What I Like
Passing And Shooting Feel Great
eFootball PES 2020 is not a perfect simulation of the beautiful game, but it’s the best gameplay this series has seen since the PS2 days. First and foremost, the pace of play has been toned down considerably since PES 2019. The players have more weight and the ball feels better than any footy game to date. Highlighted by excellent ball physics, the ball bounces and behaves as it would in real life with the proper weight and spin. Animations are at times a sight to see as they are finely tuned in accordance with the aforementioned ball physics. When eFootball PES 2020 gets it right, it’s like a perfect hat trick. Unfortunately, there are still the awkward moments here and there but let’s get into the gameplay breakdown.
PES 2020 offers the most realistic passing experience to date. Body position, weight of the pass, quality of the passer, which foot you’re passing with and a few other variables really make a difference when it comes to passing. The days of 3-4 back heels in one build up are long gone as you’ll most likely misplace a pass if you’re not actually looking at the teammate you’re attempting to pass to. Perfectly weighted 40-yard ground passes that roll across the pitch like a bowling ball are gone, and in their place are beautifully weighted passes that have just the right amount of back lift, which slows down the pass to believable levels and helps contribute to the more improved pace of play. Passing animations also stun at times with outside-of-the-boot flicks, situational-specific back heels and flicks all bringing the best out of the Fox engine.
Crosses are also well done as dangerous servers put in venomous balls but are still capable of bad crosses if you’re a little too attached to the turbo button. If there’s an area in passing I’d like to see addressed, it’s pass recognition when there are two teammates within the same vicinity. At times, the game on Pass Assistance 1 (PA1) will force you to pass to the wrong teammate, but more practice with the manual modifier (LT/L2) could alleviate this some.
Passing and shooting go hand-in-hand, and this year Konami really nailed shooting. Finesse shots are tuned accurately, for both the human and AI, meaning that you won’t see the AI perfectly place shots in your corner nor will you see online opponents try to shoot from the traditional sweet spots. It’s a little strange typing this but the new shot error is great. You can no longer receive a ball with your back to goal, turn and shoot with confidence that your shot will be on target. Off-balance shots and those taken with your weak foot have a far greater chance of hitting someone in the stands as they do finding the back of the net.
Don’t get me wrong, shooting hasn’t been artificially nerfed as you can really tell the difference between an elite striker and league 2 striker, a testament to not only individual player ID but also the difference in stats. Shooting improvements aren’t specific to human players as the AI will miss sitters and also attempt to pepper your goal from distance. Lastly, headers still look awesome when timed right and aren’t overpowered. However, stealing a page from FIFA, it would be nice to have a little bit more control over headers when it comes to shooting — in other words, downward headers, flicks, etc.
If there’s one thing that brings together passing and shooting, it’s the first touch control. Over-hit passes to your teammate’s feet are tougher to control, and depending on how aggressive your opposition is, this can really influence how brave you are with your passes.
Lack Of Canned Animations
Canned animations seem to be largely removed as you can break out of poor first-touch control if you do something like bobble the pass into the air. At this point, you will attempt to kick the ball out of the air if you press the pass button while the ball is still midair. Nowhere is your touch more important than in and around the 18-yard box as a poor touch in your own half could be catastrophic. Likewise, a poor touch by your striker could result in a missed opportunity. First touches are realistic, visually pleasing and an important influence on your game.
Better On-Field AI
Like night and day is one way to represent the different between the AI attack in eFootball PES 2020 and PES 2019. Last year’s game suffered from repetitive wing-based attacks that were later patched, but should have never been released that way. PES 2020 not only sees a variety in attack but also in approaches.
Some clubs will go route-one football on you and hoof long balls up to their striker who is either trying to hold the play up or flick it on to a teammate. Other clubs will play a more patient build-up style, while some will attempt to break with pace in a counter-attacking style.
While physicality and fouls seem toned down from the demo, it still does a great job at capturing the tussles that ensue during a 90-minute match. Shoulder barges, riding challenges and in-air collisions are common, They not only look great, but are also smooth and don’t lock you in, which means that you can get out of them if you wiggle the left stick in the right direction.
Even without a button command for shielding, turning your back on opponents does often alleviate pressure — as it does in real life — forcing you to find a close option or reset your attack. Fouls are also done fairly well as the logic seems to have improved from the demo, but I would still prefer the physicality and foul system of the demo where more fouls were called. Sometimes these fouls were called incorrectly, but bad calls are a part of all games, and until these games figure out how to incorporate VAR we’re still at the mercy of a few missed calls here and there.
