PES 2013 will not sell as well as FIFA. It won’t have the same degree of expensive licensing. It won’t feature as many official kits. There won’t be as many different kinds of boot to wear or ball to play with. PES 2013 probably won’t have the latest ethereal, soulless NME darling on its soundtrack. But PES 2013 has something far more important. It’s got shape, teamwork and knowledge.
EA’s FIFA franchise is like Cristiano Ronaldo’s hair. Sure, it looks beautiful and slick and perfectly styled but, deep down, it can’t really tell its tiqui-taca from its total football. PES is the hard working midfielder that doesn’t score many spectacular goals or get his picture in the Sunday lifestyle supplements but knows more about formation, shape, tactics and pressure than Fabio Capello’s therapist.
PES has suffered for its ability. PES has trained in the dark. PES smells faintly of liniment and sweat and definitely not hair product.
PES 2013 is the best football game I’ve ever played.
I should stress that what I’ve played is only early preview code. What I’ve played doesn’t have much in the way of game modes. Plenty of teams are in unfinished kits. The career mode is missing, I haven’t taken it online and I’m still unsure if the trick moves aren’t quite implemented properly or if I’m just rubbish at performing them. But this is football unlike any I’ve seen in a video game so far.
PES has, for years, been the smarter, tactical game of football. It has required thought and precision as well as patience and knowledge. With PES, you’ve needed to apply pressure off the ball, pass sensibly and break down an opposition’s defence gradually. That tactical nous has usually come at the expense of fluidity and flair. Not this year. This year, PES 2013 has finally found a balance.
The lightning bolt moment came for me about two minutes into my first game. I was playing as Manchester United against a resilient Newcastle United. I’d noticed how the passes were being received more smoothly and play was flowing a little bit more naturally than in previous years and I was cautiously impressed.
I tried some nice, quick passes around my midfield. I’d managed to pull my opponents out of shape slightly and their defence had squeezed up in an attempt to fill in the gaps. Welbeck was making a turn, rolling off the shoulder of his marker. I played the through ball with the trigger-activated manual pass mode but I clumsily put it to the wrong side of him. I was hopelessly out of shape and entangled with the recovering defender but I saw an option and instinctively hit the pass button.
That’s when it happened. Danny Welbeck, unbalanced and caught off guard by my waylaid pass, stuck out a rangy leg at a peculiar angle and deflected the ball to the space that Wayne Rooney was surging forward into. Without a pause, Welbeck carried on, angling his run to stay onside. I had to pause the game. Those little clumps of pixels on my television screen were, in that moment, indistinguishable from the two footballers they represented.
It was all so natural, so realistic. So familiar.
I could tell you a dozen other stories in a similar vein. This isn’t a fluke, they haven’t just paid special attention to a few star players and left the rest as generic hoofers, there to make up the numbers while Cristiano’s hair looks immaculate during step-overs. From what I’ve played so far, Konami has cracked it. A lot of the players in PES don’t have the right shirts on but they’re more instantly recognisable than ever before.
The deep, tactical play is still there but it has been augmented by a degree of fluidity and individuality that it has deserved for, well, forever.
The lucky few games I’ve played in PES 2013 have been a revelation.
For some, there might be a period of adjustment. Avid PES fans will be used to the slightly staccato rhythm required to get the most out of their game in previous iterations. That’s gone, for the most part. For those arriving with PES from a FIFA background, it will still be tricky to hold back and play the smarter, more patient game
There’s been no compromise on the tactical side of the game. Everyone will have to get used to the balance but that transition should be a short one and it means we’re left with a game of football that so perfectly balances the opposing forces of the sport that at times it’s uncannily familiar.
Of course, there are some minor concerns. It looks a little bit rough around the edges, the presentation is still more Sunday league than Premiership and the goalkeepers are often unreasonably difficult to beat. I haven’t had a chance to play with all game types or to sample the usually excellent Master League yet either so take this as nothing more than my impression of how the game of football is played. Once you get past the selections and onto the pitch, PES 2013 is a perfect balance of style and substance.