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WENB PES 2013 Playtest Impressions

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Player ID Reinvents PES

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Screens and Official Info: Click HERE

WENB PES 2013 Playtest Impressions

As we all settle down and take our seats in a large event space, around 50 of us fixate on the PES Productions team stood at the front. Toru Kato, member of the PES Team, assumes the role of translator and talks us through the key areas and elements that will shape this years game. Each area is defined by the two producers in attendance for this special first look event, Naoya Hatsumi and Manorito Hosoda, and slowly we are taken through what I’m calling the ‘fantastic 5’.

In retrospect, the press release given to us a month ago was incredibly accurate, which isn’t common in this industry. Gamers across various genres are used to being sold an idea first, and the product in question rarely meets those initial lofty expectations.

Saying that, Konami haven’t been trying to sell us a dream. They systematically have spoken of improving integral factors in PES 2012, predominantly based on fan feedback, which in turn they hope will change the PES experience completely. This ideology is realized throughout the presentation, highlighting 5 key areas that the PES Team feel this first look event gives us all a perfect opportunity to see for ourselves.

So, what are the Fantastic 5?

Pro-Active AI

Building upon the impressive Active AI from last year, we’re taken through various improvements made to the way your teammates behave in both defensive and attacking situations.

The first example brought a huge smile to my face. “Last year, the defensive line was too deep”, explains Manorito, “This resulted in the AI more worried about the positioning, ignoring where the ball was. The user was faced with barriers, and in turn was unrealistic.” Fans of the series can testify to this, continually trying to recycle the ball to create space, but finding the opposing defenders all too happy to stay in the area and become excessively difficult to break down. Now, the AI will focus on where the ball is, and look to push out more often. This creates a more dynamic take on trying to break down a team, where moving the ball around will create opportunities to break a higher line.

The second improvement in the AI was better anticipation from your teammates, with the ability to sense where the space will be created to move into. Manorito mentions this, “During a move, you’ll find your deep lying midfielders and full backs aware of space that’s generated through quick passes and the movement of the defending team.” We’re shown a few examples of this, one of which shows Alonso moving up from deep into space after attack was being concentrated down one side. With Ozil pushing up to support the attack and occupying the opposing midfielders, it allowed Alonso to impose an attacking position, in ample space to receive a pass into the center.

Better decision making was also shown in counter attacking situations, where your full back would overlap into space, analyzing the success percentage of receiving the ball quickly.

If anything, what we saw through these examples is a better footballing brain shown by the on field players, doing away with mindless runs forward, and always using their intelligence depending on the situation.

Goalkeepers

“Goalkeepers was the most requested element in the game fans wanted improved”, explains Toru, “We spent a lot of time and effort to improve them, animations and in their intelligence.”

I certainly can’t disagree, goalkeepers have been a huge issue in PES since the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions emerged. To see a full section in the presentation dedicated to keepers certainly filled me with optimism. We were taken through a quick video showing Casillas performing a variety of different saves. All new animations greeted us on the big screen, and a feeling not only will we be seeing them performing realistic animations, but also performing them at the appropriate times. One handed saves, different reactions to 1 v 1 attempts, dealing with lobbed shots etc, everything seemed fresh and new. Already at this early stage, the movements and general behavior was far beyond what we saw in previous versions.

Another thing added is quick distribution, where the user will regain control of the goalkeeper much faster than before, allowing quick counters and more control overall. Along with this, a power bar now accompanies keeper throws, given the user more accuracy and control in where and who you want to distribute the ball to.

Dynamic First Touch – PES FC

Falling under the PES FC umbrella, we’re taken through an incredible video showing the new dynamic first touch in PES 2013. Using the cover star Cristiano Ronaldo, we’re shown examples of the variety of situations and in turn animations of how players can determine how they control any sort of ball fed into them.

Naoya talks us through the video “What you’re seeing now is the many ways the player can control the ball, both low and high. Using R2/RT you can take a more considered touch, allowing close control. For a more dynamic and forward thinking touch, you can press down the R3 button when receiving the ball to lift it into the air.” At this point, we see Ronaldo take the ball mid height in his stride, and knock it forward in the air, conceivably useful to knock it over an onrushing defender! But that’s not all “You also take the first touch by using a fake, like shot fake, to deceive players and create space.”

