Oh PES; such fondness I have for you and your previous incarnations, stretching all the way back to the SNES and International Superstar Soccer. For a long time you were the undisputed champion of virtual footballing, confidently knocking aside any pretenders and being a clearly superior game to the technically shoddy FIFA. It’s been a while since I’ve really enjoyed your company, as FIFA spruced itself up, took itself a bit more seriously and deserved my attention. It nice to see you back, fighting fit and whilst I’m going to make many a complimentary thing about you in the next few paragraphs, it’s going to be difficult to do so without referring to your adversary.
Enough. Lets get to it: is this the year PES knocks FIFA off it’s perch? In some respects, yes it is, but not in enough to ultimately sway people back, or indeed to make them even remember Konami’s franchise exists.
It starts off well. Presentationally, the menu system is clear, simple, uncluttered and easy to navigate, a nice contrast to FIFA’s sometimes unwieldy and slow menus. Switching and modifying things like players and tactics is intuitive, even for someone who has only had passing experience with the series over the past few years and visual representations of player stats and abilities are helpful, with fonts are clear and solid, making it simple to use and get to the on field action.
Destroying some ambience and general enjoyment of these menus is the repetitive music. The same tracks play again and again – if I hear Dario G’s Carnaval De Paris one more time I may cry. Something else that soon reduces you to tears is the repetitive commentary, brought to you by the powerhouses of ITV sports broadcasting, Jon Champion and Jim Beglin. Phrases are repeated with disturbing frequency, and often feel removed, delayed or inappropriate to the action taking place in front of you.
That action however, is beautiful. The game uses Konami’s new FOX engine, and as a result, looks fantastic. Player models can veer between being eerily realistic and eerily disturbing, but in motion, on the pitch, PES feels better than it has done for years. Utilising Trueball Tech and Motion Animation Stability System (M.A.S.S.) – more sports game technical nonsense – the action is fast and fluid, and strikes a nice balance between being realistically weighty and being an arcade game. It’s possible to string together a variety of nice moves, and whilst there is a clear emphasis on speed and quick control, defending feels simpler, and more straightforward, and this is welcome after FIFA’s over complication of this side of the game.
The usual modes are present and correct, from simple exhibition matches to a variety of cup and leagues, both representations of real life tournaments, or customisable ones. The UEFA Champions League and the Europa League are there, along with a variety of lesser European and South American Leagues, but there is an odd mix of licensing. Playing through the Europa league as Merseyside Blue, with a fully licensed team (including a pre transfer Marouane Fellaini) makes the experience a little second rate. Outside of these modes, there is nothing to compete with the sheer variety FIFA has to offer, including the masterful Ultimate team. The series defining mode, Master League, even feels a little empty compared to how you take on a league in the other game – transfers and media negotiations are minimal, and player development superficial, with a few stat points being distributed to your team as a whole, RPG-style, periodically. And, whilst it offers a large number of leagues, it lacks in variety.
And that’s PES’s biggest problem, one outside of it’s own control: the behemoth that is FIFA. EA’s annual offering is now firmly entrenched as the football game of choice for fans of all kinds, and there is little here that will sway them, despite the clear positives. PES is a game that offers a slick and enjoyable football experience, but is ultimately still being let down by it past complacency. Even though it has made huge improvements to it’s game engine, it’s on the pitch action, and the front end, and even betters it yearly adversary in these areas, it still finds itself second best as an overall package. A great alternative, and one that many may find a simpler change of pace to FIFA, but difficult to recommend for sheer value. Next generation, the score may be different.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Format: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 Release Date: 20/09/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 12 days on a PlayStation 3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.