GAME NAME: Pro Evolution Soccer 2014
DEVELOPER(S): PES Productions
PLATFORM(S): PC, Xbox 360, PS3
RELEASE DATE(S): September 19th, 2013
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 (PES 14) is a game that has always been well received in the gaming community. While its main competition, FIFA, was often considered to be the ‘gamer’s game of choice’, PES was always the ‘true footballer’s game of choice’. It had sophistication about it, that complex underbelly which made you want to play it more, just so you could unhinge its secrets and become the best player of all time. It was a skill that many craved, it was a dream.
Years on and PES has fallen by the wayside, it’s been distracted. FIFA has moved on to glamorous heights with its licenses and many modes. PES has relied on the same aspects pulling it through, and for the most part it was working. This year, it saw its first wholesale change in many a year, a new engine, the Fox Engine. But is that enough to turn the tides and return Konami’s title to its rightful place?
PES 2013 was a step in the right direction, though it wasn’t without its problems. When it was announced that PES 2014 was going to use the new engine, long time fans of the series were thrilled. The game we held so dear was finally getting a significant upgrade. Or so we hoped. The new engine is evident in PES 2014 and for the most part it is a success. New fluid animations allow the game to move at a much steadier pace, one that feels realistic and wholesome. Transitions between different animations are as nimble as Luis Suarez finely timing a nutmeg through the defenders legs and the general movement is quite excellent.
It’s the kind of engine that has been worth waiting for. The physicality of the players has also seen an upgrade and the battling on the field between players feels more authentic than ever. Jostling for possession and position resembles that of the beautiful game. In fact, the use of the right analogue stick to create space by using little changes in direction and the odd jink, feel so realistic that at times you have to sit back and just admire what is happening in front of you.
This creation of space is further enhanced by the ability to play the perfect pass straight after finding said space. Speaking of which, passing is a treat in PES 2014 and there is nothing quite like opening up the defence with the perfect run and pass, followed by a goal to take your team to the top. Sadly, that’s part of where PES 2014 begins to fall apart.
You see while everything above sounds all rosy, it just doesn’t filter through to the rest of the game. After all the great passing and interplay between your players you get to that final third and it just doesn’t feel like it should. The shooting feels broken and at times a bit like the lottery, especially when playing on manual controls (preferable for most fans). It’s odd seeing the ball that you expect to be hit hard towards the corner get lofted in the air like a balloon. It hardly ever goes the right direction either. The worst part is that these mishit shots seem to be impossible for goalkeepers to save, which honestly looks quite ridiculous as the ball goes straight through their hands.
The terrible shooting is emphasised even further on manual controls as there is a bug in the game which makes it impossible to make an attacking header whatsoever. Your player simply allows the ball to float over his head. This is all made slightly better when using the assisted shooting, but that kind of defeats the point.
As bad as shooting is, the AI is probably even worse. It’s a great misfortune that a game that has relied so heavily on smart AI has suddenly lost this aspect altogether. The AI does some absolutely daft things at times that make you wonder why you should even bother. If it makes it any better, the computer AI is almost as bad as your own AI so at least it balances out. The thing is that these AI problems have been around before, and instead of getting fixed, they have actually gotten worse. It’s unacceptable really.
In terms of modes, at least League mode has returned allowing players to play in a standard league for a number of seasons. You also have the choice of various cup competitions including the much revered European Champions League which is really the PES shining light with its splendid licensing, though it doesn’t really feel any different to the previous years. Other options include the Asian Champions League, the Copa Libertadores and the Europa League. Lastly, there is the Become a Legend mode which has not evolved at all really. All are great to include, but only go so far to redeem the game.
The PES saving grace over years gone by has always been the incredibly addictive Master League mode. The mode which allows you to start from scratch with unknown, mostly rubbish players and build the squad by winning matches. This year players can move clubs in the middle of a Master League career, as well as being able to manage an international team. And thankfully the dreadful boots and equipment system from last year is gone focusing rather on the actual simulation of running a club.
Sadly though, even Master League seems to have lost its charm. It’s even been dumbed down a bit with players no longer needing to change and hire different staff to improve. Training also doesn’t have much effect on anything and buying players is as silly as ever. You can only negotiate with 4 players at a time and the whole process feels archaic. It just doesn’t make sense.
The other options are online modes and this includes normal ranked matches and tournaments, as well as Master League Online. I, thankfully, had little issue finding online matches and it worked quite smoothly for the most part which resulted in an enjoyable experience apart from everyone’s seemingly inability to score a goal. (I must note here that I have heard lots of complaints about getting a game online on Xbox 360).
Master League Online works similarly to the offline in that you need to build your team, but you earn money from winning games and need to bid on players available to improve. This year, in Master League Online, there are different sections based on the kind of players you want to buy and play with, depending on your style. I am not actually sure what the point of that is and why people wouldn’t want to play against different styles, but there you have it.
A new inclusion to PES is what they term the “Heart” system. It’s basically a function that shifts momentum based on the game you are playing. So games away from home are much tougher than games played at home in front of your crowd, as is common in the real world. It also affects the game as you play, so if you are tied and start putting pressure on the opponent with decent passing and opportunities, the crowd will get behind you and momentum will shift in your favour. On the flip side, a few stray passes or a couple bad plays and confidence drops, making it a bit more difficult. The system isn’t obvious, but rather subtle which is probably a good thing for now, but it has the potential to become an excellent part of the game and one that makes it even more realistic.
PES does have some redeeming features after all that disappointment. The aforementioned engine runs fantastically and the facial likenesses look better than ever, for some of the players at least. Apparently there is going to be a patch to add more faces, which makes it feel like half a game at this point. Stadiums also look amazingly accurate, which is good to see, but there aren’t really that many to choose from. Thankfully, option files are amazing which negates any issue around team and league licenses.
For a big PES fan like myself, PES 2014 is a difficult pill to swallow. The disillusionment which it brings can only be described as a loss of charm, a loss of that factor which kept people coming back. With the new engine, there is a huge amount of potential and for that reason alone the game makes a statement of sorts. But it just isn’t enough to make it an amazing game. Sure the engine works brilliantly, but the rest of the game sadly just feels a bit hollow and a bit dull. Horrible loading times await at every opportunity and the commentary is even worse than before.
PES 2014 is still a fun, addictive game to play, but it just doesn’t match expectations and could have done so much more. The positive is that there is going to be a lot of good to come from this engine when the problems are sorted out, but until then, this reviewer will be playing on the grass on the other side, which is slightly greener this year around.