In the buildup to eFootball PES 2020’s release, Konami highlighted a focus on a more realistic defense:
“Significant improvements have been made to accurately recreate every tense moment of play that occurs around the box when defenders clamber to shut down a well-executed attack.”
Defensively, PES 2020 feels a little overpowered at times, especially after the release patch where it seems as if the balance was swung back in its favor with dribbling and referee logic toned down. The risk/reward system that felt so good in the demo skews towards all reward as you’re able to tackle more recklessly without fear of being punished by the referee. Learning how to defend properly has unfortunately reverted back to legacy defending with bad habits reinforced, mainly holding down “X” and seeing your defender make a perfect tackle. In terms of positioning, defenders are a tad improved but there is still too much space between most attackers and midfielders as attackers don’t track back unless you alter the defense level.
This is partly due to formations and tactics (fluid formation setup could fix this but would be very time consuming), but Konami really should take a long hard look at making the midfield more compact to help emphasize more midfield battles. I say this because when you play a team that employs a conservative approach and places numbers in the midfield the game really shines.
Still, eFootball PES 2020 suffers a bit from rigid transitions when going from attack to defense. When an attack fizzles, players will react almost immediately in running back to their defensive positions, and at times they even ignore passes or 50-50 balls that should be easy interceptions. Your AI teammates also occasionally seem to ignore balls that they should be picking up.
Watch as France’s right back, Benjamin Pavard of Bayern Munich, just watches as Spain’s Alvaro Morata is first to react to the initial save (cheeky shot attempt, too). Not only is he rooted to his spot but he also takes a second to turn his head and look at Spain’s Marco Asensio instead of reacting to the save. Issues like this often rear their ugly head in replay and sometimes can detract from what should have been a beautiful goal.
Defense and attack need to be balanced equally and it seems like things have swung back towards defense, neutering dribbling and pace at the expense of some in the community who complained that defense in the demo was too hard and fouls were too common. Hopefully, through the PES Facebook Development page we’ll see the community come together in hopes that Konami will fix these issues because there’s a great game just waiting to come out.
This year marked the first time in a while where Master League was announced with some noticeable improvements. Still the preferred mode of choice by seasoned players, Master League is definitely improved and should finally offer a long-term playing experience that complements the solid gameplay. Upon first firing up Master League, you’ll notice that you’re forced to choose your manager model from a selection of ex-superstars like Zico or Diego Maradona or one of the random models created by Konami. It’s a little disappointing that the options aren’t greater or that you can’t design your own, but it’s most likely a result of all the future managerial and touchline cutscenes you’ll experience throughout Master League.
Master League options are up next and there are some nice new options available like the ability to disable the first transfer window, as well as how hard/easy you want to make your transfer negotiation difficulty, transfer frequency and how salary is displayed (weekly or annually).
Some of these options can’t be changed later so it might be worth trying a test Master League out while you’re waiting for a complete option file.
Once you’ve set everything up, you’ll be thrown into some cutscenes where you’ll meet a few of your players and sit down with the board and staff to set goals for the upcoming season. In my test run as Chelsea, I took up the modest expectation of a top four finish in the league. I was surprised that the board initially thought this might be too low but were willing to trust my judgement. Similarly, an introductory press conference with the media will also allow you to respond to some Q&A that can impact the mood around the club and player morale. These are nice touches as immersion has really been missing lately in Master League, but there’s room for improvement, namely adding voice-overs instead of the blocks of text that seem to dominate every cutscene.
The Master League menu has also gotten a slight re-design, and I must admit it looks pretty slick. The top menu options remain the same, but the user interface is a little cleaner with stories, upcoming schedule complete with kickoff times, table and social media followers on display. One cool addition is that if you’re fortunate enough to have a complete option file, you’ll see your “Official Partners” in the bottom-right corner. This means that Chelsea fans will see Nike, Yokohama and Carabao with the ability to change them if you decide to play a virtual marketing executive and negotiate new deals (not in the game, but doable through option-file tweaks).
