Reviews

Pro Evolution Soccer 2014

It was always going to be a risk picking Paul Pogba in my starting eleven over the more experienced and higher rated Claudio Marchisio in Juventus’ formidable midfield. Moreover, PES 2014’s new Heart system told me Pogba was low on confidence, but I stuck with the lanky Frenchman. His involvement was minimal in the game until the stroke of half time, when he scored against Manchester United to reduce a 2-0 deficit.

The match ended in a thrilling 3-3 draw, but Pogba was the star, assisting in my second goal and scoring the third, a result of the confidence he gained from his crucial first half strike. The Heart system felt like a marketing gimmick, but in moments such as this, it proves that it’s anything but. Form and confidence are temporary in PES 2014 and can often turn aorund within minutes. Concede an easy goal and your keeper’s confidence will drop, leading to him parrying shots that he would othewise hold on to. Miss too many shots on goal and your strikers will begin to then lose posession more easily. The effects of the Heart system aren’t always apparent, but it’s just one of the small details new to this year’s game.

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PES 2014 is the biggest shake-up the series has seen in several years, and most of it is the result of the game being rebuilt from the ground-up using the FOX Engine.

PES 2014 is the biggest shake-up the series has seen in several years, and most of it is the result of the game being rebuilt from the ground-up using Kojima Productions’ FOX Engine. Aside from a massive visual upgrade, the new engine delivers better animations and physics. Players feel weighty and no longer skate across the turf. Collisions are realistic, even if FIFA-like awkward moments do sometimes occur,  and jostling feels more impactful. Both FIFA and PES have been claiming for a while that the ball behaves independently rather than being stuck to a player’s feet, but this year it’s finally true. Even the slightest bit of recklessness in possesion and you’ll lose the ball. The game punishes you if you show too much of the ball to a nearby defender, but also allows you to take greater advantage of open spaces when you do find them.

Also overhauled is the game’s dribbling and jostling system. Dribbling now uses a combination of the right and left stick, and while that may seem complicated to pull off, its implentation is purely contextual. You push the two sticks in relation to your position and that of your marker, and so rather than memorising several moves, all it takes to pull off a smart dribble is an understanding of positions, momentum and the flow of the game. That’s how it should always have been. The right stick is also used in jostling. You can use it at an opportune time to shoulder barge and opponent when defending, or to hold back a defender when you have the ball.

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It is more simulation-based than its predecessors, and that can be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is more simulation-based than its predecessors, and that can be a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it. Previous games allowed you to ping the ball around acurately and at will in an attempt to unlock defences, and it felt great when you did. Passes aren’t laser guided this time though. The passing player’s momentum, positioning, and the pressure he faces from markers will affect the power and accuracy of passes, so the game does necessitate the use of jostling and dribbling more than ever before. That’s not something I liked being forced on me, but the fact that dribbling is implemented in a natural and organic way does alleviate some of that diappointment. There is a lot to take in though, and thankfully the game does include a Performance Training mode to take you through all the gameplay intricacies.

Another one of the new changes is advcanced through balls. Hold [Triangle] and you’ll see a circle darting ahead of you to indicate where your through pass will be dispatched. This reticule is determined entirely by the direction and power you put on your pass. If you’re willing to take the time to get used to it (be prepared for some annoyingly poor passes until you do) it can be a powerful tool in your attacking arsenal. You can turn advanced through passes off, of course, along with manual shooting. The game also lets you choose across four levels of pass assist. I found that at level three, passes were often misdirected, but found level one to be far more to my liking, even if it did demand more accurate direction selection.

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Build-up play is still rewarded, your team mates still make intelligent darting runs, and the sliders continue to give you unprecedented control over tactics.

PES 2013 got so much right with the on-field action that making so many changes this year seems like a massive risk. The game does play very differently this year and it will take some getting used to, partciularly for long time fans, but it’s still just as addictive and just as rewarding. Build-up play is still rewarded, your team mates still make intelligent darting runs and cover positions smartly, and the team management sliders continue to give you unprecedented control over formations and team tactics. On the pitch, PES 2014 is perhaps the most accomplished outing from Konami this generation.

It’s off the pich, however, that PES 2014 can underwhelm a bit. I’ve always been a massive fan of Master League and with the removal of those unnecessary cutscenes and painfully long calendar screens from last year’s mode, it feels a lot crisper and lets you get into the action quicker. New this year is the ability to switch clubs at the end of a season, and you can now also simultaneously coach a club and a national side. That aside, this is still the same Master League it’s always been. Fans of the franchise will notice several little tweaks that improve the experience greatly, but I think it’s time for PES Productions to infuse some new ideas into what is still the best single-player mode you’ll find in either football game.

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Only when you play on PC can you fully appreciate how good this game looks.

Elsewhere, Become a Legend now lets you assume the role of the goalkeeper, where aside from performing your goalkeeping duties, you can also give out passing and shooting instructions to other players. Master League Online appears to have a few changes this year, with the ability to now choose from one of three leagues. Unfortunately, I’ve been unsuccessful so far in downloading the game’s data pack (free in-game DLC and patches), which is necessary to venture online.

I had the opportunity to play PES 2014 on PS3 and PC, and only when you play on PC can you fully appreciate how good this game looks. Everything from the crowds to the lighting to the player expressions look phenomenal even on a moderately powered laptop at medium settings. It’s miles head of what you’ll see in FIFA 14 on PC. The visual upgrade feels less dramatic on PS3, but still a significant improvement over last year. One downer is the poor framerates on the PS3 during pre-match cutscenes and replays. None of this is an issue on PC though. Thankfully, once in a match, both platforms perform smoothly. If only Konami would pay a little more attention to UI design. The menu desgin this year is shockingly bad and, on PS3, poorly optimised. Commentary, while not even close to the quality you’ll find in FIFA, is a significant improvement over last year, with more context-based comments of team performances and player form in evidence.

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What is worrying from a PC perspective, however, is the complete lack of any online modes.

What is worrying from a PC perspective, however, is the complete lack of any online modes. Friendly/Ranked matches and Master League Online are completely missing in the PC review code I received. I’m not sure if this will also be the case in the retail versions, but it’s definitely something worth confirming before buying the PC version.

(EDIT: Konami has issued an official patch for the PC version, which adds the online modes. However, the patch installation threw up an error on my Windows 8 PC. So I’ve been unable to check if and how online works in the PC version.)

PES 2014 plays remarkably well, and if you love the sport, there’s no way you won’t appreciate everything it delivers between the first and final whistles. That said, it does feel a bit thin in the way of game modes, particularly when compared to the competiion. The modes that do exist have received welcome additions, but don’t add a whole lot new to the experience. Konami has been saying since PES 2014 was announced that this year was all about getting the gameplay right. It’s succeeded in that, but in doing so it’s neglected pretty much everything else.

It’s much like that night at Old Trafford. My Juve can take heart from Pogba’s man-of-the match performance and a fighting spirit that saw it come back from behind twice, but despite all that, the night still ended with honours shared.

IVG's Verdict

8/10
  • The best PES has played this generation
  • Drastically improved animations and physics
  • Easy to use and effective dribbling, jostling controls
  • Some nice improvements to Master League
  • Looks phenomenal on PC
  • Thin on game modes
  • Poor framerates, optimisation on PS3
  • No online content in PC version
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