Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 PS3 Review

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Konami returns to the fore with the newest release in their long-running football simulation series. Seen by many of its followers as the ‘true football experience,’ Pro Evolution Soccer has been a game of middling success this generation. However that is all set to change and change is not just an evolution of what came before, but a revolution of the game from the ground up. Built on a completely new next generation ready game engine, Pro Evolution Soccer eschews the rush to next gen of its competitor and instead focuses on perfecting its gameplay before making that leap. A brave move, the question is has the King returned, or is this merely more of the same grand gestures and a disappointing end result?

Loading up the game for the first time and seeing the initial game menu, everything about this game is simple and understated; no over-the-top merchandise snobbery and product placement whoring going on here and as such the whole proceedings can seem to exude a vibe of cleanliness and sterility, almost akin to the layout of its PlayStation 2 forebears.  It’s quite bland in a way, but it’s effective, gets the job done, and I like it. It’s nice not to be force-fed some Sky Sports-esque coverage and American influenced soulless pageantry that the FIFA series seems to thrive upon. That could seem negative; no, it’s not. It’s clear, it’s precise and it doesn’t give me the feeling I will be blindsided by some vaguely named game mode.

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Speaking of game modes, there are a variety for you to delve into. You have your usual Exhibition, Competition and Training modes. These modes expand when clicked up on and your have a plethora of choices to delve within. Exhibition alone has five modes within it: its namesake, online ranking match, online free match, team play lobby and exhibition watch mode (from where you can watch the AI square off against itself. Become A Legend makes its return, along with the regular League, Master League and Master League Online modes. There are also the traditional Free Training and Performance Training modes, where you can practice a variety of set pieces, dribbling skills and much more.

Control inputs have undergone large changes from previous years. The Right analogue stick is imperative to unearthing the games secrets, as skill moves, first-touch controls and player physicality are all controlled with it (and usually another button). The controls remain simple, effective and the option to do more is there should you wish to learn more. Dribbling of the ball with just the left analogue is a much more fluid experience and no longer a battle to retain control as in previous entries in the series. Another feature which has been fixed is the through-ball option – I don’t know exactly what magical pixie dust has been sprinkled on the game, but it works. The through-ball is simply sublime, whether it’s a short through ball or a 30 yard defence splitting wonder ball it’s nigh on perfection here. I’d also recommend new-comers and series veterans to spend some time in the Performance Training modes learning the new moves, tricks and procedural play in order to enhance and hone your skills further. For me (who spent at least 300+ hours on Pro Evolution Soccer 2013), this was a great aid and I find myself going back to Performance Training to practice even further.

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Going straight into the exhibition mode I picked a game of Manchester United vs. Man Blue (aka Manchester City) at Old Trafford. If you’ve played the demo, you immediately notice this pre-match routine is much smoother. Even as the teams line-up, it’s pleasing that it no longer resembles a PowerPoint slideshow. In action the game is a much smoother affair overall, players likenesses well represented, even if Rafael (and as a result Fabio) does quite resemble the Rastafarian from Shenmue (you can Google that). Passing is crisp and smooth and the way the players respond and move is akin to watching a game on television – it’s quite something to see the way Evra passes to Carrick and immediately begins a run into space, or even to watch Rooney drop off the shoulder of the centre back to make his claim for the ball. It seems so natural, organic even. Spending your time building up play from the back, moving your players tactically like chess pieces, you’ll feel quite achieved when a plan comes together and your hard work and graft results in even the most mundane of tap ins. Those moments are what elicit great joy when playing PES, the moments when you want to pump your fist in the air as you look all around you for someone to share your joy, your moment.

PES is still full of wonderful moments, and the shift to the FOX Engine has brought things along quite a bit. The lighting is sublime, the colour palette is deep and rich and the movement of the players is absolutely fantastic, and there are frequent moments when I have to pause the game just to observe a replay of an attacking sequence to gawp at what has just unfolded before my eyes. This new engine brings with it a variety of new elements – PES ID focuses on the stars of world football, digitally recreating the running, dribbling and kicking traits of players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Robben and Messi. TrueBall Tech affects how the ball moves, recreating the real unpredictability of a football in real life to great effect. First touch (activated with R2 and a flick of the Right analogue stick to lay it off for a shot) is something that is seemingly complicated initially, but it becomes a vital asset as you delve deeper into the games potential. Team AI has been drastically improved also, as players move, physically jostle (this is now in the control of the player, via the Right analogue stick input) and position themselves according to the flow of play and also in response to the cheers (or jeers) of the supporters. It’s also worth mentioning that the stadiums and the crowd in this game look awe-inspiring, and the development team have worked wonders bringing the occasion of the match experience to the home console. The crowd jumps, and sways and makes a ruckus, really enlivening the moment. This is all part of one of the games new features – Heart. The crowds’ reactions to the events on pitch affects the emotions of the players and dynamically affects their energy, performance and mood over the course of a match, which makes a huge difference if your performance is of the Jonjo Shelvey capacity.