Squad management is largely untouched as your youth squad is still made up of kids from across the globe, which is disappointing when compared to FIFA where you can also build your own youth academy through scouting. Unfortunately, and much to the dismay of pretty much the entire community, “regens” (players who retire after year one such as Gigi Buffon or Carlos Tevez) will reappear as 15-17 year-old players in your youth squad. These can still ruin some of the fun of a long-term Master League career.
Transfer negotiations were improved, mainly via market values that are now fairly accurate. Unfortunately, there are certain players who have release clauses that are lower than their market value, which means they can be triggered by CPU-controlled squads rather easily. Additionally, some contract lengths don’t mirror recent extensions signed in real life, but you can renew the deals rather easily. Transfer offers are also sent frequently, even when the window is closed, a nice touch that lets you negotiate deals ahead of time and plan your squad accordingly. One other tidbit from team management is that player-form arrows still seem to be random, but on the bright side this at least forces you to rotate your squad.
Also new this year are interactive email messages similar to FIFA’s career mode, detailing various communications such as transfer offers, national team call-ups, and general club business. I’m hopeful that future iterations of PES will include links within the email that will take you to menu desired. For example, when you receive an email notifying you of a transfer offer, it would be nice if they included a quick link to “negotiations” in the body of the email instead of having to back out and go to Team Management -> Negotiations.
Interactive messages and a new chapter-based approach to Master League really add to the overall Master League experience, helping to keep you engaged in a more RPG-like style. Only time will tell how repetitive this will get, but so far I’m really digging it as too often ML feels like you’re in a vacuum. The cutscenes also look incredible from a visual standpoint, and it’s nice that at the halfway point of your season your board will reconvene and reassess your objectives for the second half of the season by taking your first-half results into account.
When it comes to the simulation of a season and how realistic it is, so far the early results are good. Scores from around the league (would be a nice in-game feature in the future) have believable scorelines and the clubs you’d expect to be near the top of the table are — a testament to the difference between top, mid-table and lower-table sides. AI transfers are toned down this year, which means you won’t see Liverpool sell off their entire first team in the first window, and fairly accurate transfer budgets mean that you won’t see too many smaller clubs end up with big-name players in their virtual prime.
When it’s all said and done, Master League is much improved, even if the majority of the changes are cosmetic. Adding in more immersive elements to help create a connection goes a long way, and I found myself getting attached and caught up in the day-to-day management that one would experience as a real-life gaffer. Taking this mode online would be a giant leap but would give them a leg up on the competition.
MyClub & Match Day Mode
MyClub saw very little improvements this year as the development team seemed to focus their attention, and rightly so, on Master League. As PES’ counter to Ultimate Team, MyClub hasn’t quite jumped off like FUT did, and it could be partly attributed to how easy it is to get a really good squad without really having to grind for it. MyClub clubs are already littered with superstars and legends at multiple positions, and strangely enough Konami was handing out MyClub coins due to them not being able to update the squads until September 12, two days after its official release. GP (points earned for playing matches, achieving milestones, etc.) gained from other modes can no longer be used in MyClub, and every player now starts at level 1 (the old level 30). This means that every player will perform to his true potential from the moment you sign him. These are really the only major notable additions aside from being able to play the new Match Day mode within MyClub.
Match Day mode is a new addition. It’s probably a direct tie-in to the name change to eFootball as the mode offers competitive gaming using live updates and real-life matchups from across the globe. With the majority of leagues on International Break for the past two weeks, the mode featured mostly international contests to start, but without the updated transfers I found that these normally tame friendlies produced some good exciting matches online. What made it even better is that for once the servers seemed pretty good stayed mostly lag-free. As more and more attention is given to competitive gaming, I fully expect this mode to be a staple of PES for years to come.
Graphics Are The Best Yet In PES
From a visual standpoint, PES 2020 is by far the best looking PES to date. Pitch and kit textures look sublime while cutscenes within Master League look true to life. Players who got their faces scanned look great, but those who didn’t make the cut like Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic leave a lot to be desired. While Konami does a good job at updating faces throughout the year, I’d personally rather have some of the lesser leagues get more authentic faces than say Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino having his latest haircut. Body models could also use some more variety, but overall they are believable and several prominent players like Juventus’ Paulo Dybala have their tattoos in the game. Facial expressions were highlighted during the pre-release window, and while they mostly fit the situation (e.g. missing a sitter will result in your player having his hands on his head or pounding the turf in disbelief) but can look a bit scary visually.
