Pro Evolution Soccer 2014
Competition is the basis of the capitalist system. The more options you have, the more eager people are to improve their products and ultimately dominate the market. Video game sports fans are now at the tail end of a cycle where many major franchises have left their rivals in the dust (and those development teams looking for new work). All-Pro Football lost out to the Madden juggernaut practically from the outset. NBA Live keeps trying to make a comeback, but every year nothing seems to happen since 2K took over. The less said about the NHL 2K franchise the better. However, soccer fans still have two viable options: FIFA by EA and Pro Evolution Soccer by Konami. But if PES doesn’t take some major steps to close the gap to its competition, it too could soon go the way of the dodo as well.
Arguably the biggest addition to PES 2014 isn’t on the pitch, but rather under the hood. A lot of effort has gone into a new graphics engine… or at least that was what I was told. Apparently everything has been reworked, but I wasn’t terribly impressed with the graphics (although it has to be said, they do look better than they did). I noticed multiple pixelation issues, and the crowds still look terrible. Watching the national teams sing the anthems before a match is downright laughable. Player models look pretty nice, with the big stars being immediately recognizable, but the run of the mill workhorses look like mannequins. The action on the pitch does appear to be more fluid with players switching animations smoothly, but not nearly as much as FIFA.
Passing has always been PES’s forte, and this year it still shines brightest. Pinging the ball around the midfield is satisfying and crisp, vastly superior to FIFA. Also, the use of the through pass directional control, while difficult to get used to at first, is brilliant when pulled off correctly. The same can be said for long cross-field passes, lofted balls over the top, and crosses. However, while passing is better than FIFA, the AI is worse, so it’s kind of a wash. Sadly, your teammates don’t always read the plays properly, nor make the best use of available space. Worst of all, they have a terrible habit of waiting for the ball to get to them.
TrueBall Tech allows for more realistic physics. This really comes into play when dribbling, knocking on balls, or first touches. While the controls aren’t necessarily less complex than they were, they have been made easier by simply utilizing the right analog stick. Even then, it’s still not always easy to pull off what you are intending. Like previous PES titles, true die-hard fans who patiently learn the intricacies of the controls have more options than ever before to make opponents look silly.
The Motion Animation Stability System (or MASS) allows for much more physical, and ultimately realistic, defending. Billed as more reactionary to individual situations rather than a preset group of animations, it’s not so much about barging in willy nilly, but being strategic in defense and how you approach both the opponent and the ball. For example, battles along the wings, shoulder to shoulder, are now far more akin to what you see in real life matches as players tussle for possession at full speed trying to knock one another off the ball.
Despite this, defending doesn’t feel nearly as smooth to me, especially when actually trying to make the all-important tackle itself. I do like using the X button to pressure an opponent, and double tapping it to attempt to get the ball away is clever and adds more strategy to defense.
The Master League, arguably the biggest draw of the franchise, is largely unchanged. I suppose this is understandable considering how many improvements went into the presentation and various engines this year, but ultimately it feels like PES is falling further behind the curve set by FIFA. The menu interface is outdated and clunky, and you simply don’t have the breadth of options available to you.
As usual, licensing issues are front and center. Tottenham is North London, Everton and Liverpool are Merseyside Blue and Red respectively. Despite the fact that the players are all there, this is still something that I struggle with. It all comes down to immersion and these little things do detract from the experience, for me at least.
I realize this has been a fairly short review (especially by my standards), but frankly there just isn’t that much to say about PES 2014. It feels like a slightly shinier version of last year’s installment. The highly touted new graphics and physics engines are better than they were, but at the same time, have fallen further behind the curve set by the competition. With the new generation of consoles coming soon, I’m curious as to what the franchise will offer up next year… or I fear PES may join the ranks of All-Pro Football, NHL 2K and NBA Live… all good games in their prime, but beaten soundly over time.
Reviewed By: Simon Waldron
This review is based on a digital copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 for the PlayStation 3 provided by Konami.