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Manchester United is the sole licensed English team (as of writing this review, although I expect another English side to be added for launch) replete with full regalia, and the Old Trafford football stadium is recreated in pain-staking detail. It looks absolutely phenomenal, and the crowd moves in response to whatever happens on the pitch, even singing official songs in support of their team. I could sit there and look at all the different stadia all day long; parts of the game look THAT good, and at times I wonder how on earth they managed to get this game running on this console at all. If this is a new start and truly a rebirth for the series, I can’t wait for the next generation.

However there are downsides accompany this shift to a new engine. Some of the series quirks are still present – you will find yourself groaning when your players switch off when a ball is chipped over the top, or when your player runs in to an opponent and the game takes this as intent to switch players. Moments like this are when such a promising game tends to fall flat on its face. Thankfully and most importantly, this is something that doesn’t happen as often as previous iterations, but it’s still there and it’s still a problem for me. There is also the lack of rain, mostly due to being unable to finding a way to integrate such effects into the gameplay within development time; hopefully, it will make an appearance in the 2015 release.

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Understatement is key to the PES experience. This series has never had the glitz, glamour and pomp of the FIFA series, and is consequently often (unfairly) overlooked by many who are looking for a football game worth its salt. This is especially the case in the UK where FIFA has tied up the license rights to the Barclays Premier League in shackles and has this exclusivity tied down for a good long time (the same can be said for the Bundesliga). This has resulted in the removal of many stadiums from the game (namely the Spanish grounds due to EA’s licenses), and also the games Stadium Edit mode.

Hopefully, this feature will make a return one-day. However, Konami has done a pretty damn good job of getting the team roster rights to Ligue Un, La Liga, the Eredivisie and also a variety of other leagues, especially when you consider the size and financial might of its competitor. This does mean you are stuck with the likes of Man Blue and Merseyside Red when opting to play as Manchester City or Liverpool F.C. This should change come launch day (20th September for the EU), as we should see a large patch which will add more features, new license agreements and also updated team rosters to replicate the opening day team line ups of the respective leagues.

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For what it has lost, Konami retain their rights to the UEFA Champions League, Copa Libertadores and the AFC Champions League. There is plenty of substance here and although not as many as the ‘other football’ game, more than enough to keep you occupied. For those worried about not being able to see the digitally accurate recreation of Carl Jenkinson, the edit modes and the ever-enthusiastic modding community will quell any qualms you many have. An option file will most likely be released within days of the games release to fill in any of the blanks, and update all of the kits, rosters (and even player stats) Konami couldn’t obtain the rights to. As of the writing of this review, the online modes of the game were still not live so I can’t give you a full overview of such features. You can however look forward to the likes of online 11v11 (where you can also use your Become A Legend player in place of real players in this mode) Master League Online, Online Lobbies and more. Following the official launch of the game, I’ll hopefully be able to write a little more about these features.

Konami have done a grand job of improving the games audio, as balls no longer sound like plastic footballs being pelted at a wall. The atmosphere provided by the stadium announcers and the crowd really adds to and enlivens the occasion. The only negative is the often-dour commentary of the game, but as series followers of the game can attest to this is almost a feature for the game. Think less Sky Sports more ITV Sports and you’re there in terms of commentary standard, except you don’t have to listen to the dulcet Brummie tones of Adrian Chiles… so that’s a plus at least. Other than that, the music in the main menu is the best it has been in my opinion, with classical music really setting the tone. So the King is not quite returned yet, but he has at least turned around his noble steed and begun his canter over the crest towards greatness. Konami have made some sensible decisions, deciding not to rush to the next gen and focusing on the larger markets of the PS3 and Xbox 360 in the quest to get the gameplay balance right. This focus is good and much needed, as the series lost its way for a while, but now it’s finding its feet, doing what it does best and building on that.

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The reality of the situation is that if you want a fully featured and licensed affair, there will be those of you that will just go with the new FIFA offering, and that’s fine I guess. But there are those who like a purer experience, and it’s undeniable that Pro Evolution Soccer has that. Sure it has its failings, lack of licenses, quirky glitches (Hello occasionally baffling AI). It does, however, offer a more convincing gameplay experience and moments of sheer elation that its competitors could only wish to evoke. Pro Evolution Soccer is back on form, and that means only good things for gamers, especially as we come to the close of this generation. Konami has reinvigorated any wavering faith I had in the series. Setting a good and solid ground going forward, it’s not quite there yet, but it’s making leaps and strides. Finally an evolution (if not quite a revolution) in the football genre – I can’t wait to see how things progress in the future.

8/10

by

PES2014

Version tested: PS3

Also available on: Xbox 360, PC

Developer: PES Productions

Publisher: Konami

Genre: Sports