Here we are. It's the annual battle for supremacy between the two dominant football simulation games. Once again, it appears to be a contest between the flashy style and financial superiority of EA's monolithic giant FIFA 13 and the plucky underdog: Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 (PES). But as was proven in this year's Champion's League semi-final, anything can happen. Could this be the year that PES regains its place at the top of the table?
At gamescom this week we were lucky enough to have time to talk about the latest instalment with the PES Project Leader Jon Murphy and Senior Designer Naoya Hatsumi. Firstly the most significant changes that have been implemented have all been designed to evolve PES into a much more fluid and realistic experience for the player. It's a constant process that changes with each build and the developers were keen to emphasise that a more up-to-date playable demo will be released soon.
Fan feedback and response has been an important element of the design process and some of the biggest changes have been directly influenced by requests from the PES community. One of the main areas which has received a significant overhaul is the AI: both in terms of your opponents and teammates. Computer-controlled players now make more informed decisions off-the-ball and the referee AI has also been tweaked to improve the gameplay. Lastly the goalkeeper responses and choices have also been re-examined as this was one of the key areas of criticisms from players.
While football is definitely a team game the PES developers have been keen to add a degree of individuality to the more well known stars in a feature referred to as "Player ID". This adds a layer of authentic detail to famous players by including a variety of unique touches, movements, mannerisms, skills, gestures and even celebrations. For example Ronaldo is particularly good at collecting the ball on the move from long passes and has a range of specific moves to reflect this. "Player ID" is more than simply recreating the appearance of footballers. It is also designed to convey a sense of their attitudes and particular playing styles as well.
The other significant addition is the inclusion of "Full Control" which allows for player choice in your footballers' actions. This is variable depending on the amount of control you wish to have, ranging from only activating when shooting to manually setting up passes and runs across the pitch. When "Full Control" is activated small coloured arrows appear on screen, mainly during passes, to help guide the direction and positioning of the ball. However, when players become more seasoned to this new feature the arrows can be removed providing the purest and hardest way of playing.
While GameGrin lacked the time (and skill) to get to grips with "Full Control" during our short time with the game, the developers assured us that it adds a new dimension to the title. Watching the more experienced players carve up defences with some beautifully placed shots certainly lent support to that statement. It seems that there could well be a much higher skill ceiling this time around and multiplayer matches look to be shaping up nicely for dedicated players.
Fortunately, there is plenty of compatibility between the modes of control and it is possible for matches between someone with "Full Control" completely enabled to play against a newer player who has computer assistance with shots and passing. There is also an extensive challenge training mode that will introduce the new concepts and gameplay features to players in a series of special tasks. "Full Control" also extends to first touches and tricks, which is combined to some extent with particular aspects of "Player ID". For example, the better the player the higher the chance of them successfully executing a first touch.
Alongside the announcement of several new stadiums there are also plenty of other more subtle new changes. Ball physics are constantly undergoing revision to make them as accurate and lifelike as possible. Whether it is the simple ball movement during attacking play or its swerve as it is blasted towards the goal it is equally important to make all aspects of the physics solid and believable. Similarly the controls have been redesigned to make them easier to grasp. Now related actions on the pitch have been grouped together on the controller allowing for quicker play, which is a relatively minute addition but a welcome one.
Everything about Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 seems to be focused towards creating a fluid and fast-paced recreation of the beautiful game. The combination of small and large additions is designed to make it a more natural and realistic football game than its brasher competitor. There is certainly a lot of potential here although a great deal of that rests on the success of the biggest new additions: "Full Control" and "Player ID". It is certainly possible that "Full Control" will create a game that is challenging and especially difficult to master while handing full responsibility to the player to create those sporting moments of glory.
Yet, there is some hesitancy with these fresh inclusions. How much will "Player ID" truly impact upon matches? Will it necessarily manage to move beyond simple animations and gestures? With only a short time with the title, it is difficult to say but our fears weren't entirely dispelled. "Full Control" certainly seems promising. It is easy to see people embracing it wholeheartedly and it is not difficult to imagine some epic multiplayer confrontations between PES veterans.
With a new playable demo teased by the developers and an announcement of its release date imminent, it won't be long before players can get a fresh taste of the action. With a lot to absorb and adjust to, it will be interesting to see what football fans make of the changes. It is clear that a lot of time and effort has been invested this year towards making PES evolve. Yet, it remains to be seen whether or not Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 will add silverware to its trophy cabinet or end up relegated.