had a chance to sit down and demo Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 during a Toronto-based preview event, and I’m happy to report that the changes that were made ended up being for the better. Last year’s offering was fun, engaging and somewhat realistic, but its arcade elements were noticeably evident. For those who don’t play soccer games religiously, that design worked quite well, although there were some areas where extra polish would’ve made a big difference. Adding onto that, the players didn’t seem to have a realistic amount of weight to them, lessening the title’s simulation credibility. Those issues are now a thing of the past.

Thanks to its brand new gameplay mechanics, this year’s outing feels quite a bit different than its predecessor did. The on-screen footballers have more realistic maneuvers at their disposal and feel more like their real-life counterparts than they did close to one calendar year ago. Both of those selling features became apparent right from the get-go, as I was forced to be more intelligent with my moves as soon as I hit the digital pitch. That is, even though the difficulty was set above what I normally play these games on, but we won’t get into my mediocre interactive soccer skills.

As gamers who spend hours playing soccer titles can attest to, nailing each game’s unique move set takes months of practice. They’re tough games to master, and I applaud anyone who can pull off amazing moves in elegant triumphs, but I’ve never been a member of that group. Though, that doesn’t mean I didn’t try to become the next armchair superstar during my one hour-long preview session. Granted, I did have an advantage in the fact that the game’s button layouts were sitting in front of me, along with a list of key combinations.

Most of the combinations were pretty straight-forward, allowing hopefuls like me to dazzle viewers without too much memorization. Holding L2 on the DualShock 3 controller brought up a three-hundred-and-sixty-degree passing arrow, pressing in R3 after a pass resulted in a flick, and other options resulted in other special maneuvers. Generally speaking, everything was straightforward, but some of the skills were harder to accomplish than others, which is where practice will make perfect. That’s because, like its peers, some of this iteration’s moves are a bit finnicky, which became apparent during its tutorial challenges. Hopefully a bit of fine tuning will address that, but I attribute a lot of my failures to a lack of practice.

Since this console generation has gone on for an unprecedented amount of time (not that I’m complaining about that), sports genre developers have had more of an opportunity to perfect their annual releases without having to worry about dealing with greatly improved visuals or anything of the sort. What’s nice is the fact that Konami has made good use of that time, and Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is better for it. Realism sells, but fun is still key. Thankfully, this year’s iteration offers a good helping of both. Not to mention some impressive visuals, improved animations and enhanced artificial intelligence.