Another year and it is time for the latest installment of the only real FIFA rival, and my personal favourite football game franchise, PES (Pro Evolution Soccer) 2014.
EA’s partnership with FIFA, the governing body of world football, has made life difficult for Konami so to compensate they have attempted to push PES down a more simulation style football game compared to the glitzy and glamorous FIFA over recent years. It has worked well for them and there are many PES fans who would claim to prefer it over FIFA for the more purist football experience.
The latest installment sees them push even further down the simulation path including a new element called HEART – this new feature tracks and displays players emotional state and that player’s performance is affected by his “heart” status. A couple of decent shots, playing at home and maybe a decent pass success ratio will see the players emotional state rise in turn boosting the players stats while a couple of wayward shots, a booking or the like can have the opposite effect.
On top of this feature, the game runs on the well praised Fox engine. The same engine being used for Metal Gear Solid V. As well as the above changes, league mode returns from its 2013 hiatus, there are more playable leagues on Master League Online (3 instead of 1), you can now play as a keeper in Become a Legend and can soon play 11 v 11 online matches (a future patch apparently).
So, with all these changes, is PES 2014 a forward step or just more of the same?
Graphically the game is a real mixed bag. The actual game play looks beautiful, clean and crisp and showcases the Fox engine well, there are more emotions on players faces and players (mostly) look more like their real life counterparts. Annoyingly there are occasional frame rate issues mainly noticed during the cut scenes leading up to the start of a game with players jittering all over the place and a few players really didn’t fare to well in being recreated as video game characters.
Gameplay is, as often, the best part of a PES game and this one is no different. It is smooth and you feel in real control of the ball and if you want to succeed, you will need to master the ball control. Hoofing the ball forward, impossible through balls and charging around the pitch is not the way to succeed in PES. The AI going forward seems competent with players running off each other well. The defensive AI seems a little off though with defenders ignoring balls they could easily collect and goalkeeper errors a bit too plentiful. There are also the usual dodgy referee decisions and they can also be a bit too quick to pull out a card. This all adds to the game though and helps creates those memorable PES moments were you work your nuts off for 89 minutes and finally score a brilliant goal only for your keeper to spill the ball through his legs in the 90th minute.
Game modes are, disappointingly, not really any different online or offline to previous iterations other than a few tweaks and the return of league mode that was in 2012 but absent from 2013. Also included is the Asian Champions League but this will not appeal to everyone outside of Asia.
In terms of licensing, PES again falls unsurprisingly short in comparison to FIFA. In fact, it seems worse than usual this time round. While teams are still named incorrectly, for example, North London are still Arsenal, this time the kit is even the wrong format with the aforementioned team having a default red and white vertical striped home kit and blue and yellow vertical striped away kit. I am not sure if all kits are wrong or just North London’s but as they are my team of choice, I was very disappointed. On top of the team name and kit issues, the biggest disappointment of all is the squad’s are not yet up to date with all current, end of transfer window, squads. Again, North London do not have Ozil but do have Gervinho and as a consequence, Real Madrid have Ozil and also Gareth Bale and Roma, of course, do not have Gervinho. Of course, all of this may be fixed in an update and could also be fixed with the editor but it is a disappointing start.
Despite all the complaints, once you get through the uninspiring menus, change your line up to reflect the real teams and get by the sometimes jittery pre match clips you get to play a really good football simulation that will have you shouting at the linesman when you were sure you were onside, staring at the clock as you try to hold on to that one nil lead and jumping for joy when you finally hit the back of the net.