My jaw hit the flaw as I saw Ronaldo take a bouncing ball into a shot fake. This section has shown us an abundance of new animations, but what I soon discovered is that certain players with higher stats perform things differently. Ronaldo’s shot fake animation is unique, as rather than the usual instep, he performs a scoop turn! More on this in Player ID.

The segment finishes off with some great examples of the more flashy and impressive possible outcomes of dynamic first touch, the highlight being Ronaldo receiving a high ball with his back to goal. He decides to chest the ball vertically, and then as it descends from the air performs an overhead kick! Very, very impressive.

Response Defending – PES FC

A potentially huge inclusion is Response Defending, which finally allows users to tackle when they want. Naoya “As with everything in PES 2013, we want to give the user full control over everything in the game. Response defending, performed by tapping X twice, allows you to perform a standing tacking whenever you want to.”

As we all know, defending in PES 2011 and PES 2012 was great in concept, but didn’t work as well as we all wanted it to. You never were quite sure when your defender was going to attempt to win the ball, and needless fouls were consistently being given away. This year the same contain method is in place, but with the addition of a tackle button you have much more control over the defensive side of the game, and brings that extra level of skill when it comes to winning the ball back.

The examples shown in the video also made it clear that a variety of animations would accompany different tackling situations, as would the type of tackle depending on the distance between you and the player. If performed close it would be more of a prod away, but performing when there is some distance will produce a lunging tackle, somewhere between standing tackle and a slide tackle.

Naoya finally added “With the full control of tackling, users can also perform tactical fouls to break up the play, if they so wish.” *Mourinho like this.*

Player ID

When the title flashed up onto the screen, as you can imagine I was very excited, especially when Manorito opened up with this “The PES series has pioneered player individuality in football games. This year we raise the bar even higher.” Oh yes! “We’ve managed to capture 40 to 50 well known players into the game, while introducing a host of skill based individual outcomes for everyone else. Here are some examples”.

What followed was a thing of beauty, and spoke to everyone who not only loves this attention to detail in the PES series, but to football fans as a whole. We’re shown real life videos of the likes of Ronaldo, Messi, Kaka and Robben going through their signature running animations, and instantly shown them in game performing the same action. When showing Kaka, Manorito adds “Kaka not only has a unique running style, he also has longer strides when running with the ball. We’ve added this element just for him.” How I wish he was still at Milan ;(. Everyone knows Kaka has this elegant, submissive pace when running with the ball, and it’s perfectly captured in PES 2013.

Moving on, we’re shown examples of other attributes realized in the game, where Manorito reminds us “Player ID isn’t just about animations that are unique, it impacts the game.” We’re shown a few examples of this, using Barca duo Xavi and Iniesta.

“Like in real life, Xavi can perform a sharper 180 turn, using the outside and the inside of his right foot, using R2.” And sure enough, we see a video of Xavi doing just that, both in real life and in the game. It’s not only a nice animation, but like Manorito said, it clearly impacts the game.

With Iniesta’s example we’re reminded of the deft touch dribbling, mentioned in the press release, which can be performed by holding R2 when dribbling. This allows closer control for all players, but those with high dribbling stats perform far better using it. The example here is the way Iniesta works himself space in tight spaces, by shifting the ball side to side, from one foot to the other. It’s a unique side step animation which keeps the ball tight to his feet, and an ability which ends in his trademark acceleration away from the beaten player. Manorita adds “Iniesta is my favourite player in the world.” It shows!

Finally we’re taken through other unique elements, like Ribery using his heel when performing a roulette, and Neymar’s trademark showboating where he dangles a foot over the ball. It ends with a comical piece involving John Terry. Remember when he attempted to block a shot, by performing a superman dive? Yep, that’s in the game too! It was met with laughter, and was a perfect way to end the presentation.

As we settled down, the team thanked us for our time, took questions and then ended by telling us “Please play the game, and I’m sure you will see these elements clearly. Try to perform them, and let us know what you think!” Don’t have to tell me twice!

Hands-on Session

Dotted around the venue were around 7 pods on both Xbox 360 and PS3, and I managed to grab a PS3 pod before it was taken. The first look demo only had two teams available, Real Madrid and Flamengo, and one stadium available to be played at night or day time settings.

