Review: PES 2014
Before we begin, some context. I am not a football fan, despite the efforts of my dad. He tried, bless him, but football just isn’t for me. Imagine my surprise then, when I caught myself on the edge of my sofa, screaming “MINANDINHIOOOOO!!!” like a lunatic, pointing to the screen and showing the missus the awesome goal I just made. If it can do that to me, an admitted football apathetic, then PES 2014 might just be the greatest football game ever made.
PES 2014 is the latest edition of the fan favourite football game, the more serious and realistic take on the genre, compared to FIFA’s more showboating approach. It’s powered by the new Fox Engine (the one they’re using for MGS:V) and comes stuffed with all sorts of new systems to craft a more believable simulation of the sport. Konami are branding this one as a fresh start for the franchise, and they’ve really pulled out the stops to make it happen.
This new evolution for the series is largely a success, and manages to hit a lot of the bullet points that football fans are looking for. The difficulty is balanced nicely, with AI teams playing like real players, a real boon for reading a situation and reacting accordingly. It controls great too, with easy to learn, hard to master controls that even a newbie like me can pick up quickly.
The visual overhaul deserves a special mention too. The players are modelled well, with individual players recognisable, and team strips faithfully recreated. The stadiums look great too, with bright, impressive arenas to play in. The Fox Engine makes things look more realistic than ever, particularly when it comes to the football strips, with wrinkles and folds in the fabric that look believable. The animation is top notch, and players move with real weight, which we’ll come back to later on.
While everything looks nice, the engine does stutter a bit at certain times. While in normal play it runs smoothly, but when replays and short cutscenes are shown you’ll encounter frequent stuttering and slowdown. This is probably due to the Fox Engine primarily being developed as a next-gen engine. The visuals are great, but they might be a little too good for current gen consoles to handle reliably.
Frame jumps aside, the camera work is fantastic too, with realistic TV style camera angles used wherever possible. The simple things like the varying score graphics and overlays are a nice touch, and help immerse you in the experience more. Special tournaments like the Champions League come with the official opening titles, further imbuing the title with a sense of legitimacy.
Outside of the matches, the user interface is a bit dry, with dozens of options and settings. They can be a bit intimidating to the first time user, and the online update section in particular is a confusing mess. They work, sure, but a bit more visual flair, or more user friendly presentation would have been nice. There’s also a weird mouse pointer thing that points at the option you want, which seems like something you’d only find on the PC version.
On the pitch however, the game finds its feet. It plays fantastic, with a real heft and weight to every move. Passes, lobs, crosses and through balls all feel right, and play has a great rhythm to it. Matches play out like real games too, from long drawn out passing games, to end to end stunners. Every match will play different, and encourages you to react to your opponent and use your teammates. PES accomplishes this with its many and varied new systems, which we’ll run through briefly.
Firstly, we’ve got the animations of the players, powered by MASS, or the Motion Animation Stability System. This system governs how players react to each other, such as bumping, footwork, jostling for possession and sliding tackles. Whenever players meet on the field, you can never predict what will happen, with physicality playing a massive part in the outcome of each play. A striker hounded by a defender will have a harder time getting off a clean shot than if he was in the open.
Next up, new Truball technology that controls the ball itself. It is subject to its own physics and systems, and needs to be guarded carefully. This plugs together nicely with MASS, and makes you focus more on what you see on the screen instead of just running about with the ball glued to your feet. The ball can even bounce off a careless players legs when not attempting to kick it, which can result in some truly hilarious own goals.
Konami have also created a new Heart system, where the players emotional state is affected by the crowd, or their performance. Playing an away match can dampen their spirits, with the crowd booing everything they do. If they pull off a superb play, or clinch a tricky equaliser, the players can be infused with a new fighting spirit, making them perform better. It’s a great little system, even if the results can be a little hard to spy at first glance.
Combination play is new too, providing new tactical options to the PES master. Combination play allows you to set up key moves you can trigger when your players are in a certain area of the pitch. For instance, if you tend to take the ball up the flank, you can set up a play where your strikers will follow you up, getting into a good space. You can set these up defensively too, to tighten it up at a key moment. These moves are only a double tap of a shoulder button away, handy to whip out when you need them. Novices won’t get on with this feature off the bat, and it can be ignored, but with a bit of practice it can come in pretty handy.
As a newbie, I was pleased to find a whole stack of tutorials to play with, covering every single aspect of the game. These tutorials are grouped by difficulty, with the early stuff simple enough to crack on with. Being able to experiment with different shot types and fancy footwork in a neutral environment is a nice touch, and lets you get a feel for how the game plays instead of jumping in at the deep end.
As far as the different play modes go, there are loads to mess about with. You’ve got exhibitions, leagues, tournaments and championships to go for, with lots of the international leagues represented too. You can grab a team and kick right off into a full league if you fancy it, or just mess about with single games, it’s really up to you. Match length can be adjusted, as can many other options, such as daylight conditions or weather.
King of the modes on offer here is the return of Master League, the highly in-depth manager style mode. You’ll take a team, and manage every part of their progress, hoping to become the best manager in the world. You’ll sign players, arrange transfers, organise training regimes and tweak your team into the best in the world. You have the option to play the matches yourself, or let the AI play them for you, it’s entirely up to you. Do a good job and you can even be called up to manage your national team. This mode is as involving as ever, and will be the first port of call for veterans of the series.
PES 2014 has a day one patch enabling online play too, coming with small list of modes to start with. Initially you’ll get friendly matches and ranked matches, which also grants access to leaderboards. Master League Online makes a return here too. In a few weeks time, another patch will add in 11 vs 11 online matches, and also more balanced online matchups, aletting you play other people of a similar skill level.
PES 2014 is a mighty addition to the franchise, the most dramatic outing for the series in years. The massive mechanical improvements have infused real drama into the proceedings, and matches will have you on the edge of your seat. Every movement and play is unique, and PES 2014 offers up one of the most realistic takes on the beautiful game. The engine might stutter at times, and the presentation is somewhat dry, but true aficionados will be more focused on the jaw dropping play-by-play action. If it can make a fan of me, it must be doing something right.