An annual instalment of PES no longer feels like an exercise in futility
If there was ever going to be a chance for Pro Evolution Soccer to catch up with its arch nemesis, this was going to be it. FIFA 14 at launch wasn’t even close to being as polished a release as its predecessor, or as complete a product as EA would have liked. This was going to be Konami’s big opportunity. Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 adds several new features, while the game itself has been described to have been given a new lease of life (or “a new beginning” as the publisher describes it), but one can’t help wonder if PES has pushed itself in a corner, being required to strip down its various elements and overhaul them year after year. It almost feels like PES is taking two steps forward and one step back.
But one thing is for certain. Unlike previous years (or more particularly, the dawn of the HD era in console gaming), an instalment of Pro Evolution Soccer no longer feels like an exercise in futility. Every year, we’ve been getting rock-solid football simulations aimed at pleasing those who enjoy the complexities of the beautiful game just as much as its simplicity. Whereas PES 2013 epitomised the desire to close the gap on FIFA, PES 2014 attempts to combine the complexities of PES with what seems like Pro Evolution Soccer’s interpretation of FIFA’s gameplay innovations. The results are mixed.
First up, there’s ‘TrueBall Tech’, which basically is ball physics in general, but specifically has to do with different players’ ability to trap and control the ball in addition to off-the-ball movement, like reading a pass and getting into space behind a defender. The first-touch system feels a little unresponsive, with all players almost always taking one touch before reacting to button presses, unless a series of presses is done in advance (effectively eliminating reward for skill and timing). Playing tiki-taka for instance is almost impossible if you’re trying to time passes, runs and through-balls.
Wingers have traditionally been overpowered in PES, and more intelligent attacking movement has now made it more difficult to defend, and easier to exploit space on the pitch — resulting in more goals, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But what is disappointing is that defenders seem to rush irrationally towards the ball (assuming they lack the same off-the-ball movement abilities as more skilled players), while giving too much space to attackers when defending in front of them. Defending feels more FIFA-esque than in the past, where the most effective method is to close down passing channels and filling gaps on the pitch.
PES 2014’s tactics system allows you to customise player movement on the pitch (you could do this in the past, but not with the same level of intricacy). Control restrictions during set pieces have been removed as well — particularly during free kicks. Then there’s the Motion Animation Stability System (or M.A.S.S. for short) which is Konami’s version of EA’s infamous Player Impact Engine, and I can safely say that Konami’s take on player physics is far, far superior in every respect. Jostling feels infinitely more realistic, leaving little room for comical falls and outrageous collisions. No doubt that the use of Havok’s physics engine has repaid rich dividends.
On the graphics front, powered this time around by Kojima Productions’ Fox Engine (the same graphics engine will be used in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain), PES 2014 looks different, if not necessarily better. Players look closer to their real-life counterparts than they did in the past, but generic character models dominate (no doubt a result of the lack of licensing). FIFA wins the graphics battle hands-down, though. PES looks utilitarian — except for its player animation, which in addition to presets, is governed by physics and momentum. Another interesting addition is moving crowds, but Konami’s presentation is still far behind EA’s. However, there’s good use of the UEFA Champions League licence (all the teams aren’t licensed again, unfortunately) — if there ever was a high point in PES 2014’s presentation, it’s the handling of UCL matches and tournaments.
In pure gameplay terms, it boils down to a matter of choice. Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is more accessible to FIFA players than past versions, while fans of the series will enjoy the new additions to gameplay and presentation. PES 2014 is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.