PES: Pro Evolution Soccer

PES: Pro Evolution Soccer 2014

The biggest overhaul in the history of PES.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 has taken the series through the biggest changes its seen in more than a decade. When I first played at E3, I was shocked at just how different the game was to last year’s version. For better or worse, it felt like the series had been reinvigorated with a new coat of paint in an effort to challenge EA Sports’ FIFA and redefine the PES franchise for football fans the world over. Since that demo the game’s been refined further, and the end product is a major leap forward for a series on the brink.

Powered by FOX Engine, PES 2014 is certainly the prettiest game in the series. From the stadiums to the crowds, and the impressive player models, it appears PES 2014 is pushing both the Xbox 360 and PS3 to their limits. Animations are also impressive, with player movement, headers, kicks and collisions accentuating a very good looking football experience. There are the occasional stutter and the frame rate struggles occasionally, but considering the leap over the game’s predecessors, it’s hard to fault such a visually impressive game.

But it’s not just in the graphics and animations that PES 2014 takes such a leap forward in. The gameplay itself feels strangely original and unlike anything in the PES series before it. It’s more FIFA 13 than PES 2013, with a distinctive personality that smells of the PES uniqueness that has defined the series for over a decade.

This is as realistic a football game that we’ve seen out of the PES ranks.

The FOX Engine presents a number of promising expansions for the PES Productions team, allowing for the advancement of player behaviour and ensuring they are able to analyse the position of all players on the fields, and not just those with and near the ball.

In previous games, certain formations — often the default one, depending on the team — would lead players to stream up the ground on an offensive run, only for the transition forward to lead to either an offside trap, or no target at all to pass to. It often happened going the other way, too, where an error while handling the ball could lead to a quick transition, and too many defensive players caught back and unable to stop the advancement.

Shooting feels less of a formality than in PES 2013, but it can still be frustrating to place the ball precisely beyond the keeper. This is in contrast to the game’s passing mechanics, which have always been a strength and work well to help you keep possession of the ball. Throw in the heavier reliance on player positioning with a grittier collision system and there’s a great balance between the classic PES arcade feel, and a refined sim feel the series has lacked for a number of years.

The new TrueBall Tech feels like more of a cosmetic touch: ball movement and how players respond to the placement of the ball looks superb because of it, but it also makes for a tighter control system that allows for a far more empowering dribbling experience. Ball handling is certainly tighter because of it.

Therein lies PES 2014’s major fault: in its ambition comes a degrading of its predecessor’s challenging fun factor. It’s a punishing football experience, not all that unlike those before it but far more likely to pounce if you underestimate the weight, placement and physics of the ball and player, which you will.

In tightening the controls and handling, PES 2014 is undoubtedly a better football sim than its predecessors, but the compromise in that regard was in making things like skill moves and prestige through passes a thing of skill rather than a gameplay formality like in PES 2014.

That’s not to say this is a bad football game in any regard; it just compromises a lot for the sake of mixing things up, which I must applaud more than condemn. The added physicality of collisions, thanks to the Motion Animation Stability System (MASS), makes matches against friends tight and ruthless, making for closer confrontations and satisfying gameplay. In giving up the smooth, arcade feel of PES 2013, the dev team has added a tight, aggressive competitive edge that I hope will be beneficial for the series.

Football fans need not worry about the gameplay, though. This is as realistic a football game that we’ve seen out of the PES ranks. It’s just a shame that the typical things — licenses, modes and overall depth — hold the series back. There have been improvements — the added Asian Champions League is a nice tough — yet most of the best teams and players are still no where to be seen. There are great teams and players there, but just not enough. As a PES fan, that’s fine for me, but it’s hard to recommend the series when it continues to be so lacking in these areas.

PES 2014 is a step in the right direction for a series trying to find an identity. I admire the ambitious change to the overall feel and presentation, and for the most part the experience is closer to the sim feel the PES franchise used to have down pat before eventually falling wayside. If PES 2014 is the tease for next-gen football, there’s a lot in store for the genre.