Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 Review

Konami is back with the latest version of PES, titled Pro Evolution Soccer 2014. Before going into the details, though, there are a few milestones that need to be highlighted. The developers have been consistently rolling out revamped versions of the game since 2001. This is their 12th year with the game, and the latest version comes with significant tweaks that definitely warrants a second look.

This time around, Konami, also known for its epic series, Metal Gear Solid, has integrated its new Fox Engine technology in the latest installment. The tech, for those in the dark, is also the engine powering the upcoming MGS title, Metal Gear Solid 5: Phantom Pain. While playing the game, the difference the engine brought to the table was tangible.

A review of PES cannot be complete without a comparison with its stalwart competition, FIFA. Both titles have firmly been entrenched in a struggle that has extended for almost a decade, and there is no sign of it abating any time soon. Most football fans, when asked, are absolute followers of either side. While PES and FIFA have both had their heyday, the latter has been rising to the top for the last few years on the current generation of consoles. That being said, PES did come with some of the best football simulation seen on the PlayStation 2, according to ardent fans at least. The latest installation, according to the company, completely redesigns the game simulation thanks to its new engine. We decided to put that claim to the test.
The gameplay is perhaps the most realistic we have seen on a console

The first thing you notice while setting up your game is the slightly scattered football team licensing. This basically means that the major league teams that you are used to may not be in the line-up when you set up your team. Some of the major leagues, like Liga BBVA from Spain are fully licensed as well as a bunch of South American ones like Chile and Argentina. Other major leagues like the English Premier League, though, come with only one or two teams with the correct name, badge and kit. That doesn’t take away from the fact that player names and character generation is fairly accurate. Unfortunately, the game does not, as of now, reflect the majority of player transfers that took place this summer.

Long-term fans of the PES franchise, though, have pointed out that this is how the game has always been, with most focusing on the gameplay. PES 2014 totally delivers on that front, with a decent tempo being built through each match as well as a considerable amount of energy being focused on tactics and plays. The Fox Engine brings a stellar set of animations to the matches as well. The new MASS (Motion Animation Stability System) helps generate remarkably realistic player interactions, especially when you are slide-tackling.

Players now fall to the ground based on where they have been hit. A full frontal slide tackle now generates a completely different reaction to say, being clipped on the ankles. You can also clearly make out players holding their opponents at arm’s length or shielding the ball when players are stationary or even when the game is on. A memorable scenario for us was seeing our players trying to muscle out the opposition while running side-by-side towards the ball. The ball itself now seems to be an object that functions independent of the players, as it no longer seems to be linked to a particular player’s animation. This, unfortunately, caused a degree of chaos while penalty shoot-outs were taking place. In the crowded scenario, the independent animation meant that we had to keep the ball under wraps at all times during the game.
A full frontal slide tackle in the course of a game

Another feature that has not been worked on in this installment is weather. While rain and other weather changes are noticable because of their ommission, PES EU Community Manager, Adam Bhatti, while talking about this on the WENB forum, has said that the game was built from scratch and weather changes could not be worked into the current installment. He did say that the developers would work towards getting rain and other weather changes into the next installment of the game, PES 2015.
Overall, these changes all come together to make PES feel a lot more like an actual game of football, a fact that earlier editions aimed at, but missed by some degree due to pre-assigned animations and scripting. A major feature that helps increase the realism is the new Heart feature. This controls how the crowd and the players react to the events happening within the game. Heart was most noticeable when our team was able to get an early goal in, or when a last minute equaliser goal was scored. While the Heart feature is said to affect players, the most noticeable changes we noticed occurred with the crowd, with the volume and frequency of chants and cheers visibly increasing as the game progressed. Players, despite the claims, seemed largely unaffected by the tempo of the crowd. 
The crowd reactions were quite good, matching the tempo as the game progressed

Some other elements, though, have not been given as much focus as was necessary. The commentary felt flat and lackluster. While commentators did comment when a certain player scored a goal or made an assist, the tone seemed largely disinterested. There was also a noticeable time lag between the mention of the player’s name and the comment being made about them. The actual act of goalscoring also seemed a bit off. This is surprising, because, well, this is the most exciting part of a football game. The goal attempts by players, overall, felt flat and goalkeepers at times did not seem interested in blocking shots, especially if they came in on the rebound.

While the matches themselves seem competent, the game also came with a bunch of other things thrown in. PES 2014 comes with a bunch of game modes and fairly decent presentation. The game features two major game modes, “Football Life” and “Competition”. While the former comes with subsets like “Become A Legend” and “Master League”, the latter comes with “UEFA Champions”, “League”, “Europe League” as well as the newly licensed “AFC Champions League”, among others.
Become A Legend sees the user playing solo in the pursuit of becoming the best player

The company has said that it will release regular free Data Pack Updates that will add more kits, balls and stadiums to the mix, as well as a pack that will bring more realistic facial renderings for many of the players in the game. We also found a day-one patch that unlocks online multiplayer mode, as well as an online version of Master League. There is also talk of later patches that will come with more gamplay options like 11vs11 online multiplayer mode. While this seems to be a promising mix, it is surprising that the game developers did not include these features at the time of launch.

Both “Become A Legend” and “Master League” mode have made an appearance in the PES series before. The new modes seem similar to the earlier edition, though. “Become A Legend” lets you play as a single footballer, either a player who already exists or someone completely new, who sets out to become one of the best players in the world. “Master League”, on the other hand, puts you in the shoes of a team’s manager, although the goal remains the same, to make your team one of the best in the world. 

Quite frankly, the “Become A Legend” mode felt a bit boring, as you can only control what one player is doing on the pitch. Depending on the position you are playing, it sometimes feels like you are watching the ball a lot of times, as opposed to actually joining in. When your player gets substituted, you can, thankfully, fast-forward through the gameplay. This does away with the need to sit for 10 minutes while your game AI gets to kick the ball around.
While the gameplay is good, the goalscoring seems a bit tepid

“Master League”, though, seems a lot more promising. It is expected that many gamers picking up the game will spend a lot of time on the online mode of the same. “Master League Online” feels like a blast from the past for anyone who has played the series on earlier console generations. Teams basically start from the very bottom of the dog pile, with unknown players. The aim is to sign up a group of brilliant players and reach the top of the league. Points are earned based on the result of matches played, and the accumulated points can then be used to bid for players. Most leagues, though, come with a salary cap that prevents gamers from assembling an unbeatable team of super players. Overall, “Master League” and its online version seem to be the best bet for an entertaining gameplay while playing PES 2014. 

While the gameplay, player generation, and overall strategy seems fair, it seems clear that the new Fox Engine has pushed the hardware to its limit. Loading times before each match comes in the form of two, long stages. And unlike FIFA, there are no mini-games that will help distract you from the wait. In game, framerate issues keep cropping up, especially when the ball gets cornered into the goal. Thankfully, this issue does not rise while the game itself is in progress across the main lines. While player generation seems life-like, we still noticed some sort of a plastic sheen over them, especially when you see players in close-ups. 

While the game itself is pretty decent, the most important question that needs an answer is if the new game engine does enough to make PES 2014 stand out among other footballing titles. The answer, at least for now, is no. That being said, the latest installation does enough to impress, especially those who have been long standing fans of the series. Player animations and interactions are perhaps the best we have seen in a football game so far, but game modes still leave much to be desired. While there is definitely a lot of football to look forward to thanks to this game, the chances of drawing FIFA fans over the fence seems slim. That being said, the overall feel does show that the game is steadily working on becoming a force to reckon with, and it is expected that the next installation of the game will come with even more action packed under the hood.

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