The annual battle between PES and FIFA is upon us once again, with Konamis series looking to dethrone, or at least put a dent in, EAs supremely popular football behemoth.
As we head towards the dawn of the next gen consoles Konami has unleashed eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020, promising that playing is believing. But the question, as ever, is whether the Japanese giant has brought enough to the table to entice fans of FIFA to swap teams.
In terms of innovative new concepts sports games rarely have much to offer but while FIFA is bringing Volta football to the party this year, PES has nothing similar to counter it with. Beyond the new Matchday mode, which hasnt been executed as well as it could be at launch, PES 2020 lacks anything particularly innovative. Whether thats a problem depends on what you want or expect from a football sim.
If youre invested purely for what happens on the pitch, youre looking at the finest football sim in years, and thats no exaggeration.
On the other hand, some will remember the launch day issues of last year – the glaring artificial intelligence fault that made playing offline against the computer utterly pointless. Thankfully theres no such fault with eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 (genuinely the name of the game) and that immediately gets a big tick from us.
Lets start with the bread and butter: the gameplay. Its what everyone comes for and will be what keeps people playing the game long into next year, and we can say with assuredness that its as good as it has ever been.
The developers have worked with feedback from PES 2019 and not only managed to keep what made last years game so satisfying (namely the feeling of striking a football) but theyve managed to find a way to make the game feel more accessible whilst still requiring a certain precision to get the most out of it.
Dribbling mechanics have been refined and finesse dribbling (created in consultation with the great Andres Iniesta) immediately resonates. It feels cunning, if not exhilarating, and for the casual player you dont even need to really know what youre doing, just that the right stick can get you out of a tight spot. For the serious players it will add a whole new layer of elusiveness to your play and using it with the best dribblers is so enjoyable. Master this with the right player and youll be a force to be reckoned with.
There are also fewer examples of players being stupid, for want of a better phrase. Over the years several quirks in the gameplay have grown to become unavoidable frustrations. One particular gripe – the inability to select the player closest to a loose ball – looks to be a thing of the past and for that we should be thankful. Inevitably there are some bugs weve spotted but nothing close to as terminal as the launch day artificial intelligence bug from last year. We live in hope that these will be patched.
Goalkeeping has been worked on too and the animations, and indeed decision-making, of the men between the sticks is as realistic as youve ever seen in a video game. Of course, there will inevitably be examples on social media of it all going catastrophically wrong but were confident the foundations are in place for a good year for the goalkeepers. It also makes scoring past them even more satisfying than usual.
And thats with the ball pinging off a foot. But remember headers? The art of the headed shot has been all but missing in PES for a while now, but in our time with eFootball PES 2020 weve already powered a few past marooned goalkeepers and that opens the gameplay up even more.
We cant leave the pitch without discussing the matchday presentation. Again, its been taken up a notch and Konami should be immensely proud of the product its delivered to armchair football fans. Everything – the tunnel, the stadium, the close-ups, the line-up graphics, and the pitch itself – looks immaculate. Its the finest presentation money can buy and the new stadium camera angle is a joy.
Away from the pitch Konami has been keen to emphasise the significance of their deal with Juventus, making eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 the only game in which you can play as the Serie A champions, a major exclusivity deal. To see FIFA make do with Piemonte Calcio isnt exactly a mortal blow but it will make fans of EAs series take note.
Perhaps the biggest announcement though is that of the Euro 2020 full tournament being made available as downloadable DLC in the second quarter of 2020 – a significant dollop of content and something bound to reinvigorate the fanbase just as the games cycle begins to slow.
Its taken a while but Konami has finally modernised the user interface, and pretty much across the board. Its hardly something to make you part with £50 for on its own but just being greeted by the vivid purples and pinks has a real Premier League feel about it and is long overdue. There are still changes wed like to see, particularly not having eFootball PES 2020 shoved in our faces at every point but its a start. The menus are slick and pain-free, though navigating some of them in Master League is more time consuming than it should be.
Then you have the little things weve spotted so far. Cash-strapped myClub fans will know how frustrating it is trying to build a competitive team with a manager with such low management skills. Well, the developers have addressed this problem so youre in no rush to shell out on a top tier guy and can experiment a bit more with your squad building. You have far more flexibility and that can only be a good thing.
Master League has also undergone some surgery. The mode itself is the same and thats absolutely fine but Konami has reworked transfer negotiations, making it harder to strike a deal, while the transfer market will much more closely resemble real life.
The presence of a couple of licensed lower leagues (Ligue 2 and the Brasileirao Serie B, for example) means starting at the lower end of the footballing pyramid also remains authentic and challenging. For those wanting to start at the top check out meticulously formed partner clubs like Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich, and Barcelona.
Lets start with Become A Legend, the third main mode youre given on the home screen. Its been a mainstay of the series for a while now but we really have to wonder whats going on. Changes? What changes? For all intents and purposes nothing significant has changed. Where Master League has introduced new cut scenes, Become A Legend just lacks anything innovative or enticing. Its a dull mode left rotting on the scrapheap, an afterthought.
Fortunately Konami doesnt hang its hat on Become A Legend, thats where myClub comes in. Entering its sixth year, Konamis take on FIFA Ultimate Team is now firmly established in the series. Konami has toyed with a few elements of myClub over the years – the pack openings, player cards, management skills, and tournament formats – but where is the innovation?
Weve been big advocates of myClub and especially appreciate how anyone, money or no money, can build a highly competitive team online without needing a bank loan.
That said, its time to aim higher. While the interface has received a makeover – the new overview of player stats is refreshing and easier on the eye – we expected much more content on launch day.
A day after launch, online added up to five one-match tournaments to help you build up some currency and… well that was it. You can play ranked games but disappointingly there has been no change to the format. Its no clearer how your ranking improves or falls and theres nothing close to the division system FIFA boasts. And we dont know why. Its not user-friendly, it just shouts laziness to us.
Of course, Konami like to do things differently but were at a point now where PES should really be looking to give jaded FIFA fans a reason to switch. Gameplay is essential but depth will keep people playing. Of course, its fun to be quirky with things like the fair play always! message when you first fire up the game but there are some very obvious real world football elements missing. Divisions! Leagues! Tournaments! Rewards! Its just a bit flat in its current state.
For example, what is the point of playing offline against the computer in myClub? The rewards are always the same, theres no real incentive, particularly early on when you play on the regular difficulty mode. And again theres no league system to show your progress.
To be clear, none of this is game-breaking – theres still a great amount of depth and there are no doubt a number of weekly giveaways and tournaments planned for after launch. Featured players are always a treat and were hopeful Konami has something fresh up their sleeves as the year goes on.
Many PES fans buy the game purely for the offline experience and whilst were impressed with the new look Master League it has to be said that one of the main selling points of this years game is the new cut scenes and dialogue options.
To squash this immediately: the dialogue has no effect on your save beyond a few headlines, and the cut scenes are cool for a minute and then boring. We skipped them.
Elsewhere, we were disappointed (again) to not see PES embrace womens football, particularly given the headline-grabbing year its had across the globe. FIFA has included playable womens teams since 2016, its time Konami caught up.
Whilst were discussing 2016, a significant criticism of the matchday experience in PES is the commentary and in-game sounds. Should we still be hearing the same commentary lines from years ago? No, not really. Its a problem that blights not just PES but FIFA too, and no football sim has quite got the acoustics right. Sometimes the crowd sound involved and dynamic, other times you can forget theyre there. Hopefully theres a huge improvement on this front next year.