What struck me instantly was a new menu layout once you chose the teams. You now have a full player model from both teams on either side of the screen, rather than the top half of players changing poses, and in the middle of the two was a picture of both line-ups positioned correctly on a pitch. From this screen you can choose stadiums, formation and game settings. Going into the formation screen, and it’s as you were with PES 2012. This early on nothing has changed, but expect some key differences once we see more complete code.

Onto the game then, and it’s a little too familiar at this stage. The same graphical style and team intro greets us, down to the same camera angles. This in fairness was disappointing initially, as I was hoping for some improvement in this area. Once the game starts though, it’s clear to see why the focus so far from the team has been gameplay. It’s a complete departure from PES 2012, which is polarizing straight from the get go.

As the ball is played around, the pace seems much slower. It’s more considered, and something that seems much more realistic. This isn’t just exclusive to the way the ball travels, but also how the players move on and off the ball. As I’m passing along my back line and into midfield I also notice better positioning of players, and space to move and pass into. The AI improvements in this area as stated in the presentation are clear to see, and the well known bunching of players was thankfully absent. As I moved the ball into Ronaldo on the far side the defenders started to come across and double up, but a quick few passes allowed ample space to attack into on the other side. This was really refreshing.

There also seems to be a good level of understanding from the opposing players in where to position themselves on the pitch as play develops. When in control of the ball, midfielders will look to limit your effectiveness by blocking obvious passing options rather trying to pressure you. Dwell on the ball too long and they’ll engage, but it’s not their only option anymore.

At this point it’s worth mentioning that the preset passing bar level at the event was 3 bars, and I found it to be much more free than in PES 2012. Inaccurate and over hit passes were possible, and there was added intelligence in where you wanted the ball to go and it getting there. Knocking it down to zero bars, as I did for a few games, was as intended as passing become fully manual. You control both the power and direction, and it was amazing to see PES finally add this to the game. What’s key to point out though, is that I did feel stats play a part, but mainly in the passing speed. With the direction determined by the user on zero bars, you’ll find the likes of Alonso able to get the ball to the intended target that little bit faster.

When receiving the ball I did of course get to grips with the first touch control using both R2 and R3. I found timing to be key, as it’s visible when you get it right, especially with the R3 control. Timing it right will pop the ball into the air, and I saw some wonderful animations when taking the ball perfectly. At the same time I use R2 when dealing with a difficult ball, and you’ll see the player sometimes pat a bouncing ball down with his sole. In time this element will no doubt shape how you play, especially when you start to deal with a variety of teams and players with different skillsets.

Now is about the right time to mention one key fact that most PES fans will relate to instantly: I never had to press super cancel once. If anything, I found the full control given a tad daunting at first. Players don’t lock into position, and you have to remain sharp when trying to receive passes and attempting to latch onto long balls. For example, when playing a throughball, your player won’t automatically run for it. Once you play it the player will move towards it, but if you don’t hold run he’ll jog towards it. Another example is dealing with a high ball. When it’s a goal kick from the opposition, you’ll find yourself having to move your midfielder into the area where the ball is landing and compete with the opposing midfielder. The full control you have takes time to get used to, but is more than welcome.

The next key improvement that showcased itself was defending. As Flamengo attacked, I was able to disposes them in midfield by a well timed tackle in the middle by Khedira. There was some distance from the opposing player, but he lunged in and won the ball. The feeling I got initially was that the tackle was heavily assisted, as Khedira seemed to home in on the player with the tackle. What I found out through extensive play, is that tackling is massively stat based. The accuracy and timing makes a difference, but is complimented by how good the player you are controlling is at tackling. I found the likes of Pepe and Ramos massively effective when making the tackle, where my attacking players were cumbersome in attempting to win the ball back. The homing in when tackling is frankly welcome, especially when it’s accuracy is impacted by stats, and finally makes it much more beneficial in controlling a world class defender. As you can imagine, I was already thinking about my Master League team!

