To me, Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series has always been the little engine that could. Electronic Arts’ FIFA series certainly looks amazing, and has all of the licenses that people seem to care about; but I have always found it to be more style over substance. With a new engine and even more innovation, Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is another leap forward in the series, and once again takes another step forward to being the most beautiful game about the Beautiful Game.
When you power up the title, you are greeted by an elegant vocal solo, rather than a more modern tune. It has the effect of grounding the player, almost as if it was encouraging you to calm your state of mind before you play. That being said, PES 2014 definitely feels much more modern in terms of menus; there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of flash, right? But within the actual matches, the “fancy-shmancy-ness” is bolstered by thoroughly delightful game-play that can be as complicated as you want it to be. Honestly, PES is a game that takes some dedication – so much so that even just studying the controller layout should award the player with a trophy (or achievement if you’re an Xbox 360 player).
Now, that’s not meant to highlight something negative. On the contrary; to have so much control at your disposal is a fantastic thing. This year, The PES team uses Konami’s Fox Engine, and presents “TrueBall Tech”, pushing more realistic ball physics to the field; and it does a spectacular job of it. A soccer ball during play rarely ever goes in a perfectly straight line. So many variables are at play that it would boggle the mind if you tried to consider them all. Footing a pass to a fellow player is never just a simple affair, and PES treats it that way – across all difficulty levels (although in the easier levels it is a little more forgiving). Initiating or receiving a pass, and shooting on goal are all more realistic, which means that they are more challenging. Honestly, I like the possibility of missing – it makes scoring all the more satisfying. Want to know how realistic it can be?
There can be some pretty fantastic plays carried out during some very tense games.
I was playing in the UEFA Cup, and my team, North London, was playing their final match. We were tied at 2 and 2 and there was not much time left on the clock – seconds, really (the game went into extended play by a minute or two). I had used my center-forward and left winger to penetrate the enemy line using a rolling conversation, the path of the ball resembling an arced stitch. As I passed into the box, my guy was moving too fast, and I couldn’t manage a low shot, causing the ball to spin up and ping off the top bar of the net. I tried to get him under control and under the ball – to head it into the net on its way down – but I was moving too fast and I slid past the goalie into the back of the net, along with the opponent’s defenseman who was hot on my heels. The goalie, attempting to grab the ball, tripped on his own ally’s foot and stumbled – and the soccer ball fell, deflected off of his shoulder, and bounced into the net. The goalie fell to the ground, frustration painted on his face, and he hammered the ground with his fist while my players went nuts. That’s one hell of a game-winning goal right there.
To me, that kind of scenario is what makes PES the best soccer game on the market. When you set the difficulty to your liking, you are guaranteed to have a good time – a challenging time – and your victories will feel like victories (and your defeats will also feel well-deserved). There are no sure things in PES, really, which makes you actually slow down and think, playing the game the way it was meant to be played. Gaining possession of the ball can feel like an actual battle, complete with elbows for guarding one’s pass reception; and taking a shot on net is not a guaranteed goal, no more than dribbling the ball across the pitch and actually making it to the box with a single player – which rarely ever works (even on Easy setting). When you are playing, watch the replays carefully. Seemingly erratic shots make much more sense when you slow down the action and watch what happened. That wide shot that your player made that had you all riled up was probably due to the player’s velocity and a weight shift at the last second that threw off his balance, causing him to miss the mark. Add to this the morale-boosting (or morale-sapping) effect of the Heart System (player mood is affected by events in-game), and you can have an enjoyably close game between the league darlings and the underdogs – and it will make sense. Occasional weird AI cannot dampen the fighting spirit of this game.
This is how a stadium should look.
Visually, this game is in a whole other league than the previous versions. When I first booted it up, I was pretty impressed with the menus; crisp and colourful, they were well-laid out and used some great snapshots of various moments in soccer. It seems like such a silly thing to focus on; but the menu made such an impact that it set the tone for my expectations – and I was not disappointed. PES 2014 has to be the best-looking soccer game in the series; it probably even edges out the hyper-realistic FIFA 2014. Player models and people in crowds move like they should, the stadiums look great, and everything seems to be treated with a sheen of realism. Even with some of the “sliding” during dribbling and some weird ball spins, it takes the breath away. Audio is just as good. Field-level sound effects seem accurate, and the music choices are great. Commentary by Jon Champion and Jim Beglin seems to have been changed somewhat. While there are repetitive phrases (which are present in practically every sports game), I found that the statements were more accurate and carried weight relative to the action – with far less repetition per game than previous iterations of PES.
Multi-player mode is just as fun as single player, allowing for ranked matches or friendly ones – with people from all over the world! It is never too difficult to find a match, and the match setup worked well. Pacing was great, and the camera shifts for this mode made it a lot more fun than I was expecting. Also a surprise? A fun career mode complete with fully customizable character. I thoroughly enjoyed bringing my fledgling player into the limelight, living the happiness of well-played games and the disappointment of being benched for far too many games. Thankfully, the tough-to-swallow moments were clustered at the beginning of the journey – persistence pays off. There will be lots of moments that you will want to save the replays for – guaranteed.
The physics engine and graphics rendering make for some spectacular-looking replays.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 should really be the first choice for anyone that’s looking to play a realistic and fun soccer game. With breathtakingly realistic graphics, a thorough control scheme, robust playing modes and a licence pool that is growing larger every year, this game is definitely a winner and will make you think that you’re playing a next-gen title. DLC is also coming out all the time, giving the game more legs – here’s hoping that more stadiums and different types of weather make it into future downloadable content packs.