Man Blue have had a very frustrating match, they have dominated possession, hit the post three times and had so much of the ball that the other team may as well have gone home and just left their goalkeeper on the pitch. With 90 minutes now past it looks like they'll never score, but wait what's this? A cross from the left into the Copenhagen box, a chance for Aguero to score? surely not, his back is to goal. He has a crack on the volley with an overhead kick, IT'S IN, IT'S A GOAL!!!!
The above probably best describes my experience with Konami's latest entry into the PES series. Full of frustration, but at the same time, joy. The frustration all begins when you put in the disc. The first menu to pop up will throw you into training, giving you a chance to get used to the huge amount of changes to gameplay in this year's version. First of all it will give you an example of how to pull off specific moves, then it'll be your turn to learn the new skill and it is not always easy. New moves include the likes of trapping the ball in mid-air for a volley, long ball lofts and precision shooting. Some of these moves are actually quite tricky to pull off and given that the game won't let you progress until you have perfected them, you'll be an expert before you know it.
Away from the training field, one of the things that pleases me most about this year's PES is that it has its swagger back. I love football games that frustrate me, because the real-life sport does too. There is nothing quite like things not going your way, only for you to hit a last gasp equalizer and scream with joy at the TV, this is what PES does for me. The game almost teases you with goals, seeing your team hit the post or head over the bar from close range. You will feel like throttling your players at half time, then eventually it will come together and all is right again.
As with previous games, PES 2013 has plenty to keep you entertained both on and off the pitch with Exhibitions matches and cups that can be played locally or online. You can also take part in the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores de America, again both offline or online. Perhaps the biggest selling point for PES though is the Football Life mode, in which you can start a Career as Player/Manager in either Europe or South America. Each season will see you take your team through the leagues and, if you're good enough, compete in Europe and the domestic cup competitions. If you wish you can also play this mode in the style of Become a Legend, allowing you to take control of just one player, or you can play the entire competition online.
A typical season in Football Life will see you play through the season calendar, gaining rewards, signing players and getting advice from your female assistant. The cutscene moments can be a bit 'cheesy,' for want of a better word, thanks to the lack of dialogue and thumping music which accompanies the subtitles. It also sometimes feels like these sections of the season drag on a little, however once you are out on the park all is forgiven.
Being manager you can of course set tactics either manually or with pre-sets. If you are feeling uncomfortable with the responsibility then you can also get your coach to take control. Once out on the pitch though everything is in your hands. It's here the real fun begins and this is also where you will notice the majority of the improvements in this year's version. Defenses are now tighter, closing down the line quicker - which of course means more offside decisions against the attacking teams. Attack has also been improved to counter this, meaning players will run the line to avoid defensive traps, although they aren not always successful.
What I love most about the action on the pitch is that it always feels like you have a teammate to pass to; there is always someone open or making space and while it is tougher to score goals, this does make for a more exciting match. As I mentioned earlier, there are a whole bunch of new moves for you to get to grips with, allowing you to nutmeg on-rushing defenders, loft lob balls into the opposition box and also tackle with better effect. Other improvements include better dribbling and more control over your passes and shots at goal, meaning that you are not as likely to balloon one nearer the corner flag than the goal.
Improvements also stretch to the superstars of football. Big name players are now more recognizable thanks to new animations and realistic likenesses. Not only that, but their specific skills are also present and correct, meaning that you are going to have to be extra careful when taking on teams which include the likes of Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo.
Of course PES is not perfect. While the commentary is getting better year by year, to me the game is still let down a little in the presentation stakes. The menus in PES feel to me like they belong in the PS2 era, being slow to use and clumsy. One positive about the menus though is that they are not packed with unnecessary information; if you want to start a match, then you can, without having to negotiate your way through about twenty different options.
Away from the menus, the rest of the presentation in PES seems to be improving every year. Players do look more like their real life versions. Animation on the park also has a marked improvement, players no longer look like they are struggling to run, while the ball now zips nicely along the grass, rather than floating along it. The game does still have a little catching up to do in terms of FIFA's 'Sky Sports' style TV presentation, both before and after matches, although it is certainly getting there. Who knows, maybe once PES is running on the fox engine it will finally match its rival in this area?
To be fair PES has never really been too concerned with presentation anyway, instead focusing on what matters - the football. Over the years, Seabass and his team have usually got it right when it comes to the action on the pitch; sure they may have lost their way a little for the past few games, but what team doesn't have its dry spells?
In my opinion, it was only a matter of time until PES once again hit its stride on the football field. Which team will win players hearts this year remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, it is going to be a close game, in fact it may even go to penalties.
Review Policy (Version tested: Xbox 360)