- Platform Xbox 360, PS3, PC
- Publisher Konami
- Developer PES Team
- Release Date 20/09/2013
PES 2014 Review
Fox in the box.
If nothing else, the PES Team should be applauded for their persistent ambition. Despite being tethered to the obvious constraints that come with developing an annual sports franchise, Konami’s development team of football fanatics attempt to push the boundaries whenever possible. Speculate to accumulate seems to be the studio’s mantra.
While I’d no doubt lament the PES Team for sitting on their laurels if they decided to churn out the exact same game without any improvement, what PES really needed during this string of unpredictable and inconsistent releases was a much needed dose of stability.
Sometimes the risks taken prove to be inspired, offering up clear improvements to a series which has patently struggled to cope with the demands of this console generation. But sadly, more often than not, the PES Team’s stubborn fascination with overhauling almost every aspect of each new game has a nasty habit of polarising its core fans. And PES 2014 is no different.
Though the basic controls have remained largely unscathed during each new iteration, you’d be hard pressed to find many similarities between the last four outings – whether that’s in terms of presentation, gameplay or the more prominent grievance, the lack of team licenses. While I’d no doubt lament the PES Team for sitting on their laurels if they decided to churn out the exact same game without any improvement, what PES really needed during this string of unpredictable and inconsistent releases was a much needed dose of stability. Unfortunately, it’s back to the drawing board again in PES 2014, and remarkably, the slate’s been wiped clean, a surprising aftermath considering the great strides PES 2013 made last year.
Metal Geared Up
Instead of salvaging the good and eradicating the bad, PES 2014’s highs and lows centre around one uncompromising and widely-touted addition: the inclusion of Hideo Kojima’s dazzling new Fox engine.
But was it really necessary? Maybe one day, sure, but definitely not right now.
PES 2014 is easily the best looking game in the series to date. The quality of the animations verge on the extraordinary as players slide in aggressively for challenges, pirouette delicately away from oncoming defenders and strike the ball with astonishing fluidity and incredible conviction. The ball itself has finally been blessed with believable and realistic physics, too, as though it was a living, breathing entity, free from the invisible strings that tied it to a player’s feet in previous games – I’ve witnessed some utterly insane goals and baffling misses to prove it.
But as the saying goes, looks aren’t everything. And in this case, concessions have been made in a number of key areas to shoehorn Kojima’s proprietary engine into the fray. Some are acceptable, others are simply baffling and do nothing more than to irritate and annoy.
School Boy Errors
If there’s one area that I never thought would prove to be a point of contention in PES 2014 then it would probably be the innocuous and humble Game Plan screen. Remarkably, though, PES 2014 boasts the worst tactical menu I’ve ever had the displeasure to use. On the surface, it’s exactly the same as last year’s system, however, it’s now plagued with horrible slow-down and an inexplicable lagginess when selecting players to substitute. Switching subs is now a total chore instead of a quick and painless act as the game struggles to load a 2D image of selected players. It’s so laborious and unresponsive that I found myself avoiding making any changes as a result. It’s shocking, really, especially when the loaded image tends to be a woeful depiction of a particular player.
And that brings me on to player likenesses in general. In the past, player likenesses have always been a strong point for the series; but, as luck would have it, they’re decidedly hit and miss in PES 2014. Some players look absolutely pitiful in comparison to their real life counterparts and even the dead ringers seem to have a cartoony, clay-like appearance to them. The fact you can meticulously analyse players during menu screens does little to help matters.
While the Fox Engine is undoubtedly impressive, the facial rendering still needs a lot of work. Thankfully, PES’ Player ID system ensures that the players which have been given the due care and attention look, play and feel absolutely spot on.