To counter this, I noticed some wonderful control with the deft touch dribbling which was used to coax defenders into making a tackle, and then skipping past them with some timely changes of direction. Using R2, players take closer touches of the ball around the pitch, showing off some nice new animations. The side step with R2 now makes the player move to the side by rolling his foot over the ball. Pressing back makes him take small drag back touches while facing the goal, and pressing forward gives the player a small acceleration boost forward, depending on the player. You’ll see a variety of different animations depending on the situation and who you are.

Once you’ve beaten that player, and work yourself an opportunity it’s time to shoot for goal, and shooting has seen a major change from PES 2012. Probably the weakest element alongside keepers last year, Konami have tackled both elements effectively. The biggest addition to shooting this year in PES 2013 is the manual modifier, where you hold L2 when powering up. It was one of the winners of the show, and was used by most playing the game. It’s not just the fact you have full control in where the ball goes, there’s also a risk reward element to it, as manual shot has that little bit of extra pace. Using it gives you that extra power, but of course has more opportunity to send the ball high and wide. Sometimes, as I found when over excited, it can also hit the corner flag! Like manual passing, it’s also impacted by certain stats to keep some individuality. The likes of Ronaldo and Benzema have that extra power when taking a shot, and that isn’t lost here.

On the other side of the controller is R2, and by pressing that after powering up a shot you’ll get the curve shot. Not massively impactful last year, in PES 2013 the curve of the ball is more than noticeable. I tested this a few times with a variety of players, and the ball takes a completely different trajectory to a normal shot, and is something that will please many who wanted this in the game.

Shooting in general has been freed up, aside from the manual modifier. There’s much more control in where the ball goes, and thankfully is a big improvement over last year. Saying that, manual shooting, thanks to the added power, felt that bit more satisfying and time will tell if Konami allow us to have a preset option rather than having to hold a button down to perform it.

On the other side of shooting we of course have goal keepers, and there’s a lot of good to be said here. The words you’re wanting to hear are reliable, intelligent and responsive, and I’m happy to say all those things are present this early on. Keeper errors were hardly seen, I actually can’t remember an occasion where they let me down. The saving animations were decent, if not as inspiring at the presentation video. They didn’t seem as free-form too, as we saw similar animations a little too much. Saying that, they did what was asked of them, and saved shots around them satisfyingly. It was nice to see the keepers react to 1v1 attempts differently every time, the rush and slide animation wasn’t seen many times, as they stay on the feet longer and react much better.

When they grasp the ball, you’ll find them get up faster and ready to distribute much quicker than before. The new power bar is welcome too, really giving you new found accuracy in where you want to throw the ball.

Finally, with key gameplay improvements dissected, it’s a good time to go into graphics and animations. It’s not something that Konami have been shouting about, and it’s clear to see why. While the visuals will improve going forward, they will no doubt remain very close to last year. Animations fair much better, with some impressive additions that make the game flow much better. From lots of variety with passing and shooting animations, a lot of work has been done to crossing. Not only do you get a slower ball into the box with more curl, the player animation depending on what type of cross it is changes. Tapping cross a few times for a more driven effort with see the player put his foot through the ball.

There’s plenty of ambient and contextual animations too, where you’ll see unique movements depending on the situation. Players will flick the ball on first time in new ways, and also adjust to the ball when shooting, passing or even heading. It was nice to see a variety in this, as with last year there was one way of performing these movements.

Same can be said for shot fake, which sees the high stat players perform a scoop turn. It’s a visually impressive animation, if a little stuck to a cycle currently. I expect Konami to tweak this a little to allow more responsive and intuitive impact.

The Player ID stuff looked amazing as well, especially with Ronaldo. All his movements in the game look wonderful. The way he runs, dribbles, shoots, passes etc all look extremely lifelike, and bodes well for the other players who are lucky enough to have this treatment. I do feel that some of this stuff is lost in gameplay cam due to the drop of quality, but here’s hoping work is done on this before launch.

As the game finished up we’re greeted by the usual end of game highlights, although after this you’re given a screen showing player ratings, and with it the man of the match. You no longer need to select this option once the game ends to see how your players did.

And that sums up my first hands on with PES 2013. With E3 around the corner expect to see much more of the game, especially as the press will be lucky to have a newer code with more teams to play around with.

Stay tuned for plenty of updates throughout the day where we’ll be collating impressions from all the press who attended, and of course our podcast that will be up this evening!

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