EFOOTBALL PES 2020

BACK IN TI­TLE CON­TENTION AS THE IN-FORM SOC­CER SIM

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - BEN WIL­SON

We live in an age where there’s no such thing as nu­ance. Brexit or re­main, Spurs or Ar­se­nal, Strictly Come Danc­ing ver­sus the Si­mon Cow­ell tal­ent show that you pre­tend not to watch: the so­cial me­dia era has no room for shades of grey. It’s the same for foot­ball gam­ing. The PES ver­sus FIFA war has waged for 18 years, yet it has never been so par­ti­san as it is right now. PES 2020 could be the great­est foot­ball game of all time, but still no FIFA die-hard would dream of cross­ing the line to switch sides.

That lack of open-mind­ed­ness is a shame. Be­cause while PES 2020 cer­tainty isn’t the great­est foot­ball game of all time, it does makes pro­gres­sive ad­vances that ri­val de­vel­oper EA could un­ques­tion­ably learn from. Take game speed, for ex­am­ple: this is one of the most pedes­trian sports games ever com­mit­ted to Xbox, where ping­ing the ball around at the back feels calm­ing like the tick of a metronome.

This con­sid­ered speed means you’re con­stantly able to take note of team-mate move­ment, en­abling you to wait for an over­lap­ping run from a full-back, or your cen­tre-for­ward to spin in be­hind his marker. Like a game of snooker, you can think three moves ahead. More per­ti­nently, it means se­ri­ous pace – an at­tribute that dom­i­nates FIFA to an al­most com­i­cal de­gree – feels spe­cial. Beat­ing a de­fender with a burst from Ra­heem Ster­ling is end­lessly sat­is­fy­ing. Spring­ing Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang be­hind a de­fence af­ter 45 sec­onds of build-up play be­fore smash­ing past the keeper tastes eu­phoric, and spurs you into play­ing the purists’ way.

Talk­ing Ruud

His­tor­i­cally, it’s within Master League that vet­eran fans put such on-pitch ex­cel­lence to the test, by adopt­ing a squad of fic­tional play­ers and trans­form­ing it into a ti­tle win­ner over the long-haul. Al­ways loved for its quirks as much as its longevity, this mode again evolves with the addition of ex-pro man­agers who use cutscenes to speak to the press, board and play­ers. These chats are in­ter­ac­tive, and although we enjoy hav­ing Ruud Gul­lit de­liver our di­a­logue choices to bray­ing jour­nal­ists, they have lit­tle tan­gi­ble sto­ry­line im­pact.

More prob­lem­at­i­cally, Master League dredges up an is­sue that’s plagued PES since its in­cep­tion: goal­keeper flak­i­ness. For ex­am­ple, our de­fault cus­to­dian can­not save a thing. The idea is to up­grade your ini­tial ros­ter, but in real life even Sun­day league lo­cal pub team keep­ers can make a rou­tine stop. Not here, though. Our first hours in the mode are hell as we drop game af­ter game to the AI’s poor shots on target. Af­ter bring­ing in Rob Green on loan our re­sults im­prove, but many ca­sual man­agers won’t last that

long, and are likely to aban­don the mode through net-min­der frus­tra­tions.

Strong as it is on the pitch, PES doesn’t have it all its own way when com­pared to FIFA. Take MyClub, the se­ries’ an­swer to FIFA’s Ul­ti­mate Team. There’s en­joy­ment to be had with this mix of card-col­lect­ing and match­play­ing, but while Ul­ti­mate Team’s daily Squad Build­ing Chal­lenges tempt you back con­stantly, MyClub lacks that un­miss­able, sign­ing-in-at-2am draw. Com­men­tary re­mains sham­bolic, too. Kon­ami’s clumsy at­tempts in this field were en­dear­ing in the early ’00s, but now they fall un­ac­cept­ably short of the pro sports at­mos­phere for which con­tem­po­raries strive.

Di­vi­sion sub­trac­tion

Li­cences also have to be con­sid­ered. Ear­lier, we men­tioned play­ing PES the ‘purists’ way’, and those who do so may baulk at au­then­tic strips be­ing used to judge the su­pe­rior foot­ball game. Yet comparativ­e sales fig­ures over the past 18 years con­firm that these de­tails mat­ter. Fair play to Kon­ami for its ex­clu­sive deal to fea­ture Ju­ven­tus in PES 2020 –a move which means Ron­aldo’s men are rechris­tened ‘Piemonte Cal­cio’ in FIFA 20 – but ‘Manch­ester B’ vs ‘As­ton RB’ is nonethe­less an im­mer­sion killer. In this par­tic­u­lar area the two games re­main, in the most lit­eral sense pos­si­ble, leagues apart.

That change in name is an odd one, too. The ‘e’ in ‘eFootball’ is an at­tempt to ramp up Pro Evo’s on­line ap­peal. So now we have Match­day mode, where games played rep­re­sent­ing your real-life side count to­wards a global score­board, and a com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing server ro­bust­ness. It’s too early to say whether ei­ther are suc­cesses. Early ‘Match­day’ win­dows have only lasted four hours per day, and while we’ve not been trou­bled by slow­down in on­line games, it’ll take weeks to con­clu­sively de­scribe them as ‘fixed’.

All of which leaves PES 2020 in a cu­ri­ous place to kick off the new sea­son. If it were a Pre­mier League club, it’d be Ev­er­ton: for the most part en­ter­tain­ing, and liv­ing off past glo­ries to a de­gree, but over­all giv­ing you the sense that se­ri­ous tro­phy hopes are a sea­son or two away. That won’t put off devo­tees, just as Good­i­son Park re­mains sold out on a fort­nightly basis. Yet you can’t help but feel like its richer on-pitch ri­val is go­ing to per­form more con­sis­tently in the crit­i­cal months ahead. ■

“You’re con­stantly able to take note of team-mate move­ment”

LEFT Re­plays are re­lent­less to the point of oc­ca­sion­ally be­ing an an­noy­ance.

BE­LOW Master League man­ager like­nesses are pretty im­pres­sive.

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