Licenses, always a brunt of contention with PES veterans and newcomers alike, are disappointingly all over the place in PES 2014. While a number of additions have been made to include teams from lesser known locales such as the Asia Champions League competition, waves of unknown, made-up teams populate a line-up which is still missing the Bundesliga, includes only one English Premier League team and still features a Netherlands national team full of bonkers names after all these years. Of course, licenses can always be corrected in the game’s edit mode, but when I discovered that Japan’s national team is now made up of utter nobodys for the first time in recent memory, I couldn’t help but think Konami is continuing to fight a losing battle in this regard. That being said, I have no idea why Konami can’t include the damn J-League for once – the more official teams the better, surely?
Feelin’ The Flow
So how does PES 2014 perform on the pitch? Truth be told, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. While the ball physics may have been vastly improved, a number of elements feel completely out of place during games, the most prominent of which is player movement off the ball.
PES 2014 plays a far more methodical and calculated game than its predecessor, focusing on crisp passing, a player’s first touch, and your ability to hold off players successfully above all else.
Even though player animations are by far the most convincing they’ve ever been, it’s a different story when you aren’t in possession of the ball. For example, you’ll be overjoyed to see an attacker break free of the defender and advance on goal, only to watch in dismay as a defender – who was clearly left for dead – miraculously attains an insane level of speed and manages to catch you up. You’ll be disturbed by the slow, trudging movement of your defensive back line when a 50/50 chase is on, even though you’re seemingly in full control. The end result is a continually perplexing display as you watch your players quickly accelerate and then dramatically decelerate on-screen for seemingly no reason. Honestly, it’s bizarre viewing and I never quite got used to the weird transition speeds that take place during each game, despite fiddling with all the available assist and game speed settings.
PES 2014 plays a far more methodical and calculated game than its predecessor, focusing on crisp passing, a player’s first touch, and your ability to hold off players successfully above all else. Now, when a defender approaches an attacker, the defender can attempt to shoulder barge the attacker off the ball using the right stick; the player in possession has the opportunity to hold them off using the same mechanic. What you end up with is a great idea on paper, but one that hasn’t been executed very well in practice. It’s extremely difficult to determine when you’ve successfully held a player off, and it doesn’t help that the right stick is now used to easily perform tricks. I found myself attempting step overs instead of fending off a defender who was attempting to win the ball back – a very frustrating mistake when you’ve worked hard to carve out a chance on goal.
Your first touch is paramount in PES 2014. By using the right analog and left analog stick, it’s possible to shift the ball away from your feet in a number of inventive and spectacular ways, giving you just enough space and time to either beat the defender or pick out a pass. You can also take a touch to get the ball out of your feet, crucial if you want to strike the ball cleanly or buy yourself an extra second against an onrushing defender.
Naturally, passing is fundamental to your success in PES 2014, as it is in any real-life football game, and it feels great spraying the ball across the pitch and whipping in crosses using the new manual crossing system, no matter which team you play as. If there’s one thing the PES Team have got right, it’s how to replicate the art of passing in PES 2014. It’s noticeably harder to ping-pong pass your way to victory, and the old cheeky one-two trick where you send a player off on a run and quickly nip it round the side of a defender isn’t as easy to do this time around.
Goals can happen in a split-second in PES 2014, even after a dismal display of football from both teams. Sometimes I’d find myself bearing down on goal out of seemingly nowhere as the computer AI is prone to making deadly mistakes, even on Superstar difficulty. And in a sense, it’s very realistic, providing a more human touch to proceedings. However, this is the first PES game I’ve played where scoring goals felt anti-climactic because of it; the realistic ball physics also played a part. There’s an unshakeable heaviness and dare I say unresponsiveness to each action in PES 2014, it’s as though the game suffers from input lag as my attempts to shoot would be rudely dragged out by another couple of unwanted animations. When the player did eventually strike the ball, I never felt like it was truly my shot. It doesn’t happen all the time, mind you, but I definitely felt disconnected from the action on more than a couple of occasions. Thinking about it logically, this is probably an unavoidable consequence of the ball not being tied to a player’s feet. Instead, it can be bobbing along so inconspicuously that you may not even realise the impact it can have on your players positioning and attempted strike. An inadvertent niggle, then.
