EFOOTBALL PES 2020
BACK IN TITLE CONTENTION AS THE IN-FORM SOCCER SIM
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.
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.
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.