How does Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer distinguish itself from Electronic Arts’ global sales behemoth FIFA year after year? By presenting itself in a completely different way. When you turn on FIFA 14, the first thing that happens is you have to sit through a five-minute infomercial about the multitude of features in the game, from the micro-transaction heavy Ultimate Team to FIFA‘s constantly updated live match tracker, all while some licensed pop song blasts in the background. When you first start Pro Evolution Soccer 2014, an Italian aria crests while you look at a pristine football pitch and the game asks for your name.
That’s Pro Evolution Soccer. It is understated, almost rustic (as much as a video game can be) in its approach to digital sport; there are only a handful of play modes, and they are all devoted to just playing the game with a minimum of presentational flourishes. Developer PES Productions aimed this particular entry as a fresh start for the flagging series, and its purity feels like a reflection of that goal. While PES 2014‘s clarity of presentation and play are alluring though, its true depth is hidden and inaccessible to all but those hardcore fans already familiar with the series. It’s a strong game, but not the conqueror Konami was hoping it would be.
Due to licensing deals between the real FIFA and EA Sports, PES 2014 does not have as many real world teams, leagues, and stadiums as EA’s game, but it’s also far less cluttered. In addition to just playing a simple pick up match online or against the computer, there are just three main modes in the game: Master League, Become A Legend, and League. The last of these is the simplest, letting you play through tournaments like the UEFA Champions League competition from start to finish while using accurate rosters for those teams. PES does have some exclusive leagues of its own, so Argentinian fans hankering for a video game version of the Argentine Primavera Division have much to look forward to. As a way to grow skill in the game’s distinctive field play, the tournaments are ideal, but their authentic presentation will be lost on laymen.
Master League is the most complex pursuit in PES 2014, putting you in the role of a manager that can either work with a single team for life, or move between clubs while building a personal career not tied to a dynasty. There is a monumental amount of information to absorb in Master League; how to hire new players for your 32-man team, how to judge how long their careers should be before retirement, how to establish defensive or aggressive tactics on the field, and on and on. Tutorials are in short supply in Master League as well. The only help you’ll get figuring out the intricacies of acquiring players from Youth Leagues is a quick message during pre-season play, and you’re left to figure out the rest on your own.
Many of the small details that make sports games like shine are rough in PES 14.
Unfortunately PES’s sparse presentation isn’t always a good thing. It’s not enough of a visual and aural spectacle on its own to thrill people unfamiliar with these teams and their home stadiums. Players and stadiums aren’t ugly, simply dull. Individual players’ strides and animations are lost when seen from overhead, and even in the up close presentation of the individual team member Become A Legend mode. Everyone looks the same. Many of the small details that make sports games like this shine are rough in PES 14 – like stadium specific cheers and crowds, with audiences moving in sync, and everyone standing up and sitting down at the same time in a creepy approximation of the real thing. Player faces have a plastic sheen. As a debut for Kojima Productions’ Fox Engine, the technology running Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, PES 14 is disappointing on hardware like PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Eleven working as one
Like all sports game makers, Konami boasts about the physics systems at work in PES 2014. “TrueBall Tech” is supposed to give you complete control of the ball in 360-degrees, and the “Motion Animation Stability System” touts the most realistic player collisions in the series. It doesn’t matter what oddball names Konami slaps on the field game though, PES never feels like you’re really controlling a single player on the field. Even the ball handling doesn’t feel precisely tactile; it’s less like you’re moving a physical object around the digital field than there’s an object altering how the player currently in your control moves. This isn’t a bad thing.
In fact, once you wrap your head around PES‘ complex controls, the field game feels rewardingly complex. Many of the most basic actions in PES are automated, and the goal is getting players in perfect positions to execute those automated maneuvers. On defense for example, pressing and holding X on the PlayStation controller (A on Xbox) will make the player in your control automatically close on the ball carrier. Hold both X and R1 and they sprint after them and brush up against the ball carrier’s body to try and set up steals, which requires a double tap of X. On offense, you can set up a three-player attack where you pass the ball with the triangle button and hold it to make the receiver play through. All of these automated maneuvers can be cancelled by pressing both of the right shoulder buttons.
If all those button presses sound confusing, it’s because they are. There is a harsh learning curve in PES, but once you’re acclimated it truly feels like you’re controlling an entire team that’s working in concert on the field. What seems complex at first reveals itself to be an elegant way to execute strategy in game. That first goal born of a perfectly set up three-man play helps to ease the sting of the initially awkward controls.
Konami took a major risk stripping Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 of the usual excesses in console sports video games. Console players are accustomed to pomp and outsized feature sets, while hardcore football fans on PCs looking for a simulation experience already have the long running Football Manager series. While the gambit isn’t wholly successful – it’s hard not to wish that this game had the visual panache of early Fox Engine demoes – PES‘ philosophy allows its sweet soccer to shine. It will not topple EA’s FIFA empire, but it doesn’t need to. Instead it offers something different.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 3 using a copy provided by Konami.
- Excellent field game captures the feel of controlling a whole squad.
- Admirably basic in its approach to video game sports.
- Opera in the soundtrack!
- Steep learning curve with thin tutorials in career mode.
- Dull graphical presentation.
- Complex control scheme will keep all but the most devoted players away.