Star players go all out for title
Just as in real life football, Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi have risen to the summit of the sport in recent years, the virtual version of the beautiful game has been dominated by two powerful players for the past decade - Electronic Arts' annually updated FIFA games, and Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer.
Like any healthy sporting rivalry, the fortunes of the two franchises have been fraught with ups and downs, with Pro Evo establishing itself as the purists' game of choice in the early 2000s, and EA's ability to snap up licenses and image rights from various leagues around the world giving its game the commercial edge.
Over the past few seasons however, the Canadian-made FIFA has surged ahead of its Japanese rival, with some innovative improvements and refinements to the game engine giving it the upper hand in the technical department, as well as the air of authenticity provided by its long-held licences.
With the Pro Evo brand tarnished by a series of lacklustre updates since 2009, Konami has renewed its efforts to wrest back the title and this year's release has been greeted as a return to form. So which football game should you buy this year? We'll look at each games strengths and weaknesses to help you decide:
Both games boast incredibly impressive visuals, with the stars of the modern game instantly recognisable through realistically rendered face mapping and famous stadiums from around the world recreated down to the last turnstile. While Pro Evo just edges the battle of the player models, it doesn't come close to FIFA's broadcast-quality levels of presentation, and there's an overall slickness to EA's effort that makes it far easier on the eye.
There's been a notable drop in pace for both games when compared to last year's updates, with players having more time and space on the ball and matches playing out more tactically as a result. The artificial intelligence has been beefed up considerably in both versions, with players making clever runs off the ball and defenders not falling for the flicks and tricks that might have fooled them previously. The ball often feels glued to players' feet in Pro Evo whereas in FIFA it will often ricochet and rebound if not under close control - the latter is probably more realistic although more frustrating when you're bearing down on goal in the 89th minute.
Konami deserves a lot of credit for narrowing the gap that's emerged in recent seasons as the overall feel of both games is impressive enough to call this one a score draw.
ONLINE AND MULTIPLAYER
A decisive victory for FIFA here, with a vast array of online options and game modes leaving Pro Evo's offering looking basic in comparison. As well as the usual online matches, leagues and card collecting Ultimate Team modes, FIFA also offers the option to play games based on your favourite club's current and forthcoming fixtures, with current form and injuries taken into account. Unfortunately, at the time of writing EA has become a victim of its own online success, with servers creaking and crashing under heavy demand during peak times, causing rage inducing loss of connections mid-match, particularly against northern hemisphere opponents.
SINGLE PLAYER MODES
While both games allow you to play through seasons, cup campaigns and championships as your favourite club, Pro Evo seems more dedicated to solo gaming, with the series' trademark Master League offering more depth and diversity than FIFA's offline league season. The option to play through a career as an individual player is also implemented more effectively by Konami, with an emphasis on role playing elements that extends to interacting with agents and coaches as your young pro rises through the ranks.
For the first time this decade, it's a tough call to pick an overall winner in this ongoing tussle, and that is certainly good news for football loving gamers. Pro Evo had shown signs of falling by the wayside recently, and without any competition to inspire innovation, EA may have taken its foot off the gas if allowed to establish an unchallenged monopoly.
As it stands, there's very little to decide between the two games. FIFA is a slicker package and offers more options for online competition, but Pro Evo is better for those who prefer offline or single-player modes. Personally, I'd say FIFA has just managed to retain the title this time round, but the EA Sports team will no doubt be looking over their shoulders now their rivals have upped their game.
From: EA Sports.
Pro Evo 2013
(PS3, Xbox 360)
The Nelson Mail