- Developer - PES Productions
- Publisher - Konami
- Platforms - Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3, Microsoft Windows
- Release date - 20 September
- Price - £39.99
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014
Let me be honest with you a second. I know nothing about football. It's not like I don't like football - I'm not one of those annoying people who say "it's only a bunch of men kicking some leather around a field." It's just that I don't know anything about it. I haven't followed football since about 2001, when Peter Reid was Sunderland manager and the best player in the Premiership was Paolo Di Canio.
So to help me review Pro Evolution Soccer 2014, this year's entry into Konami's stuttering football franchise, I recruited the help of a football-savvy male friend. For the sake of anonymity, we'll call him Tom Hardy.
So me and Tom Hardy were playing PES and the first thing I noticed were the team names. In prep for next week's review, I've also been playing FIFA 14 and of course, it's packed to the gills with licensed faces, player and team names. PES isn't and it makes the game feel inherently cheaper and more arcade like. I know it's part of the charm - like everyone else, I used to titter when I played the old PES games as David Buckham - but it's starting to wear thin. The gameplay feels similarly arcade-y.
In preparation for this review, I also played last year's PES game and, like that instalment, the passing in Pro Evo 2014 still feels very bouncy. The ball kind of ping-pongs around. It's not like you have to place your passes - the ball just jets straight across the floor to whoever you were aiming it at and then glues itself to their feet.
The pace is too quick. You tap pass a few times, the ball works its way quickly up to your striker, and then that's it, you're on for a goal. There's no build-up play. It's not like you have to position your team-members and formulate a strategy to get inside the box. The passing just automatically seems to do it for you.
Rather than tactics or effective dribbling, you just hold down the sprint button and coast around your opponent's defence. Then you either miss or score, the opposition get possession and it's their turn have a go at scoring. Then you swap again. And then you swap back. It's very back and forth. It feels less like a hard-fought football match and more like two teams taking it in turns to take shots.
But it's nevertheless an improvement on the last PES. In that, there were a lot of niggles with the physics engine - players running through each other, tackles having no effect, things like that. But Pro Evo 2014 runs on Konami's FOX engine, the same software that powers the Metal Gear games, and it feels sturdier. Players properly collide with each other and now you can use the right stick to shoulder people who are trying to hassle the ball away from you.
Playing through balls has also been upgraded. Whereas in past Pro games through balls would fly wildly off target, in PES 2014, there's a new reticule that appears on the pitch whenever you're lining one up. It allows you to accurately place where you want to send the ball. So if you catch sight of Messi moving up the wing, you can send a ball to exactly where he's running to. It's a bit fiddly, since you're having to aim with the right stick while holding the left stick to move your player, but it's a nice counterpart to the bouncy, automated passing I mentioned earlier.
It actually takes some skill to get right. Tom Hardy was much better at it than I was.
But there's still not enough tactical play involved. PES isn't a thinking man's football game. I imagine verisimilitude is important to people who buy footie sims, and Pro feels more like an approximation. It's sped up, stripped down and subsidised. You never get a sense of having to co-ordinate your players or your attacks. With FIFA, you have to pay attention to what's happening off the ball as well as the player you're controlling. It's a team game and planning is integral.
In Pro however, you never feel like you have that control. If you manage a goal, it doesn't feel like you earned it. If your defence caves in, it feels like it wasn't your fault. The whole game is unfulfilling. You play as imaginary teams, effortlessly passing the ball around while this awful robotic commentary whirs in the background. It's airy.
Master League mode is thankfully still complex. It's more or less unchanged from last year's PES, save for the fact that you can now switch teams, Football Manager style, mid-way through the game and play as international teams as well. All well and good, but those are hardly the big additions FIFA's Ultimate Team mode is shaping up to be. More on that next week.
In all, I didn't really enjoy playing Pro Evo 2014. Even though I'm not a football fan, I was looking forward to it having to some complex mechanics, to having to get to grips with tricks and systems that would, eventually, allow me to pull off perfect attacks all the time. I wanted something I'd have to learn.
Instead, I got a watered down, quick-fix kind of football game, the kind of thing I'd expect to play in an arcade. Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps there's more nuance to this than I can see. But Tom Hardy plays these games all the time and he wasn't impressed either.
What it comes down to, I think, is that there are ways to make your game of Pro Evo more complicated if you want, but there's no real need. You can slow your player down by holding R2 and methodically play a through ball. You can fight to keep possession using the right stick and fancy footwork your way through the defenders. You can, but why would you want to? Pro Evo doesn't reward intelligent play - you're just as likely to win matches by stealing the ball with a slide tackle and sprinting across the goal line as you are by meticulously plotting your tactics.
I imagine for some people, having the option to do either is a good thing. But personally, I'd prefer a football game where I have to fight for each goal, where passing and defending need to be carefully thought out. I want a football game that demands skill. Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 isn't that.
- Gameplay: 6/10 - It's fine and all, and easy to pick up and just start playing, but I would have liked something more complicated.
- Graphics: 7/10 - A bit shabby. As per PES licensing disagreements, not all the players look like their real-world counterparts. The crowd still looks naff as well.
- Sound: 4/10 - Generic, cafe music on the main menu, mechanical commentary from Jon Champion and Jim Beglin in-game.
- Replay value: 8/10 - Master League can go on forever. You'll be playing this game for a year, until the next PES comes out. You don't play many other games for a year.
- Overall: 6/10 - A standard instalment in an annual franchise that doesn't rock the boat.
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