Now that we've all had some time to play around with the first demo (you can read my impressions of it here) and the dust has settled a bit, let's take stock and predict what's in store for the full release of Pro Evolution Soccer 2013.
What does it mean without Seabass?
For as long as we know it, PES was a vision of one man-- Shingo "Seabass" Takatsuka. So it was a bit of a surprise when we found out that Seabass stepped down from producing PES 2013. In an interview to Eurogamer, Team Leader Jon Murphy had this rather cryptic remark about Seabass' departure: “We've seen in Japan, it's fair to say, for a long time a tradition of storytelling with a video game. Whereas in America or Europe we've seen a more freestyle approach - at least it gives the impression of freestyle. Obviously a sandbox game isn't a sandbox game - you're still being led by the hand, but that impression was different between the two cultures.”
Reading between the lines, it's pretty obvious that Seabass had a really strong vision of how the game should play out. But that strong vision-- the desire to see a PES match unfold “the right way”-- has also, in the past, restricted the user in terms of what he can control. So perhaps the biggest change in a game without Seabass is the increase of player freedom-- both the human controlled ones and teammates, as seen with the various right stick triggered functions. Which leads us to the second question...
How free is free?
It's worth mentioning that this is the second year that the game has used “freedom” as a buzzword. Which is just as well, considering that last year, the word was used more to catch your attention than anything-- meaning that there was about thirty percent of truth in PES 2012's claim of “total freedom”. But this year, even if the game is still far from being completely "free", at least it feels like they are trying to walk the walk.
Full manual passing and shooting are probably the two biggest features. But underneath them lurks an even cleverer addition: the ability for the player to play a full manual pass at any time, even if he's playing on assisted settings, by pressing down L2. This gives you the flexibility of using assisted passes in most situations, but also the option of going manual if you spot that killer ball. Throw in the fact that you can control your teammate's run direction during one-twos with the flick of the right stick, and you have a whole slew of features aimed at freeing play up. These are all encouraging signs. After all, anything to take away the predictability of AI teammate behavior is a step in the right direction.
Will there be any improvements on the presentation front?
From what we saw in the first demo, the answer is probably “not much.” And it doesn't come as a surprise, either-- everything that we've seen from Konami PR folks has focused on gameplay improvements. The graphics remained largely unchanged, and some animations still has that mechanic feel to it. However, certain dribbling/tackling interactions seems to have been smoothed out, and there are less instances of where a player enters into a canned animation and can't get out of it until it's finished.
But if we really want to prioritize, graphics probably isn't even the presentation aspect most in need of improvement-- it's the audio. And that, of course, we don't have a preview of in the demos. Fingers crossed, here's to hoping that Messrs, Champion and Lawrenson will have better commentary lines in this year's game. Or at least, lines that are relevant to what we're actually seeing on screen. Oh, and a little chemistry between them would be nice too, though I suppose it's baby steps first.
What about Football Life?
To be fair, Master League doesn't need a major overhaul, and it's still arguably the most addictive part of PES. But the fact remains that there has been so few changes to it over the past few years that even a little facelift to the presentation-- and no, subtitled cut scenes don't count-- would help spice things up greatly.
So far, we're told that Master League will have special coaches that will help “work on the team's weakness”, which, I assume means a boost of sorts in different areas. Also, during contract negotiations, players will consider a team's positional depth more heavily when deciding on whether he'll sign. We'll also get the choice of playing Master League with South American teams (thanks to PES' Copa Libertadores license), which should be a refreshing change for those who want to get away from Europe. Now let's hope, even if it's a bit farfetched, that we'll get the option of changing teams mid-Master League, and Konami just hasn't announced it yet.
For Become A Legend, “the player is given feedback on how they need to improve to break into the squad”... and that's it. Really. But in all fairness, a lot of the mode's success depends on how well the AI teammates react to play. And if the ones we've seen in the demo are anything to go by, BAL aficionados should still get a fair bit of mileage out of the mode.
Which teams will be licensed?
I know, I know. I just had to ask.
Seriously though, even if it's a bit of a letdown, it's actually not as devastating as some make it out to be, specially if you don't play much with Premier League teams. The Spanish, Italian, French, and Dutch top leagues are all fully licensed, and, as I'm always reminded after my PES reviews, there are always option files.
So what should we expect for the full release of PES 2013? Probably exactly what it says on the tin: Fluid, intuitive, attacking play that will have occasional moments of brilliance, but also some typical PES quirkiness. The developers seem to be on the right track with this “freedom” thing, and if they can hammer out some AI teammate issues (awareness during manual passes, a few instances of player on rails), we may be in for some exciting on pitch play. As for the rest of the game, don't expect any dramatic changes. In short, the game will do the bulk of its talking on the pitch. Whether that's a smart strategy or not, we'll find out soon enough.