It’s no secret that competition breeds a better product. While competition has all but been removed from the major American sports, soccer is the one of the last sports left that offers two AAA games. Throughout the history of footy games, Konami and EA have always had one eye on the prize while the other has been fixated on the competition.
When FIFA first made a name for itself in 1993 with FIFA International Soccer, it was Konami that soon followed with International Superstar Soccer further pushing the envelope. While EA dominated the market early, Konami soon stepped to the forefront. This trend continued until the advent of Ultimate Team, which helped EA generate the cash required to price Konami out of certain league licenses. Fast forward to 2020 and both games could leverage several ideas from the competition.
In this two-part series we’ll examine what each game could borrow from the competitor starting with PES.
There are few areas in PES that need a complete reboot, perhaps none more than tactics and the way the AI incorporates those tactics. Over the years, PES has taken a scaled back approach, removing several tactical options since PES 2014. In its place, Konami has instituted a rather rigid set of tactics the CPU blindly follows.
If you’re unfamiliar with tactics, they are a fairly simple concept. Simply put, tactics are just a set of instructions set forth by the manager and ultimately carried out by players. For example, getting your team to institute a high press (your attackers attempt to win the ball back from the opposition higher up the pitch) is a fairly common approach in the modern game. It requires your attackers to close down on the opponent while they have the ball in their half. Doing so effectively requires the midfielders to push up — as well as your defenders — in an attempt to compress the space (areas in which there aren’t many players in close proximity). It’s a team-based approach where everyone needs to be on the same page or else you will get shredded all-the-while expending valuable stamina chasing down your opponents.
While it’s promising that tactics play an important role in influencing gameplay in PES, the strict adherence to them can make the game fall into predictable patterns. For instance, if the CPU has the “Long Ball” tactic on, they will hoof the ball up the pitch no matter what. This means they will sometimes even pass backwards to their center backs only for them to launch it upfield even if a simple, more effective ground pass would suffice.
As Konami introduced features such as Fluid Formations, they did so by layering on options over top of other options, creating tactics which often contradict each other and help to play a part in confusing their own AI. Throw in “Attack/Defense” levels and you’ve created a real mess that contributes to some of the ugly sights like seeing your team instantly retreat after giving away possession when they should be looking to apply pressure to try and win the ball back — a basic fundamental of soccer.
Getting teams to play like their real-life counterparts has always been tough for both Konami and FIFA. But where PES fails, EA does a better job at offering more simplistic tactics. Don’t confuse “simplistic” with the notion that their tactics are basic, but instead focus on the overall intention of tactics. Tactics need to be a top-down approach where the manager sets the overall approach the team. This is where FIFA gets it right and PES unfortunately lags behind.
FIFA 20 contains four overarching attacking approaches: Possession, Balanced, Long Ball and Fast Paced (aka counter-attacking). Despite falling into one of these categories, teams in FIFA will break from their approach and take advantage of what opportunities are presented in front of them. This is unlike PES 2020 where they will consistently play towards their approach, only varying the number of players they send forward via the attack/defense level slider.
Within each attacking approach, you can give your player(s) instructions on how to behave. For instance, if you want your striker to pressure the back line, you can do so. Or if you want them to sit back and play the passing lanes, you also have the option. This level of individual control, which used to be incorporated into PES back in the PS2 days, basically gives you the tactical freedom to do as you please.
If you want only your left back overlapping, you can choose to do that. In PES, you would need to select “Attacking Fullbacks” from the advanced instructions. Doing so does have its consequences as both fullbacks will bomb forward. Now, PES also also has Player Traits, and if your fullback is an Attacking Fullback he will automatically go forward. However, this begs the question: “If your fullback is a defensive fullback, will he still get forward?” Unfortunately, the answer is yes. Why not just make it simple and give us the option of selecting our right back and telling him to stay back while attacking?
Sometimes simpler is better, and FIFA takes this one step further by allowing us to have up to five custom “Gameplans” you can choose between on the fly to adjust your tactics without having to pause the game. In fairness to PES, you can load tactics (Load Data), but it requires you to pause the game and there are only three slots for tactics. Perhaps this is one reason why Konami allows more time in the pause menu when playing online.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention again how some of these features, plus a handful of other options, have been removed from PES over the years. The popular and often cited PES 2014 had the following tactical options:
Lastly, when it comes to tactics, the AI simply needs a shot in the butt. Ignore the fact that Konami seems to only focus on tactics for a few big clubs (Barcelona, Liverpool, etc.), they often get them wrong when it comes to knowing the situation. Ever play as a weaker side only to see the AI go Defensive (blue tick) at home? Imagine going to Camp Nou and Barcelona is NOT pressing the issue. It happens far too often in PES and unfortunately the reverse is worse.
Certain clubs will often go All-Out-Attack (red tick) that pushes a center back into attack. It’s not uncommon to see center backs, especially someone like Barca’s Pique, come forward late in the match to try and get a result. But in comparison to real life, you will NEVER see them adjust their formation to cover the gaping hole in the back when this happens in PES 2020. Furthermore, never will you see a real-life team take this approach so early in the match. I’ve seen Liverpool implement this all out attack approach as early as the 60th minute in a match that’s tied. What happened next? Of course I hit them on the counter for a couple goals because there’s a gap wide enough to drive a semi-trick through (although spacing in general is already poor).
In 2020, bells and whistles matter. Immersion is a huge aspect of sport games and PES is severely behind the competition when it comes to atmosphere. We all know FIFA has a stranglehold on licenses, and with them come official broadcast packages. Still, there’s no excuse why PES can’t come up with unique broadcast packages or overlays.
For starters, how about showing the league table before matches? Perhaps a key stat or highlighting a key player that might help decide the match? PES used to have those things, but alas, they are nowhere to be found in 2020. Watch a real match and then play a game of PES. It’s pretty much the random possession stat mixed in with distance dribbled.
In Master League, it’s especially poor even if there are sprinkles of dynamic commentary. Playing in a non-licensed league with the generic scoreboard and wipes feels like 2007. Again, FIFA has set the bar really high by mimicking what we see in real life, but there’s no reason to believe why Konami can’t spend a few resources on making each league a visually unique experience.
FIFA gets a lot of backlash because of the servers and the sometimes spotty lag/button response time, but for the most part you can count on a smooth connection. For PES players who like to go online and play a buddy, it’s an absolute chore to even create a match, let alone connect to another player who has a somewhat stable connection. Navigating through several server screens is time consuming, especially when compared to FIFA where it’s a matter of pressing a few buttons from the title screen to set up a friendly versus a mate.
For a game that rebranded itself as “eFootball” it’s a crying shame that Konami cannot get the “e” part right. Equally confusing is that Konami keeps putting out modes like “Versus” mode, which is aimed at the traditional game model of playing a buddy sitting next to you. If Konami has any plans to compete with FIFA and their powerhouse FUT, they’ll need to step up the online infrastructure to attract more online players.
In order for PES to close the gap on FIFA, several changes need to be made. Some of the changes are directly tied to the action on the pitch while others center around making a more immersive and enjoyable experience. Either way, changes are needed and would be welcomed wholeheartedly by the community.
What aspect of FIFA would you like to see implemented into future PES games?