Menus, specifically the main menu and Master League’s main screen, have received a nice fresh coat of paint. However, once you get one level down you’ll notice they’re largely unchanged and severely outdated — almost resembling a computer database — and most certainly lacking the bells and whistles of the competition. I do like how everything on the main menu is within one screen, meaning no more having to scroll over to go to something like Edit Mode.
More Licenses Than Last Year
While EA has a stranglehold on the English Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga, PES has upped its licensing game with a fully licensed Serie A, with partner club Juventus being exclusive to eFootball PES 2020. With the majority of the top European leagues in the game, and nearly all of the prominent South American and Asian leagues in the game, there’s more than enough teams to provide an in-depth Master League experience. On top of that, with the Euro 2020 DLC coming soon, there will be a greater amount of international teams with authentic kits. More stadiums will hopefully come with this DLC, but as of right now head over to PES 2020’s site to find a complete list of licensed clubs and authentic stadiums.
What I Don’t Like
Dribbling Took Step Back From Demo
The dribbling has improved overall, but it’s just not as good as the demo. While I’m still learning the ins and outs of the new no-touch system, I’ve been able to pull off some nice moves with just the flick of the left stick and knowing when to use the dash button. Certain difficulty levels such as Superstar do tend to result in being pushed off the ball more easily, but simply turning away from the defender and getting the ball out seems to be a good way to relieve pressure. As the defending has been tuned with the release-day patch, there seems to be an advantage given to the defense now in tackling, but it’s not overpowered to the extent that it takes away from dribbling.
Commentary Still Not Great
Commentary is usually one of the first options I mute and this year is no different. It’s not that Peter Drury is a bad commentator, it’s just that his style isn’t very suitable for a video game where excitable moments happen more frequently, meaning that you’ll hear him get excited very often even if the action on the pitch fizzles.
Edit Mode Received Few Changes
Edit Mode is back and largely unchanged, which is disappointing but not shocking. Things like being able to create and/or edit stadiums, tight fit kits and more kit slots would help the community take this game to the next level. Sadly, Konami can still not find a workaround for Xbox One users who would like to import files, meaning that you’ll have to rename most of the info yourself or plow through seasons in the English League. Thankfully, Konami was able to give the vast majority of clubs their name in some sort of legal workaround. Be sure to head over to the PES Option File Thread to download the latest files from the folks over at PES Universe and various other community creators.
Tactics Were Not Touched
Tactics were disappointingly not touched and are lagging behind the competition. While Konami does use real data from partnered analytical firms, their tactical options are very rigid and don’t allow for much freedom, which is a shame because the AI is capable of playing very human-like. Perhaps a good option file could help sort out some of the gameplay irritations, such as lack of numbers in the midfield, but it would behoove Konami to really take a deep dive when it comes to tactics and how they impact the gameplay experience. The CPU still changes their attack/defense levels based on the score and situation, but it would be nice if the AI managers would change formations mid-match based on how the match is playing out.
Conversely, as someone who loves a good tactical battle, getting your team to play as you envision is much tougher in PES than it is in FIFA as there seem to be several variables (Advanced Instructions, Attack/Defense Levels, Fluid Formations, etc.) that potentially offset each other. This can possibly lead to confusion as your players try to act on your instructions. My personal pet peeve, Deep Defensive Line, is still problematic. While it does have its time and place, mainly to counter spammed balls over the top online, the defensive line drops way too deep once again in your own penalty box. If you don’t have your Defense Level to “one notch under” balanced, it’s difficult to get your wide attackers to drop back, meaning that the midfield becomes too open. A deeper dive into tactics by the community will hopefully result in some workarounds, but out of the box more attention could be given to formations and tactics.
In a nutshell, eFootball PES 2020 is easily better on the pitch and off of it for the first time in years. At its core, PES is about capturing magical moments and this year’s iteration does that even more than usual.
While there’s still some nagging issues here and there, eFootball PES 2020 is a patch (or simply reverting back to the demo code) away from being one of the finest soccer games ever made. With its core mode Master League improved, eFootball PES 2020 finally has a mode worthy of its solid gameplay.
With the help of option files, PC and PS4 users get to experience nearly all of the bells and whistles of FIFA — sorry Xbox One users, you still can’t — but with the magic that only PES can provide. If you’re a gameplay purist, then eFootball PES 2020 is definitely worthy of a purchase.