More tortoise than hare – and all the better for it
The best unofficial team names ever, with South Norwood, All Black White, Guillermo Brown, and O’Higgins.
Being slow isn’t usually a compliment in football, but Konami’s kickabout this year turns a subtle dip in pace to its benefit. Tactical considerations become even more important as you figure out how to escape defenders who use their bodies to block off routes even more effectively. But PES being great on the pitch isn’t news, and that dip in pace is also noticeable when it comes to addressing off-field issues. Let’s start with the good stuff though. When comes to the kicking of the ball, the changes here aren’t major ones but help the overall action benefit from the more considered speed.
Take player animations. While it might seem like a nerdy point to pick up on, the way virtual ‘ballers move, pick up the ball and thump it goal-wards impresses immediately. One particularly strong moment where this shines is the way strikers move for crosses in the box. On more than one occasion, we see our Master League heartthrob S Coutinho peel off a defender so he can run onto a cross and nod it home like a crafty striker would. Through a combination of super smart AI and superb animations, PES plays like the real deal.
The joys don’t end there. Thanks to some nifty contextual shielding, players are smarter when it comes to protecting or fighting for the ball. Pinging it into the feet of a striker with his back to goal will see him arch into a marking defender instinctively. There are tangible fights for long balls as well, where you need to focus on player positioning more than ever. It’s a small pleasure, but watching a defender time a run perfectly to nick a high ball off a striker is surprisingly gratifying in action.
Plus, everything you’ve come to expect of PES on the pitch is as strong as last year. Passing with purpose remains as satisfying as ever. Trust us, when you manage intricate and crisp passing moves worthy of cover stars Barcelona, it’s hard not to end up over-celebrating if you manage to score at the end of it. Similarly, PES continues to excel when it comes to tactics. Okay, it takes a little too much menu-diving, but the fact you’re able to set up a team to play the way you want, while trying to exploit opposition weakness gives the action a depth that’ll keep you coming back throughout the year.
For the sake of nit-picking, there are a few blemishes here to the on-field action. Defenders tend to be far too slow in turning, which means that chipped through balls are almost too useful. Expect to see a lot of them online this
“we play games with French commentators rather than hear Jim Beglin’s voice”
players through Agents and Scouts (different forms of lotteries) and pit your Frankenstein FC against other players or the computer. There’s so much in this mode – from the type of matches you can play to how you recruit players – yet it never manages to be accessible or addictive. But, at least the netcode is solid and you aren’t waiting too long for matches when taking on the opposition.
If going online doesn’t take your fancy, at least Master League receives a little TLC this year. There’s now a club owner who sets targets and scenes in the dressing room before big games, which helps sell the journey of managing a club better than in past entries. But, despite the enduring love we have for taking a cast of fake players like L Giorza and Q Arcas into the big time, the transfer system is still far too idiosyncratic for its own good; there’s a lot of unnecessary menu-diving that grates and the lack of licenses can be felt most keenly in this mode. Of course, the paucity of licenses is nothing new and the kits issue can be fixed (have a glance over at Fix Up, Look Sharp), but there are other presentation issues that continue to hinder the series. Whether it’s the sheer volume of menus you end up diving into or just having to turn auto-save on manually in Master League or the UEFA Champions League competitions, these are basic things that make PES just that little less friendly to first-time players. Which is why, ultimately, it’s still not quite a knockout blow against FIFA. The modes just aren’t as intuitive or compelling as the ones you find in its slicker counterpart. Still, when it comes to the thing that matters most – the, er, ball-kicking – PES continues to be a fantastic representation of the beautiful game. We just hope it’s a bit quicker in sorting out the other stuff.
The game has changed in subtle ways, including being a little slower to ensure tactics carry more weight.