Review: PES 2014
The noble pursuit of 22 men kicking a spherical object (and occasionally, each other) around a grass pitch has been rendered in pixellated form many times before, with varying results.
One of the more successful attempts has been the much loved Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) series. I grew up playing this on both PS1 and 2 and have fond memories of topping the Master League and playing exhibition tournaments with my friends.
However, in recent years PES has fallen out of favour. The increased accuracy and fun of the competition has prompted repeated rethinks for the series, often (positive) minor tweaks that enhance the experience while ultimately ignoring the core problems. The hook this time is the new Fox Engine, borrowed from the Metal Gear series, that other famous big hitter for Konami.
The first impact you notice is that the animation is a vast improvement on the previous instalment. Players are now recognisable from their run styles and the way they control the ball. Sliding challenges take time to execute and have a real weight to them, pulling one off successfully is a great feeling.
Some of the more technical tricks can take a bit of getting used to, involving both analogue sticks and the occasional nudge of a shoulder button. However, when executed properly they can make your attacker spin away from his marker and leave him looking a right mug! Again, this is a very good feeling.
Less of a good feeling is to be had in the passing department. The bread and butter of any football game, PES passing has its up and downs. On the one hand, the through-ball system is quite magnificent, genius even. You get to place the ball exactly where you want it with an on-screen curser, giving a great feeling of control and immediacy. Weighting a through-ball perfectly so that a striker has the chance to run into the space in front of them has never been represented quite so accurately in a game.
On the other hand, short to medium passing feels a bit fudged, with the game sometimes guessing incorrectly which player you wanted to pass towards, often with disastrous, pad-thrown-against-the-wall consequences. Shooting is a mixed bag too, sometimes feeling like you have deft control over where the ball is placed and at others leaving you wondering if that miss is your fault, or the games.
Plus free kicks use the kind of on screen prompts that I thought had gone out of football games in the late ’90s. It works, but feels quite cheap and free of skill when you score using this method.
These things add up to make you feel removed from the action, as if you are not in complete control (and yes I am playing with all assist options either off or at lowest settings). However PES comes swinging back again with a defending mode that allows for 1v1 shoulder tackling and relies on a mix of patient jockeying and instinctive snap tackles. Smart stuff.
Also cleverly done is the Heart feature, a cool new addition. Your players morale has always gone up and down between matches in PES, but now it goes up and down in-game. Playing away dips morale, but individual moments of skill can boost a players confidence. A neat idea, well executed.
The basic modes are familiar to anyone who’s played the series before. The usual licensed trophies (Champions League, etc) remain there for your gaming pleasure. As ever, the Master League is where the bulk of your offline time will go. Building up from a squad of nobodies to a title winning team is inherently satisfying, especially on a budget that wouldn’t buy Messi’s shoelaces. The option to move clubs is also a welcome one.
The training mode is well implemented, with both on screen prompts and video demonstrations showing you how to pull off everything from basic passing to flashy tricks. Since some of the more complicated moves require split second, context sensitive button timing, I’d recommend starting with this mode, as does the game.
Visually, the menu presentation is smooth and sleeker this time around too. Once you get past the myriad set up menu’s what you actually get is a nice looking home-hub embossed with your teams colours and showing your favourite player in the background.
The game has thankfully junked the ghastly Euro-cheese music of old in favour of Dario G’s 1998 world cup theme and a few other tunes of a similar nature. It’s not the most imaginative choice, but it does now mean I can at least navigate the menu screens without having to dive for the mute button. Sadly the same cannot be said of the in-game commentary. Inane witterings and non sequiturs run wild. It’s probably best to just ignore it, if you can.
To sum up
Ultimately, PES 2014 feels like a step in the right direction. It has its flaws but ultimately remains a competent and diverting exploration of the beautiful game, one that’s definitely worth a look.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is available now on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.