It isn’t unusual for a game similar to another to come out around the same time. Be it to beat them to the punch for market share or season overlaps, it is something that we’ve become accustomed to. In the case of sports games, it is almost a necessity that they be released in the same window. However, some of the games have been trying to make a name for themselves in the shadows of major studios for some time. A week prior to the release of FIFA 13, the next title in an 11-year-old franchise hit the streets from Konami. Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 (or Winning Eleven as you might otherwise know it) enters the market at a time when the world has been foaming over EA Sports’ newest offering. Does that mean that Pro Evolution Soccer should be ignored? Or is Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 worthy of your time on the field?
Luckily for consumers, soccer titles haven’t been stuck in the world of studio exclusivity yet. They still have a chance at life – not only for a chance at being competitive in the gaming market, but also at creating a different experience from the standard fare from the big guys. Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 has its own features that make it distinct from other soccer games. For starters, Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 has a manual aiming system that adds another level to gameplay. Instead of your typical run up and shoot, the game allows for some finesse to the direction the ball will go. This allows you to worry less about player orientation and more about ball direction. Defense is another experience that differs from the other title. Running around the field trying to tackle everything in sight is no longer a valid strategy.
For the first time since we started playing soccer games on consoles, Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 made us feel like we were actually working for the ball. Instead of constantly trying to tackle the ball off someone, the game makes you work your way into lanes, keep up with players dribbling the ball, and use perfect timing to lunge in for a steal. Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 actually allows you to apply pressure and go for the ball at opportune times. Trying to keep a sense of realism in the series has gone a long way to make the game different. No longer will players magically sprint down the field, passing everyone on the way. Generally, you will be on equal footing with whomever you are chasing down the field. That isn’t to say that certain players won’t have an advantage; it’s just that there isn’t the magical juice bar on the screen giving guys an extra boost. It adds an air of realism to the title.
Players don’t easily lose the ball while dribbling down the field. You can choose to push it further ahead while running, but doing so doesn’t push it so far ahead that you endlessly sprint around trying to keep possession. That was something that became problematic at times while playing FIFA. Admittedly, Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 became much of a battle between using the RT and A buttons, but it does have some flexibility. Shielding the ball while moving up field becomes a necessity as well, unlike other soccer games out there. Working to keep the ball becomes just as important as taking it away from the computer-controlled team.
The subject of play-calling offered a refreshing experience as well. Switching plays on the fly is actually pretty seamless while playing. Within the options there are pre-made plays that you can direct your players to do. This can be done in any player mode, as well as in the managing mode. You are able to select four plays at a time and assign them to the D-pad, playing long ball, setting up for quicker strikes, or even setting up for pure defense. All of these play styles are just a thumb press away. If what you have assigned isn’t working for you in the match, reassigning them just requires you to pause and change them in the menu. There’s nothing to it really.
However unique Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is trying to be, it still has its fair share of similarities as well. Let’s be honest though – some of them are just plain hard to get around. If you are trying to make a realistic soccer experience, that just can’t be avoided. Game modes are similar to that of the FIFA series. If they have differences, they are often very minute. Managing only modes, tournaments, and training modes are all available, though the managing mode feels more like a grind than a coaching simulator. Coaching these comes in two options: either play the game yourself or coach from the sidelines. It is an interesting approach to let the NPCs duke it out while you call the plays from the sides. Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 has even tried to include music similar to the FIFA experience by offering eight tracks of diverse music. While this isn’t a huge selling point, it’s nice to see bands like Imagine Dragons popping up during down time.
With the manager mode, Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 seems to have taken tips from an MMO rather than the most successful simulation game, Football Manager. You get to play out a bunch of matches for little to no reward. The reward (currency) is needed though, as you’ll often face A- or B-rated teams that will grind your team to dust. Without the currency, you can’t buy upgrades. Getting upgrades will be the most important factor in building up your team. For instance, while the FIFA series builds a player’s experience over time, Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 has you building up funds over time to buy upgrades. Upgrades come in the form of bought training or a new pair of cleats in the marketplace. There are some perks that can come out of tournament play, but depending on those will leave you trailing behind other teams in your selected league. Don’t own PES2013? Why not sell some of your old games at MusicMagpie and pick a copy up for yourself.
According to Konami, goalkeepers and the AI were improved in Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 over previous years. It is hard to tell how much though. It isn’t hard to fool the goalies with angled kicks that are made much easier with the manual aiming system. It isn’t a 100% success rate, but if they are harder to get past over previous years then they must have been a wretched display in the past. This isn’t aimed to knock at the AI though; the AI is very capable. More than once it has caught us off guard with a pass from the sidelines to a teammate that beat their defender. Not only did it beat us, but it also caught the AI-controlled goalkeeper looking off into space as well. It isn’t like this is done in a way that would have you screaming at the impossibility of what happened either.
For all the new features and good points Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 has released this time around, there are a few things that make us scratch our heads at the game. First, there is an alarming lack of MLS teams and real rosters for the teams. The MLS is plain missing from the game, most likely because of contracts with EA. National teams are often full of generic names. Being that the Unites States isn’t the only market, it isn’t surprising when looking at the European leagues it was able to feature. Second, the manual aiming system makes you press Y when you want to shoot the ball low. It seems like that is one action too many when trying to run, aim, and fight off defenders. Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 could also make up its mind on what sort of cut scenes it wants to have as well: it suffers from an identity crisis, taking wonderfully shot, polished live intros for tournaments, and then offering terrible in-game rendering for scenes in other modes. It brings attention to the fact that the title still isn’t as polished as FIFA. Lastly, the training mode seems pointless other than teaching you the different maneuvers and actions you can perform. Unlike creating a pro in FIFA’s Be a Pro mode, going through training does nothing for your player. In fact, the training mode is basically just a checklist of things you’ve successfully done. Given the large number of items on these lists, it also acts as a reminder that the controls are not as streamlined or polished as those that FIFA offers.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 plays like a soccer game should, even with its little quirks, but I think that we could have done with a little more polish graphically if it was to be considered on the same par as FIFA 13. These types of comparisons will always happen between these two franchises, as they represent the strongest offerings those who may be looking for a soccer game. There is something that just feels generic about Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 though, no matter how much we try to look past it. While the highs and lows certainly stand out for the series, Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 displays how far it has come since its inception. Even though this new offering feels at times that it lacks behind older iterations of FIFA, playing Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 as it stands is still enjoyable in its own right. Give the franchise a few more years, and it will certainly be up to par with its main rival. Until then, Konami needs to focus on bringing the graphics up to date and introducing more unique features each and every year.
Game provided by publisher for review.