Every year a war rages amongst a subsect of the gaming populous. Two teams walk from the changing rooms onto the pitch under two banners. One team consiting of FIFA fans, the cohorts of EA’s license heavy gamer army. They chant the names of hundreds of licensed teams and leagues. Their formation rarely changes though. Since 2009 they have held the same stance and made minor tweaks to player positionings and the skills of their players. These are the ones who call if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Across the pitch from them stand Konami’s faithful. Each year they have brought significant changes to the team – not always with the intended results. They may not have the swathes of licensed teams and players or the advertising budget but what they bring is unmatched. The arcade gameplay and fast paced frantic football. This year Konami is bringing its best line up for many years to the field. Anyway, enough of this load of foodballing metaphors and similies. Let’s kick off. Oh it happened again.
Loading PES 2014 up initially it does leave a bad taste in the mouth. All these years of games development should mean we are almost guaranteed smooth intuitive menu screens, especially from such a giant of the industry as Konami. Then again, bitter right from the off the menus show a system which is nothing short of painful and slow.We’re all here for the action of a good old fashioned game of football here I know but when the sports pundits are being annoying you get annoyed. These menus are just like the most irritating and aggrovating ex footballer massaging his old career. Blocky cheap looking buttons accented with a mouse cursor and some…interesting musical choices.
Interesting music? During a particular set up of the game actually featured in the screenshots dotted around the article there was some god awful attempt at a mariaché band followed in the after game by Nessum Dorma. I’m as much of a fan of classical music as anyone you’re ever going to meet but it has no place at all in this sort of game. Luckily you can jam your own custom soundtracks into the game but I find it better to mute the game entirely until playing a match.
Finally you’ve pulled yourself through to the screen to start actually playing a game of socc..football. You’ve got a fair selection of teams to choose from luckily, even in the Master League system but there are still pretty big gaps. You’ll find teams like Manchester United and Juventus along side Yorkshire Orange and Manchester Blue. PES is often ridiculed for not having full official teams but when it comes to a good game of football is that really important? Surely its more important that the gameplay delivers. More on that later.
Formation and distribution is key to any football teams success allowing for perfect placement of players for strategy and tactical movement. One can’t deny that PES 2014 lets you do all this exactly to your specifications. One can, however, whince in pain as the movement of a player’s position on the preparation screen moves at a pace which can only be liked to continental drift. If you want to be incredibly precise though then it does have some merit.
Speaking of continental drift, we are finally at one of PES 2014’s brilliant features. Running on Konami’s proprietary Fox engine everything looks phenomenal. Stadiums are built with permanence and populated by believable crowds. Pitches don’t just look like green placeholders where you watch 22 computer generated figurines run around. Instead they look as though they have grown over many months and add to the immersion.
Even right down to the players the details in the Fox engine are there. Creases in strips look and act realistically, even if they aren’t always the right colour, and player animations look smooth while feeling natural. It doesn’t always cope well close up though. Zooming in during goal celebrations or the opening ceremony often turns this crisp presentation into a PowerPoint presentation.
This is unsurprising with the power the Fox engine requires though and even taking these into account, it’s damn pretty. Particularly the colours on screen jump out and give the game a true feeling of watching an event not a washed out video presentation.
The meat of Pro Evo is and always has been really its gameplay. What time isn’t spent on making players into perfect copies of their real life counterparts is poured into making the gameplay great and in this latest iteration Konami have no disappointed. It has veered slightly away from its normal arcade setting and pulled a little closer to simulation. The impressive physics engine allows the ball to travel naturally and players move well while colliding with realistic force. Each movement, kick and volley feels exactly as you intend it and players for the most part don’t do stupid things while in control. By the same token friendly and opponent AI show intelligence of a high standard which sometimes edges on SkyNet.
Probably even more important than any of these though are two brilliant features which make up the last big reasons as to why PES2014 isn’t just a nice looking game but one which brings football to life on screen. The first is a system FIFA fans will be familiar with, quick tactics. For the uninitiated these are quick changes you can make on the fly which will change how your team behaves. So let’s say in a game where you’re playing as Yorkshire Orange and you’re 3-0 up. The opposing team then somehow manages to slip two past you. You can use these quick tactics to switch to all out defence to give the opposing team a harder time and keep them from scoring again. There are a ton more uses than this but it’s probably the easiest example to give. Ultimately, you are able to make your team play exactly as you want them to. A synergy between your players and yourself, the true dream of any football game.
The second feature brings the arcade element of PES home. In real football games the stands thump and roar in support of teams. Powerful chanting and roaring dismay tear around imposing platforms heaving with dedicated followers. EA have always had something of a monopoly on stadium chants and recordings to bring realism to the stage. Konami has stepped up to the place by not only recording a selection of real chants from crowds but actually made these chants influence gameplay. A crowd will, in a manner of speaking, get behind their favoured team and provide benefits in terms of improved stamina. Generally this of course means that the home team can often receive a small but decisive advantage in times of need.
At the final whistle the scores stand immortalised for generations. Before the next generation of consoles approaches PES2014 can take the crown of the best looking and most fun football game to exist at this time. Having spent time in both this game and EAs FIFA offering PES has the looks and the feel to be ennobled, but the frame within which it sits as a downside. As if the Mona Lisa were placed within a papier mache frame coloured in by a hungry pack of dogs. If it wasn’t for the lack of innovation in the menus and sounds of the game PES2014 would be perfect, instead it falls just shy of this goal. Just pinging the crossbar in the final.