PES 2014 is arguably the biggest shake up in the franchise's history, but to keep expectations in check let's focus on what it isn't.
It isn't a silver bullet. It isn't a new way to play football games. It isn't on PS4 or Xbox One. It isn't a visual leap that defies belief. It isn't blessed with a new mode or licence that changes everything. It isn't likely to topple FIFA 14.
PES 2014 is the first step to all these goals. It's brave. It's fresh. It's challenging. It's instantly playable, a credible rival for FIFA 14 on PS3 and a promising base for next generation development.
Our impressions are based on three hours with 80-85% complete code. Bayern Munich and Santos were the only playable sides, with further licences to be confirmed later on. It took us 20 or so hours to adjust to PES 2013's subtleties and fine control, so this is largely a gut reaction to a game that's actively being tweaked.
Obviously, we can't give you the PS3 pad so explaining the 'feel' of PES 2014 requires a mix of technical terminology, imagination and clichés - like describing the taste of wine, but not allowing you a sip.
It's a more combative game, built around the new M.A.S.S. system (Motion Animation Stability System). Players will automatically hold out an arm to hold off an advancing rival, or jostle for a 50-50 ball. You can even perform an off-ball nudge manually by using the right stick when not in possession.
When powerful defensive midfielder Javi Martinez stepped into a challenge, the attacker's momentum stopped dead. Martinez 'feels' like real-life: a sturdy defensive shield with decent passing ability. In contrast, technically gifted midfielder Schweinsteiger was able to shield the ball from opponents via subtle rotations of the left stick - arching through 360˚, using his body shape and tight control to shield the ball.
Dribblers like Ribery or Neymar feel more fleet-footed, capable of sharp directional turns, throwing defenders off balance. Again, all you need are deft left stick nudges and bursts of speed, not fancy tricks. To counter this, centre backs like Dante are strong, balanced and firm in the tackle - brushing aside a hesitant attacker. The game has been calibrated to encourage cat-and-mouse one-on-one situations. Defenders and attackers choose between low risk / low return or high risk / high return strategies.
The game has been calibrated to encourage cat-and-mouse one-on-one situations.
For example, on the edge of the penalty area, you could use Neymar's agility to turn sharply and give a 'safe' short pass out wide before a defender gets near. Or you could gamble on Neymar's close-control, draw in two defenders, and burst into the box using the new trick system. You no longer hold L2 and perform Street Fighter-style stick taps like PES 2013, but use more intuitive right stick sweeps (controlling 'weight shift') in conjunction with the left stick (to indicate the 'ball delivery direction').
Quarter circle rotations perform intuitive step overs, while more complex movements allow drag backs, Marseille spins and rapid ball-shifting feints. Perform the wrong trick relative to the defender's position, or time it too early / late, and you're easy fodder for the defender - who can claim the ball for a devastating break.
PES 2013's complex, multi-button, defending has been simplified. Hold X and the left stick to stand off you man (low risk), add R1 to increase pressure and move closer (medium risk) and / or double-tap x to make a tackle (high risk) - even if the ball is nowhere near. Square button calls in a second defender to help. As ever, it's a battle of timing relative to your defender's attributes.
'Combination play' is a new feature, allowing you to set movement patterns for your AI team mates. You choose from a menu of behaviours e.g. overload down the left, attack centrally, swap positions etc. You pick where these movements occur by clicking on a pitch diagram split into 11 squares. For example, you could set your full back to overlap you at the edge of the opponent's box. This behaviour can be manually activated when in the correct zone by double tapping L2.
It's a powerful new feature, but is currently poorly explained and hidden in the tactics menu. Konami assure us the final game will offer a tutorial and it will be clear when your (AI or human) opponent is using such tactics - giving you the opportunity to set your own counter measures.