Pro Evolution Soccer 2014, or PES 2014 for short, is part of a franchise that has been known to be the pinnacle of football simulations. The Pro Evolution Soccer series brought a level of realism and fluidity to the sport that EA's FIFA - at the time - could only dream of. Years have passed, and the tide has turned on Konami - Pro Evolution Soccer has fallen from grace. With PES 2014, Konami are trying to reinvigorate the franchise, and give EA Sports some much needed competition.
PES 2014 hits the pitch as the official title of the UEFA Champions & Europa Leagues. This is new for PES, as in the past official licenses weren’t part of the deal - deep player, kit, and stadiums customisation being Konami's alternative. With the official endorsements, players from these respective leagues are present in their accurately recreated form, amongst a number of other leagues from around the world.
A comparison with EA Sports FIFA is inevitable - and it’s astounding how much of a difference the lack of the FIFA license makes to authenticity. PES 2014 simply lacks the element of realism that you get from having almost a whole world of football in a videogame, and it has noticeably less content.
The user interface is functional, but not pretty, with the usual Konami arcade style menu system. What is really cool is that on the right hand side of the menu the game lists your most recent matches, with great screenshots from your goals. It’s a nice way to reminisce over a past victory, and does go a long way to make you feel really involved in PES 2014.
Graphically, PES 2014 - in some parts - is truly stellar. In other areas, such as crowds, it looks truly rubbish. The crowds are probably the blurriest I’ve seen in recent years, and though Konami have done well to bring some of the glitz and glamour of UEFA Champions League to the title, the stadiums are also nothing to write home about. What is great is that the atmosphere in the stadium is well represented, with banners representing each team and crowds in team colours all vividly represented. Let's face it though, with PES it has always been more about the gameplay than anything else.
The entire PES 2014 engine has been overhauled this year. Basing it on the Fox engine (the same as Metal Gear Solid V utilises) has allowed Konami to do a number of pretty cool things - introducing ‘Trueball Tech’, ‘M.A.S.S’, ‘The Heart’, and ‘The Core’. These four gameplay / physics elements combine to create a robust game engine, although in the first iteration of this new engine it has come at some cost.
The four game engine enhancements combine to make the entire on-pitch experience unique. The ball now is far more independent, and requires a fair amount of skill to navigate around the pitch. In previous PES titles, the fluidity and speed of the gameplay was a key feature, however PES 2014 slows things down - at times, more than I would like.
Responsivity in particular is lacking, with a significant delay between button presses and action on the pitch, making timing even more crucial. The new gameplay will take some getting used to, but it also has a very appealing element - a step away from the glitz and glamour that EA Sports FIFA has become and a more realistic, balanced approach to football. It shows true promise for the new engine and certainly for the quality of future PES titles.
Emotion and crowd atmosphere also play a role, spurring your team on and topping off a successful run with an equaliser, or a player elated from scoring a goal being in top form. In line with this emotion element, the crowds really come alive with chants and cheers, which is refreshing to say the least.
The area that I had the most issue with was the player physics. A lot of the time the players react very realistically, fending off shoulder barges with an arm or jumping over a downed player. But I also found that a number of my tackles would slide completely past a player but, as though by some form of miracle, still take him clean out and earn me a red card.
A real bonus to the gameplay in PES 2014 is the ability to hand over match decisions to the coach. If you aren’t too interested in making substitutions, or setting plays up, you can allow the coach to do this for you and this seems to work reasonably well. It’s definitely great for people who aren’t that worried about who is on the pitch, and just want to focus on getting the ball into the back of the net.
PES 2014 brings a bevy of control options and moves, testament to the simulation emphasis. Shoulder barges are controlled with the right stick, similarly fending players off. Konami also felt it necessary to allow players to dive, which is interesting given how frustrating diving has made the real life sport. But don’t worry, the referees are not afraid of carding those who pull a hollywood. To date, I’ve yet to pull off a successful, un-penalised dive (believe me I’ve tried.) Fortunately, Konami have an elaborate tutorial in the game, though I feel I’ll need to repeat it a few times for the various controls to really stick.
In terms of the online component, while EA Sports have removed online passes, Konami have introduced them. Once I registered my online pass, I was advised that I needed the latest data pack to be able to play online. Okay I thought, no big deal - little did I know that the said download would take upwards of an hour to complete (for what reason I cannot say) - which I hope means Konami won’t release a new data pack each week. Online though you can take on up to 21 other players in a fully fleshed out match, or take your custom teams online for tournaments.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is not an amazing football game - but it is good. It brings a sense of passion and build-up to a football match which EA Sports haven’t captured as of late. It provides a stark contrast to the garish crisp pitches in FIFA, with a more balanced graphical approach - less TV glitz and more grass-roots football. Unfortunately the game engine, while showing true promise, also has a number of barriers - such as the pace and fluidity from past titles being lost.
If you are a PES fan of old, it’s clear that Konami are onto a good thing - but it doesn’t appear that they are quite there yet in terms of truly bringing the fight to EA Sports FIFA. Available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, Nintendo 3DS, and Windows PC, it’s definitely worth checking out.