When Konami announced its decision that eFootball PES 2021 would be a season update, many of us were split as to whether or not this was good for the future of the series. On one hand, a two-year development cycle while we’re in the midst of transitioning to next-gen seems like a smart calculated approach. Rushing to make two versions of the game on separate systems could be a recipe for a disaster. Throw in the new Unreal Engine that was announced for PES 2022 and the risk probably outweighed the reward for Konami. On the other hand, is an update of PES 2020 good enough to play for two years? It’s time to find out in this eFootball PES 2021 Season Update review!
For the majority of this review, I’ll be focusing on gameplay, specifically how it compares to eFootball PES 2020. Apart from three new managers added to Master League, there have been no significant changes to game modes, visuals or edit mode. For this reason, I’m going to focus the majority of this review on gameplay. If you’re new to PES, check out the eFootball PES 2020 review here.
eFootball PES 2021 Season Update Review – What I Like
The first thing that jumped out when I started playing PES 2021 was how much responsiveness had improved since PES 2020. When it comes to detailing how responsive PES is right now, it’s hard to quantify. It’s one of those things you “feel” rather than see but it’s most evident when dribbling. eFootball PES 2021 feels and moves a lot like the PES 2020 demo, which translates into more fluid dribbling mechanics.
Dribbling in its purist form is about body position, touches, and using momentum and the occasional speed burst to keep the ball away from niggling defenders and PES 2021 does a great job at this. Don’t get me wrong, skill moves are also better now, mostly because the animations have been speed up ever so slightly, which lets you branch out of animations with more fluidity, greatly reducing the ugly stumble animation that had plagued PES for so long. With increased responsiveness in both button inputs and dribbling, you’re able to allow defenders to get much closer and beat them with or without the use of skills and tricks.
Notice here in the first clip how I’m able to cope with the immediate pressure put on me by the Dortmund defender and then ride the second challenge before passing the ball. It’s subtle and might not seem like a big deal, but the impact it has on gameplay can’t be overlooked. It impacts how you play the game and opens up avenues of the game that simply aren’t available in FIFA. It also allows you to draw fouls more often from the CPU because you can lure them in and use their rashness against them (more on fouls later).
One of the beneficial side effects of a more responsive game is better animations, specifically how the game branches from one animation to another. I briefly mentioned the stumble animation bug but it’s one of the easiest examples of PES’ poor past when it comes to animations. It’s far from perfect in PES 2021, but overall, animations are better than they have ever been both in terms of which animations plays out and how they look.
There are a few new ones sprinkled in too, not too mention some awesome keeper animations.
It’s perhaps a weird thing to call out but hear me out. The ball physics in PES the past two years are by far the best I’ve ever witnessed in a soccer game. The ball has weight, which means that passing and shooting have weight. Longer ground passes skip a few times on the turf. Shots have a punch to them and don’t feel floaty. When you catch a shot cleanly, you can feel the power behind them.
Also, kudos to Konami for toning down shot power a little while also increasing the camera pan speed. The camera can actually keep up with well hit shots now. But back to ball physics for a second. Shots and passes have back/top spin on them, allowing them to either skip out of play or wreak havoc on keepers with hands like Kepa. Shots rattle the posts and crossbars, and even if the keeper parries a shot it doesn’t automatically fall to the feet of an opportunistic attacker.
More Error When It Comes To Passing & Shooting
In the world of sports video games, the more realistic the error is the better simulation you get. Historically, PES has always suffered from ping pong one-touch passes. Some of this was out of necessity due to input and online lag, but it over time PES players have slowly gone increasingly tiki-taka. With the game not punishing you, it was far too easy to one-touch your way around the pitch bypassing defenders with little resistance.
Some of that is still evident this year in PES, but simulation gamers will be happy to see that body position affects not only the power of your passes and shots, but more importantly, the placement. The game doesn’t punish you for errant passes as much I would like but it’s still an improvement over last year.
During the course of my time with PES 2020, the first-touch implementation was something that varied wildly with the different Data Packs. From the over-exaggerated first touches of Data Pack 5 to the varied control seen in Data Pack 4, Konami couldn’t seem to settle on their preference to how you control a pass. Thankfully, Konami has reverted back to a more varied, yet contextually accurate solution in eFootball PES 2021.
Some might be initially put-off by the odd bounces that you see when playing this year’s game but hear me out. Your first touch is one of the most important skills you can have in soccer. If you can’t control the ball quickly, you’ll be dispossessed — meaning that you can’t do all of the fun things like dribble, pass or shoot. As it relates to PES, it helps to muck things up in a believable way. Over hit a pass to a nearby teammate and he’s going to need a few touches to control the ball. Chasing down a 50-50 ball while your finger is firmly pressing turbo and you’ll take a heavy touch. That’s how things are in real footy and that’s how they’re implemented in PES this year.
Simply put, your first touch matters and as experienced PES players will tell you, “ease up a bit on the turbo” because it will help you become a better PES player.
As someone who jumps back and forth between FIFA and PES almost daily, I can tell you with full conviction that the physicality in PES sets the standard for a footy game. For every silky on-the-ball-player like Zidane there’s an equally physical monster like Patrick Vieira (had to go old school for a minute while also showing my age).
PES 2021 not only accurately represents the differences in physical stature but also allows you to engage in drawn out physical situations Being able to ride challenges opens up the game and slows down some of the ping-pong passing that increases the pace of play.
