Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 Review
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014: Great on the pitch, not as great off of it.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is like that raw, young, promising player who gets thrust into limelight a few years too early. The promise is clearly there, but at the moment there are just too many unpolished elements in its game for it to play consistently with the big boys.
The more time you spend with the game, the more you may find it to be a bit, shall we say, bipolar. There are definitely moments of gameplay brilliance that will wow you, but by the same token there are also some frustrating flaws that can follow immediately which make you wonder how you can be playing the same game.
You will really want to like PES 2014, and many will.
The vaunted FOX engine actually fared quite well in its debut in PES. The animations are realistic—individual limbs moving like they would in real life, slide tackles clipping only the heel of an evading player and causing him to lose balance temporarily. The series’ much-maligned menu interface also got a new coat of paint, with the layout simpler and cleaner. In fact, on the surface, plenty of things looked great—the stadiums, the pitch, and the atmosphere in general. The problem lies in the game’s inconsistencies.
Player faces are a good example. When they get them right, they’re almost photo realistic—Messi, Ronaldo, and van Persie, for example—but the ones that they don’t—Man Utd fans, check out a blond Jonny Evans and a ghastly looking Rafael—are just plain bad. To think we were encouraged when Konami announced that they were going to update faces continuously after the game’s release, thinking it was a sign of great customer support. Turns out they’re probably just deferring their workload down the line.
In terms of audio, well, they’re trying. While it still doesn't add much to the atmosphere, at least Jon Champion and Jim Beglin were provided more lines to, if just momentarily, make things sound a little more refreshing. It also feels like a missed chance that there were very little, if any, references to this year’s Heart feature where crowd support and consequently player confidence increases if the team makes a crucial play on the pitch. As it stands, there’s nothing except in the tactics menu and the free kick indicator that tells you anything about Heart’s effects.
There are also some problems with frame rates. The action stutters as a shot crosses a goal line, whether for a goal or a goal kick. Less consistently, it also stutters as the clock hits 45 or 90 and the added time is about to be displayed. The former won’t interrupt proceedings much since play will be dead one way or another. The latter, though, is rather annoying. It’s surprising that such obvious stuttering made its way into the game.
Overall, PES 2014’s presentation is a mixed bag. It’s certainly an improvement over last year, but it’s not like that was a high bar to clear. The series looked to have made strides in the big picture, but match-by match, there are still too many little flaws that pop up here and there.
PES 2014's gameplay is easily the best part of this year's game, again.
No surprise here, PES 2014’s gameplay remains the strongest part of the package.
Not many things in soccer gaming rival the feeling of scoring a goal in PES. Why? Because anytime you score, it feels earned and for the most part, organic. It’s incredibly satisfying to create a goal because there’s no set way to succeed. Instead, in most cases you just have to take what the opponents’ solid defenses give you.
The biggest weapon in your arsenal is passing. PES 2014’s AI teammates’ are lively, allowing you to create your magic on the ball. They will smartly recognize space and the pace of action and react accordingly. However, reacting is not the only thing they do. They also act—initiate runs that try to offer the ball carrier a direct option or, failing that, move the defense around to create more space.
Ultimately, what makes the AI movement in PES so impressive is that the players don’t just move as individuals, but rather as a team, reacting and anticipating play two or three moves ahead. That might sound rather vague, and it is quite hard to explain well why it makes such a difference, but basically it makes build up play feel fluid and continuous. You can continuously string together one touch passes instead of having to hold the ball up and reset, waiting for teammates to shift and recalibrate to the ball’s new location.
On the other side of this equation, we have the CPU defense. They’re tight and solid (almost too solid, especially in higher difficulties), and will apply heavy pressure, forcing you to occasionally abandon plan A, adapt on the fly, and (gasp) even punt a few long balls up the field to alleviate pressure. This makes the attacking game even more exciting, since you really have to work to outsmart the CPU and create a goal.
The build up to goals in PES is the game's best feature.
