PES has endured its fair share of misfortune in recent years, so it's oddly fitting that 2013 may prove to be the year its luck changes. With PES 2013, Konami is ringing in the changes in a bid to knock FIFA off the top of the virtual video game league.
This year's instalment introduces new ways to dribble, shoot, pass and defend, improvements that make for a much more fluid game. Big changes have also been made to the AI, while Player ID ensures that top footballers are more realistically represented in the game.
We spent some time with the new PES, hitting the training ground and playing a few warm-up matches and tournaments ahead of this autumn's release.
Ringing in the changes
Like a football team preparing for a brand new season, the PES 2013 experience begins on the training ground. Although visually similar to previous releases, there's a real sense of change, with tens of new techniques, tricks and skills to master.
Long passes zip across the field, replacing floating balls of old; the slightly shuffled dribbling of PES 2012 is no more, making way for faster, smoother ball control. Techniques such as sideways dribbling make it easier to hold the ball up, while quick-footed switches give your attacker a better chance of bypassing an oncoming defender.
Undoubtedly some of the biggest improvements have been made to the shooting, increasing the required level of accuracy, but offering a plethora of new ways to hit the perfect shot. Holding one of the trigger buttons brings up a handy manual directional arrow, holding another sees you nutmeg the keeper, while tapping the shot button for a second time before making contact lets the attacker unleash an absolute screamer.
On the field you begin to witness the potential of Player ID. Cover star Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, looks and plays exactly like the real thing. Everything from the way he runs, dribbles and shapes to shoot have been meticulously recreated, something that adds an extra level of excitement, anticipation - and fear depending on whether he's on your team or not - whenever he gets the ball.
Goalkeepers, meanwhile, are also much improved. Like a teenage boy attempting to unbutton a bra, keepers of old would clumsily fumble the ball, resulting in needless goal mouth scrambles and corners. The goalkeepers seem much more consistent this time around, catching crosses and pushing the ball out of bounds only when completely necessary.
While PES 2013 isn't necessarily faster than its predecessors, the build-up play is much more fluid. Loose balls and ricochets once again lead to exciting midfield battles, but the successful implementation of manual passing and shooting, new dribbling techniques and star players, gives you more confidence in your team going forward, and ultimately more satisfaction when you score that perfect goal.
Early comparisons to FIFA
Interestingly, despite accusations of plagiarism made against EA, PES 2013 has taken a cue from FIFA 12's tactical defending system. The latest PES focuses on hold-up play and well-timed lunges, making a few improvements in the process.
There are multiple ways to steal the ball while keeping your distance from an attacker, one button sees defenders lunge in for the tackle, another sticks out a stray leg. It's similar to its rival, but slightly more intuitive.
Both PES and FIFA have also introduced similar sounding first-touch techniques, though in practice they're radically different. In PES 2013 clicking the analogue stick as the ball travels on the ground sees players flick it up and potentially over the defender.
Hitting the trigger while its airborne, meanwhile, adds a deft touch, giving players that extra split second to shape and shoot in the face of an oncoming defender.
Of course, the lack of licensed teams will once again hurt PES, and at this stage we're unsure how the Master League is shaping up and whether or not the final release will feature any meaningful online innovations. One thing's for sure, however, on the pitch, PES 2013 is looking like a genuine title-winning contender.
PES 2013 releases this October for the Xbox 360, PS3, PC, PS2, PSP, Nintendo 3DS and Wii.
Gallery: View screenshots of PES 2013 below: