With a new engine aiming to make the beautiful game that bit more beautiful, it feels like a big year for the legendary Pro Evolution Soccer franchise. Instead of creating a footballing title for next-generation consoles, Konami have decided to focus on moving PES to the new FOX engine – which will run Metal Gear Solid V upon its release. Whilst the overall footballing experience being offered here is still relatively strong, this transition has brought fresh problems within gameplay which, sadly, may take the best part of a new console generation to fix.
We’ll start with how the new engine performs since that’s the interesting new feature in PES 2014. Often the game can look strikingly real – the crowd is more detailed than ever and sometimes player likeness if very, very strong. With that said, there’s a worrying lack of attention to detail within PES 2014. Footballing super-stars are generally quite photo-realistic in appearance, but less well-known players can look embarrassingly inaccurate. As a Newcastle fan I jumped straight in to play as them, and was astounded to find that first-team stars such as Coloccini, Ameobi and Krul all look nothing like their real-world counterparts.
There are also some performance problems which were never a problem with the old Konami engine Pro Evolution used to run on. The game consistently stutters when firing a shot towards your opponent’s goal, and there are a quite a few bugs littered within gameplay as well. When playing with a group of friends I wasn’t able to switch a controller to play for either team, and often when playing co-operatively team select also stopped working completely.
More negatives are presented in the game’s presentation, which is utterly dire. Music selection is remarkably poor considering the strong track choices made in previous year – I would have to doubt that much of the game’s target audience are into both opera and world music. The menus also look plain and boring, lacking any dynamic features. They feel incredibly dated, which contrasts the realistic nature of the gameplay and thus showing confusion in the direction Konami intend on taking the franchise.
As ever, Konami also lack licences to the Premier League .The trade-off here is the inclusion of official European tournaments such as the Champions League and Europa League, whilst new Asian leagues have also been added which improves the game’s roster of players. Thankfully, for the smart gamer, this isn’t a problem. PES 2014’s ‘edit’ mode allows detailed customisation of everything in the game, and you can import data files online which will grant you all the licences you could possibly desire.
“Whilst the overall footballing experience being offered here is still relatively strong, this transition has brought fresh problems within gameplay which, sadly, may take the best part of a new console generation to fix.”
Gameplay is where PES 2014 claws back some brownie-points. The ability to orchestrate complex attacks and play an intelligent, chess like game of football remains the main draw of the franchise over long-standing competitor FIFA, and this year’s game really lets you play your own style. A greater emphasis on physicality is put in place this time around, and this really does add another dynamic to gameplay. Whereas previously it was preferable to have slender, fast players (such as Cristiano Ronaldo), this time around a strong, physical force (such as Didier Drogba) can be equally effective. This is true both in defence and attack, which is where the new styles come in. One can just as easily play the flowing, artistic style of Arsenal as they grind out results with the defensive tenacity of Stoke City on a cold Tuesday night.
Freedom to play the ball wherever you want is also a big part of PES 2014. You can still do pretty much everything manually, with new features including an advanced through ball which allows you to aim exactly where you want a defence splitting pass to go as well as advanced shooting, which lets you target whichever part of the goal you desire when shooting.
Some of this takes a while to get used to, but once you’ve put some hard hours into the new PES it becomes easy to play exactly how you want to. Sadly, however, the game’s core modes haven’t had the overhaul you may have wished for. It’s been the same Master League Online, training and international modes for several years now, and you do have to wonder why Konami don’t try to add some new ways to play in the same way EA have so effectively for FIFA.
So, where does all that leave PES 2014. Ultimately it’s a game which kills the series momentum to an extent, although if you prefer the gameplay of PES to FIFA there’s nothing drastically wrong enough with the new edition to make you want to switch sides. With that said, upon the arrival of the next-generation of consoles, Pro Evolution is in desperate need of a full overhaul if it wishes to survive.