Don’t trust anyone who says that PES 2013 comes as a big surprise. Konami’s iconic series has been on the comeback trail for the past two years at least, and if you’re a hardened fan who has stuck beside Pro Evo for all these years, PES 2013 should be received as a pretty glorious reward. The presentation, the careful flow of play, the none-more-responsive controls… none of these things have excelled like this since the PS2 era. Last year’s game was an encouraging – though widely underrated – installment that actually built most of these impressive foundations, but now, even the things that didn’t naturally fit into last year’s game (like the right stick-based Teammate control option) couldn’t feel any less out of place.

As if in preparation for this year’s game, PES 2012 introduced some invaluable new training modes. Once again they’re presented to you in a totally generic fashion: you work your way through a list of skill moves and scenarios, earning a ticked box for each one that you successfully complete. The training modes themselves though, are absolutely brilliant; rather than shooting at open goals or performing skill moves alone (or with a single gormless AI player in front of you) these tasks force you to actually play the game. At first this is frustrating because you can execute a move perfectly, only to subsequently have your shot stopped by a keeper or the ball stolen from you mid-flow by an aggressive defender. But before long, you realise that this process has been structured so that these (essential) techniques are drilled into you from the off.

It’s a great idea, and similar to the tutorial mode that featured in last week’s Tekken Tag Tournament 2 in that, once you’re done with it, there are no unhappy surprises to discover. A savvy opponent can still flummox you, but only by using the same skillset that you’ve already acquired. The staple modes of PES all return – including, of course, Master League – but the real triumph this year comes in the form of something called PES Full Control; a series of new ball-handling tweaks that coalesce to give you an unprecedented degree of control over your team. Full Control is almost entirely based around the right trigger button (or R2 on PS3) and enables things like precision dribbling, “dynamic” first touches and a new attack-slowing form of defensive play. Passing and shooting is now completely manual as well, and the process of mastering the speed and power of every shot that you take is fiendishly addictive… and deeply rewarding.

The aforementioned Teammate control option didn’t really make much sense in PES 2012 – that was a faster, slightly more haphazard PES iteration – but it feels totally “of a piece” in 2013. You use the right thumbstick to do things like direct nearby colleagues away from opponents when you’re taking a throw-in, or (best of all) lead strikers into space to make runs. Brilliantly, this also means that you can make dummy runs to mislead your assailants, a strategy that only exacerbates the air-punching sense of tactical reward. As ever, there are licensing constraints and the quality of the online suite is unknown at this juncture, but (hopefully) the online side of things will be as stable and polished as it was last year. Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is the best PES since 2003’s benchmark third installment. Ignore it at your peril.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 is currently due for release on Friday, September 21st 2012.

Watch the “Player ID Experience” trailer for Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 below:

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