Every year PES promises the Earth. Major improvements to gameplay, physics, visuals and volume of content. Improvements that will put the franchise back on top following the Fifa push that saw EA Sports’ franchise rise from lowly underdog to clear champion.

So far, the promises have not matched the execution. Last year’s PES was, undoubtedly, an improvement over the year before, but it was still some way off matching the Fifa effort. Well, nothing lasts forever. Times may be changing again. PES fans, there’s good news. Another year has ushered in new features and numerous tweaks that not only advance the series, but magnify the core strengths to what could be their highest point yet.

PES 2013 feels like the PES of old, but that’s not to say that it feels old. This is a case of looking back at what has worked before and serving it up with modern twists and technologies. It’s a good plan and it works.

For that very reason PES feels like it has its own personality again. Rather than simply trying to play catch up with Fifa by adding features a year in arrears, Konami has pushed in a different direction and the world of videogame football is all the better for it. Fifa has Messi on the cover, PES has Ronaldo. It’s a choice that works as an analogy for the gameplay; Fifa is about precision and playing the role of the glorified golden boy, PES is the one with the charisma and the bad(der) boy image.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to root for Ronaldo over Messi. I prefer players with a personality on and off the pitch. Golden boys annoy me. Messi annoys me.Spainannoy me. Ronaldo doesn’t.

The thing you notice immediately about PES 2013 is that it’s a more fluid and responsive experience. Dribbling looks and feels more natural, the ball no longer feels as though it’s bouncing back and forth against the player’s foot as though connected with an invisible rubber band. Passes are crisper and easier to direct, allowing you to thread a path through the opposition with more confidence and diversity. Off the ball players react and adapt to the play in a way that is realistic and, frankly, heart warming. This could be the first football game that gets the position of supporting attacking players, and the defensive unit, right.

About time. Too often in the past has the defensive unit failed to employ the offside trap or your attacking midfielder refused to make a run behind the defence and past the striker holding play up for him.

It all adds up to a game of football that is as much about the individual moments as it is about the cohesive whole. We’ve been playing our PES 2013 preview code for a couple of weeks now, and almost without fail we see new things each time we load into a match. Goals are scored in new ways, new tricks are used by us or against us, individual player animations continue to surprise us and the manual passing and shooting systems (which we’re still mastering) add much needed accuracy and more chances to create the spectacular.

As we all know, spectacular is something the PES of old excelled at above all other football games. Above all other sports games in general, even.

Many of these features are not new, of course. Previous PES titles have been trying hard to incorporate much of what I’ve described above, only to find that things didn’t work and/or didn’t fit together. The key to this year’s game is the balance that has been applied to those elements. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the cohesion on display here makes it feel almost like a brand new game, albeit one with a soul that fans will still recognise.

And that’s just the start. There’s so much on offer here that our two weeks have in no way been long enough to get to grips with everything. New tricks and ball trapping options are something we’ve barely dipped into, as is the expanded and (on the surface of it) more robust defensive options for pressing and jockeying the opposition. It’s not the kind of game that can be mastered in a night.

Still, as with any game, there are some annoying niggles. Goalies have had their abilities turned up to eleven, a change that can make it incredibly difficult to score. This is where the manual shooting comes into play, a development that not all players are going to enjoy and want to learn. The menus are still terrible and come nowhere close to matching the sophistication, intuitiveness and aesthetic of those in Fifa. The same can be applied to the music, which is… interesting.

…very interesting. I hope it’s just placeholder audio for this preview code, because I’ve already had enough of it.

Despite the niggles, though, PES 2013 is far and away the best PES of this generation – yes, I can safely say that without yet having played the final game (touch wood). The game has evolved beyond what we’ve seen from it so far, but it’s done so in a way that retains the core blocks of what we understand PES to be.

It’s more tactical, but still fast and (if you so desire) direct. Shooting and passing are more complicated, allowing you to pull off deft touches as well as long range bullets. AI is far improved, but not in a way that shuts down your ability to define your own playing style and dictate the tone and pace of the game.

Fifa has been sitting on the throne for some time now, but the king may well be about to take back the crown.

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