While many of the modes in PES 2014 are still arguably superfluous due to their lack of appeal, Master League is simply essential. Thankfully, you can now switch teams during a Master League campaign, a huge blessing once you’ve created a monstrous team that has won every trophy season after season. You can also manage a national team part-time, which is a genuinely fantastic addition. Apart from that, though, few changes have been made to Konami’s main single-player draw. Your success in negotiations is now easier to determine, with an estimated percentage available to view before you attempt to sign a player. The calendar section has also been generously streamlined when waiting for matches, which speed things up significantly compared to last year’s tortuous load times. It’s still a wonderfully addictive mode, but it’s crying out for some genuine innovation after all these years.
One excellent new feature for PES 2014 is the player Heart system. In combination with the typical player form ratings, players will now go hot or cold during a game depending on their on-pitch antics. If you manage to dribble past a defender, your player’s heart will increase. If you misplace a pass, your player’s heart will drop. It’s a brilliant touch, and really adds another element of tactical depth when picking your pre-game line-up or when making substitutions during a game.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s an inescapable fact that cutbacks were made to implement the Fox engine. Menus are lifeless and drab, with a horrible, immovable mouse cursor hovering over your intended point of selection. Weather effects such as rain have been completely omitted and lengthy load times still remain when starting a match. There’s also a rather jarring glitch whenever you press start to skip a goal: for some reason, all the players on the pitch completely disappear. Generally, the presentation as a whole is a huge step back from last year’s game when you’re not playing a match.
What has improved, albeit only marginally, is the sound and commentary. A selection of delightfully inoffensive songs have been selected to keep you company during the menu screens such as the emotionally stirring Nessun Dorma, which greets you every time you boot up the game. Other tracks include classic football anthems such as France 98’s anthem, Carnival De Paris, and some decent, almost retro BGM mixes.
Commentary still features Jim Beglin, monotony personified, and the far more spritely John Champion, who I’m not ashamed to admit has a number of corking lines I love to hear – sad, I know. While many of the phrases have understandably been recycled from the last game, the commentators now call out specific player names and attempt to link them to the action. It’s a nice touch, if not a little crudely done as it’s blatantly obvious when a pre-recorded name has been inserted right before Beglin or Champion reels off a sentence. Again, it’s a million miles away from FIFA’s slick commentary but at least there’s some sign of progress. Oh, and let’s get rid of Jim Beglin now – it’s for the best.
Data Crap None
It wouldn’t be a new PES game without some sort of technical tomfoolery involved and PES 2014 continues this unfortunate trend – on the Xbox 360 version at least. Even as I write this review, I’ve been simply unable to download the game’s Data Pack 1 – which updates the transfers from over the summer – without my internet dropping out and sending me back to square one. The game takes an archaic amount of time to download and kept presenting me with a ‘Failed to Download’ message, requiring me to babysit the entire download every time I attempted it. Needless to say, after my eighth try and over five hours dedicated to doing it, I gave in. As a consequence, I haven’t been able to connect to Xbox Live as of yet for some multiplayer action. In fact, PES 2014 proceeds to kick me off Xbox Live completely after telling me the game’s online service is unavailable. I’m positive this will be fixed with an upcoming patch, but considering the game has been out a week or so, it’s a pretty shambolic state of affairs.
A review copy of PES 2014 was provided courtesy of Konami. The game was reviewed on Xbox 360.
Great Engine, Good Game
Though the vast potential is abundantly clear within each condensed 90 minute affair, PES 2014 feels unfinished, hampered by the annual release cycle and frustratingly unrefined. Sadly, Konami’s premier football sim stumbles yet again, providing an underwhelming swansong to a generation which PES fans would sooner forget. PES 2014 could be the stepping stone to a glorious new dawn, but for now, the words of PES’ lead commentator John Champion ring clear: ‘Nearly, but in football terms nearly is nowhere.’