There are, however, some annoying flaws that become apparent once you spend more time with the game. First of all, defenders will occasionally switch off and just ball watch. I’m not totally sure, but it seems like they’re too stringent in sticking to their assigned men (like an RB staying on the flanks instead of covering a striker who lost his marker and is on a breakaway), or it could really just be that they’re brain-dead in that moment. While this can be mitigated (once you’ve played enough and can sense that it’s coming) by either taking control of that player or pressing the teammate pressure button, there are the odd times when that split second makes all the difference between a goal and a last-ditch tackle, and it's very frustrating. As well, there are still hints of a catch-up mechanism at work, where defenders can sprint quicker than the ball carrier, making it harder to lose a marker than it should.
And finally, the goalkeepers. Yes they’ve been improved from PES 2013, but just like the visuals that was pretty much the very minimum expectation. Goalkeepers are mostly competent, but there’s still something off with their positioning and movement, like diving through the air for a slow, looping shot. While that previous example doesn’t really change anything in the practical sense, the fact that goalkeepers can rarely break out into a sprint does: when you call him off his line, he will remain in his ready position (legs apart, knees bent), staggering out for a loose ball instead of running full speed to intercept.
Overall the good still very much outweighs the bad, and gameplay easily remains the most enjoyable part of PES 2014. So it's such a shame the negatives are what they are, especially since the catch-up thing and the occasionally clumsy goalkeeper are flaws that have plagued the series for a while now. Again, they’ve been improved, but by now they should’ve been eradicated entirely.
PES is great on the pitch, but falls short off of it.
Simply put, it’s a letdown.
I’m glad not many of us were really holding out hope for any sort of enhancements for any of the game’s modes because there aren’t any, save for an 11 vs. 11 mode online.
Offline, the Master League has been stripped down to its very core, save the two minor additions in the ability to change league teams, and manage national squads. Gone from the mode are the cut scenes (which really didn’t matter anyway), the attribute boosting boots, and the ability to hire staff.
To be fair, even if those things have stayed, the complaint would still have been the same, because they were just shallow additions to a stale game mode. What Master League has lacked for a while now is depth—you, the manager, don’t get to negotiate, you barely get to scout, and you don’t interact with anybody in the game world, be they players or opposing managers or media, at all. It’s hard to stay immersed in this mode when all you’re really doing off the pitch is identify players you want to buy and sell, and then wait for the results.
Besides the new 11 vs 11 mode online, there is also a Galactico League in MLO, where supposedly only the best players can get in, with no salary cap so teams can assemble a team full of, yes, Galacticos. The general online experience feels, no surprise, rough. There’s the whole X360 debacle, and I’ve also encountered instances when through passes weren’t working properly (the receiving player will automatically pass it away). Yes, there’s a fix, but it involves changing the passing settings, which means forcing you to alter the way you play the game. Again, unpolished.
PES 2014 is simply a good game on the cusp of greatness...once again.
There’s a great game lurking somewhere in PES 2014. Gameplay is exciting, save for those few annoying flaws that pop now and then, and the FOX engine can help the franchise reinvigorate its visuals. But as an overall package, it’s just not there yet. There are still too many things that need to be fixed or rebuilt. The potential is great, but we’re not shelling out sixty bucks for a game that might be live up to the promise a few years down the road.
PES 2014 is probably not a must-buy for most people. Now, if literally all you care about is playing a great match, then yes, you’d probably get a lot of mileage out of this year’s game because gameplay is still, for the most part, realistic and exciting. But if you need deep game modes and presentation elements to continuously provide incentive to play matches, then perhaps it comes down to how much sixty dollars mean to you.
Learning Curve: The AI will make it easy for you to play a good game of soccer even with the most basic controls. CPU defenses can be ruthless though. As for modes, they’re so simple you really don’t need any acclimatizing.
Control Scheme: While the control schemes have been simplified to some extent, there are still a lot of nuances that only seasoned PES players can remember from the get-go. It may take a while.
Visuals: Much improved atmosphere and animations.
Audio: Better, but still subpar.
Score: 7.5 (Good)
Scoring Note: Ultimately, as I’ve mentioned in the final section, it’s all about where your priorities lie. If gameplay is the be all and end all, then perhaps you’d find the game better than a 7.5, because on the whole, PES 2014 still shines quite brightly on the pitch. However, personally, I just can’t overlook the rawness of the game—from the occasional AI defensive miscues and the catch-up mechanism on-pitch, to the shallowness in its game modes—Master League, especially—off of it.