Slower Pace Of Play
What do you get when you take increased physicality — plus a more realistic first touch — all the while adding in more pass and shot error with increased responsiveness? You get a more realistic pace of play because you have to actually use your brain to build/stop an attack. Sure, there are still moments where the ball can move from one end of the pitch to the other at breakneck speed, but the game does a great job replicating the ebbs and flows of a real match.
Intelligent play can see your attack burst to life as you find the open man in space or you can get bogged down trying to pass around the AI’s low block. Soccer takes a page from boxing in that “styles make fights” and that’s part of the fun of the game. For the most part, the CPU uses their Attack/Defense levels well, which creates games within games as the first 15 minutes could see them press you high up the pitch only to sit back and play more men behind the ball if they score first. It’s always tough to condense 90 minutes of action into a 10-30 minute video game match but Konami has managed to do so pretty well this year.
One of my biggest pet peeves with the PES franchise is the AI’s “at-times” strict adherence to their tactical gameplan. PES 2018 & 2019 suffered immensely with this, but things appeared to get better with PES 2020 before ultimately getting patched to death. In my time with PES 2021, I’ve witnessed some beautiful varied attacking AI while playing on Top Player.
Cross-field switches, patient build-up play and quick counters have all tested my defense in one way or the other. Even when attacking, the AI seems quicker to close you down in the midfield or higher up the pitch IF their tactics are set correctly and aggressively.
In this first video, you’ll some nice attacking AI examples on display.
This clip focuses on how the AI defense has improved, specifically in terms of applying pressure.
eFootball PES 2021 Season Update Review – What I Don’t Like
We’ll just call this section the “legacy issues” section because for as rosy as the “what I like” section is, there are a few thorns that prevent this game from being what it should be.
There is no greater negative impact on the eFootball PES 2021 Season Update than the tactics. The tactical system in general is outdated, overly complicated and at odds with itself at times. There’s a lot to unpack under the hood, but the main issue I have with the game at release is the tactics assigned to clubs.
If you’ve read any of my prior articles here on OS (shameless plug I know!) you probably already know my disdain for the “deep defensive line” advanced tactic. But seeing as how it’s so generously applied (by my count, 12 of the 20 EPL teams have it assigned), you need to understand how it makes the gameplay much worse. Most sports games these days benefit from a little user customization — none perhaps as much as PES with the modding community — but it doesn’t take a well trained eye to know that center backs don’t drop five yards into their own box when defending an attack that’s just outside your box.
Even if you don’t check the AI’s game plan before the match, you can instantaneously recognize it when you play a ball into your striker’s feet and are easily able to turn and shoot with minimum resistance. Don’t even get me started on the “long ball” tactic that completely ignores the strengths and weaknesses of your players.
A good Option File can fix this, but it’s not available for all players (sorry Xbox fans) and there are enough analytical sites on the internet for Konami to either outsource and/or leverage to help in this regard. It’s time for Konami to step up their efforts when it comes to tactics.
How can you call yourself “eFootball” yet the entire online architecture is a laggy mess? All of the responsiveness I boasted about earlier is thrown out the window when you play online and you’re forced to play one-touch footy because input delay is so poor online. Online gets to the point where you’re basically playing two opponents, the first your actual opponent and the other lag.
This even ignores the confusing menus, spinning blue wheel of death, slow loading times and layer upon layer of “server” — the entire online experience is still stuck in the PS2 days.
Overall, I would say that refereeing logic is better in PES 2021. Deft contextual touches and dribbles help to draw fouls but there are still far too many missed opportunities for the ref to step in and blow the whistle. Egregious amounts of contact often go unpunished and opportunities are missed for free kicks.
Don’t even try to get a penalty kick as it seems refs swallow the whistle on all contact inside the box despite it being called elsewhere around the pitch. Even EPL referees would cringe at some of the missed calls in this game.
Player Awareness/Switching Issues
There’s some improvement here when it comes to player awareness, but it’s still far too hit or miss for my liking. Some of it is down to player switching, which varied in success last year depending on the Data Pack, but the lack of awareness too frequently occurs at the worst times and it’s not just limited to users as AI players can sometimes also lose their minds.
A little assistance in this area by Konami would go a long way in helping us out, especially when the CPU starts spamming through balls that split your center backs and lead to a 1v1 against your keeper. The “on-rails” feeling that most of us hate when chasing down 50-50 balls would certainly help in these situations.
What is it about PES that makes my PS4 Pro sound like a jet engine? Seriously, when I boot up PES I have to turn the sound up on the game to help drown out the PS4 fan that’s obviously being pushed to the max. No other game I own has ever caused my PS4 to make noise like this. I was generally nervous during this review that eFootball PES 2021 Season Update would kill off my PS4 before I could get my hands on a PS5.
It’s quite possible that in a few months eFootball PES 2021 Season Update will play nothing like it does right now. Such is the life these days with patches and Data Packs. As of right now, the game plays very well for something that was supposed to be a glorified roster update. Unfortunately, all of the positives that stem from better gameplay are diminished a little by stale modes and lackluster online play.
If you enjoyed eFootball PES 2020 last year, you’ll have some fun with this update as it improves on gameplay. In addition, at the $30 price it makes the lack of off-the-pitch improvements a little easier to stomach. Still, if you don’t think gameplay improvements are enough for you, then you’ll want to avoid this game.