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eFootball PES 2020 Demo Impressions

PES 2020

eFootball PES 2020 Demo Impressions

Late last week, Konami released the demo for this year’s upcoming release, eFootball PES 2020 (it’s going to take some time before I get used to writing that). After strong demo releases these last couple years, it’s time to see how this year’s version measures up.

What I Like

New Default Camera – Kudos to Konami for having a strong enough belief to change the default camera angle. The company gets even more applause for designing a camera that both shows off the graphical powers the Fox engine has to offer while simultaneously giving us the ability to see a large portion of the pitch, minus the annoying cutscenes Broadcast camera used to cut to when you were getting ready to send in a cross. Konami has downgraded the graphics for the purposes of the demo so textures such as the grass look overly saturated, but this camera is most likely going to be my camera of choice, both offline and online, as it gives you a bit of everything — graphics, solid view of the action and enough of the stadium to showcase those improvements.

Edit Mode – Perhaps Edit Mode’s inclusion is partly to blame for downscaled graphics, but overall its inclusion is a win. While it most likely doesn’t affect the average user, giving option file creators early access means the we could potentially see more complete option files on day one. That’s huge for Master League players who often had to wait months before getting their virtual careers started.

Pace Of Play – Over the past few years, PES has suffered tremendously from fast, arcade-like gameplay. Overly accurate one-touch passes, insane passing speeds and other variables have all negatively affected the speed at which the game moves. Despite rebranding itself as eFootball PES 2020, Konami has done a very good job at replicating the ebbs and flows of a real soccer match. The fact that most of my matches versus the AI end 0-0 gives me hope that scorelines will be realistic upon release, and I’ll be able to play 20-minute matches. Hopefully, Konami will stick to their guns at release time (and post-release) and not tweak the speed through patches.

Physicality – It’s still early in this year’s footy schedule, but I don’t have a problem saying no soccer game has come close to replicating the physicality that PES 2020 offers. What makes it so fulfilling is how organic the interactions are. The “shoulder-to-shoulder” contact is replicated well, and the impacts it has to passing and shooting can be felt. Numerous times in the demo I have pushed too far forward, exposing myself to a counter where I’m unable to make a challenge out of fear of getting sent off as the last man, only to see my defender “get in the body” of the attacker, slightly throwing him off and forcing a wayward shot (more on shooting later). It’s little details like this that don’t stand out in marketing catchphrases that help games strive towards simulation. Physicality is also represented well in regards to fouls:

Refereeing logic is improved and tuned rather nicely with this new physical detection system. When combined with the new tackling mechanics, you’re ensured to see more stoppages in play and even penalty kicks, something that rarely occurred in the past few iterations of PES.

Passing & Shooting – It’s not perfect but it’s better than it’s been since the PS2 days. Shooting, in particular shot speed, is tuned well and is balanced by good goalkeeper animations. One easy way to tell is how the camera is finally able to keep up with powerful shots. Furthermore, body position, dominant foot and ratings seem to matter. To the untrained eye it’s odd saying this, but more off-target shots is what this series has needed for quite some time. Passing is also improved, mainly in terms of pass speed and accuracy when blindly attempting to pass to a teammate. Over hit a pass and the intended receiver will have a tougher time controlling the pass through his first touch, which illuminates the game’s excellent ball physics.

Ball Physics – Speaking of ball physics, they’re well done and really help the game achieve a bit of sloppiness, which in turn results in more 50-50 balls. Ball spin looks realistic and behaves accordingly, whether it’s during first-touch control or a parried shot by the keeper.

Tied in with the ball physics is how “loose” and “free” the ball feels this year. It generally feels like a ball should, an independent object to interact with on a grass field. This affects more than just dribbling. Defending and in particular deflections are not as predictable in terms of where they will fall. The physics also help with the pace of play and passing as you’re not able to ping the ball around effortlessly due to having to concentrate a little more on your first touch while reacting accordingly.

Dribbling – It took me a while, and to be honest I’m still learning, but so far I am really enjoying the tweaks to dribbling. Upon initially reading that close control/no-touch dribbling was removed from the R2/RT, I was a bit cautious, but seeing it in action is a beautiful thing. Being able to lure defenders in, especially with the new enhanced risk-reward tackling system, makes one-on-one battles against defenders very satisfying both visually and contextually. With the plethora of flicks and intricate touches, mixed with a ball that isn’t glued to your feet, you’re really able to see the perks of this new dribbling mechanic.

What I Don’t Like

Tactics – Not only have tactics been untouched by Konami for a few years, the same tactics that negatively affected PES 2019 are back once again. “Deep defensive line” as an “advanced instruction” still makes zero sense to me, and the fact that it’s set as a default option for so many clubs makes the game play worse as it creates too much space between your defensive lines (more on this shortly). While it will help combat spammed balls over the top by online cheesers, “deep defensive line” exposes you to too many quick one-twos in the middle of the pitch, especially if your opponent employs two strikers, or a striker and attacking midfielder. Further complicating things are “fluid formations” and the default tactical system that at times seem to counteract each other, and put your AI players at odds when it comes to their responsibilities. For example, the defensive strategy of “frontline pressure” that is intended as a high press (having your forward-most attackers attempt to close down the opposition when in their own half) won’t work when you have the attack/defense levels to light blue (one tick down from the default balanced option).

More quick attacking and defensive options are needed, as well as quick on-the-fly options to apply a high press in certain situations. Perhaps a total scrap of the current system is needed with a rebuild from the ground up in order to get tactics to function correctly while staying simplistic enough. Personally, I’m a fan of FIFA’s tactics/instructions with the ability to add in different team sheets. Combining a similar approach with fluid formations (utilizing different formations/philosophies to attack and defend) would be a best of both worlds approach.

Reactions/Pass Recognition – There are still too many moments where your AI players are either slow to react or won’t react at all when a 50-50 ball enters their zone:

Watch as Alexis Sanchez (#7 in red) runs away from what should be an easy interception in a dangerous area. (By the way, I absolutely love the Chris Smalling backpedal/judging the flight of the ball animation at the end.)

This legacy issue plagued past PES titles, and while it’s a little better, it really requires quick fingers or a more assisted switch selection to switch in time to make a proper challenge for a 50-50 ball. It’s for this reason that the “on-rails” feeling has been utilized for both FIFA and PES over the years, but smarter recognition would go a long way in helping with this problem. Additionally, passes still go to the wrong intended teammate, even on heavily automated pass assistance levels (PA2). Perhaps this is Konami’s way of trying to generate lower passing percentages, but at times it’s a little frustrating when your passes go to the wrong target.

AI Attack With The Ball At Their Feet – The AI attack doesn’t suffer from the same issues that plagued PES 2019 (low crosses sent in from wide areas), but they could use some special instructions from the likes of Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola. Far too often they refuse to keep possession, and when attacking in one-on-one situations they will frequently dribble right into your attacker regardless of how good the player is on the ball. What I wouldn’t give to have the play ushered out wide, leaving my poor right/left back at the mercy of a dribbler like Ronaldo or Messi. With excellent player ID and the unique feel of marquee players, it’s a shame that the game suffers from generic brainless play in wide positions.

Defensive Spacing – It’s not all bad when it comes to defensive spacing as it’s improved in PES 19, but there’s still far too much space in-between the lines. It’s still far too easy to split defenders with a 30-yard pass to your striker’s feet, bypassing the midfield and attackers who rarely contribute anything in the defensive phase. As mentioned earlier, terrible defensive instructions like “deep defensive line” exaggerate this issue. The suspect formations Konami’s tactics team utilizes also heighten the issue — the “at kickoff” formations are correct but once the ball is in play the attacking and defending formations aren’t normally tweaked — but the issue at heart feels more like a game design one. If there were more compact lines, both by the AI and human players, it would result in more possession and less hectic end-to-end moments.

The screenshot below is from an Arsenal versus Arsenal coach mode replay. The ball is a few yards ahead of the midfield line at the feet of Mesut Ozil, the attacking mid in their default 3-4-1-2 formation for the red-sided Arsenal. Arsenal’s default “defensive advanced instruction” is set to deep defensive line. Notice how the Arsenal defenders in yellow appear to be dropping deep, completely ignoring Lacazette in red who literally finds acres of space. Lucas Torreira (#11 in yellow) does a good job as the closest defender in closing down Ozil, but the ability to bypass the midfield directly to the feet of the striker makes this irrelevant. Ozil has other options as well, like bringing Bellerin (the most-wide player in red) into the play, holding it up for the rest of his attackers, playing Aubameyang (the attacker closest to the box in red), or trying to create something by himself.

Now see it in motion:

This particular moment comes off a goal kick, so it’s not as if Arsenal-Yellow was caught out on a corner or simply not ready. It’s one of the only times where a defense will completely stay true to its base formation (3-4-1-2) and there should never be this space in the middle of a pitch, especially in your own half. It’s not shown in this example, but frequently there are times where your forward-most attackers contribute nothing to the attack. I would be okay with having the main striker stay back as an outlet and even possibly the widest attacker not on the ball side stay a little high, but the majority of time I would prefer a press that involves all 10 outfield players working in unison.

Again, for good measure you will see Mesut Ozil below, Yellow beating an Arsenal-Red defender near the middle of the pitch. The Arsenal defender near the middle of the screen ( #11 Lucas Torreira) does a good job at recognizing this and is sprinting, with a good angle, to intervene. Unfortunately for Torriera, his three center backs are all running away from the ball. Okay, to be fair, the bottom defender in red is tracking Aubameyang’s run, and the left-wide midfielder is cutting off the angle of Hector Bellerin’s run. That’s three defenders out of the five for Arsenal Red who are doing their job. Unfortunately, the other two center backs are completely ignoring Lacazette, who once again has enough time and space to have lunch and take a nap.

Now in motion:

As it plays out, Torreira cannot get to Ozil before he’s able to pass it directly to Lacazette’s feet. Lacazette turns and it’s Bellerin who continues his retreat and attempts to put in the first tackle on Lacazette. Lacazette is able to turn and, at first, Nacho Monreal (center back in red near the top of the screen) actually takes a few steps back before he steps up and ultimately ends the run as Lacazette dribbles directly into his standing challenge. This is also an example of a less-than-ruthless AI when on the ball in dangerous areas.

Examples like this are my biggest issue with eFootball PES 2020‘s demo, and it’s a little discouraging they weren’t fixed after PES 2018 (where they were first reported). Sure, there are potential workarounds (Matt10’s 5 Second Fix) and other tweaks to formations/tactics, but we shouldn’t have to resort to tweaking tactics to fix Defending 101. While I doubt Konami will be able to fix the tactical system in time for the release of this year’s iteration, work can be done and feedback can be collected to ensure that eFootball PES 2020 will be a better game post-release.

It’s still too early to recommend this year’s game as a must buy, as Master League, online stability and MyClub need to be played. However, despite some of the issues I have highlighted, I’m having a lot of fun with this demo and am looking forward to playing this game when it launches on September 10.

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