This year the introduction of Kojima Productions’ Fox Engine has improved Konami’s game in many areas compared to PES 2013, but a few of the same old problems remain and there are some new ones too. ‘TrueBall Tech’ promised realistic ball physics, and the PES team has mostly delivered on that front. No matter what support settings you’re playing on, short and long passes are a joy to execute. The level of success varies depending on your skill and the player you’re controlling, but that’s how it should be.
PES 2014 is an odd beast, a strange hybrid of its straightforward arcade roots and the ever-growing complexity of the FIFA series. In some respects, this complexity is warranted; never has a PES game looked quite as realistic as 2014 does. And for the most part, it plays well too. But that realism comes at a price. For all the flashy animations and physics tweaks that have been added, some of what makes a game of PES so direct and so much fun has been lost. This is very much a case of two steps forward, one step back.
A new engine underpins proceedings, and this Fox-powered PES is initially both dazzling and daunting. The physics-driven animation system is superb – there are countless ways in which players bounce off one another or shift their weight between their feet that look almost real. At first, though, this feels like it has caused the series’ famous responsiveness to suffer, making dribbling tough and passing moves laborious.
In fact, it’s just a learning curve rather than something rotten within PES’ core. Studious use of the run button makes dribbling different, but now even more effective. It’s all about judging and reacting to sways in momentum, rather than belligerent sprinting. Players being hassled by tenacious opponents will struggle to act with the same speed as those in open play, too, so it pays to know when and where to attack.
However, shooting is (pardon the pun) sometimes hit and miss. Often the ball will behave just as you’d expect, powering or curling its way towards the goal. On other occasions, you’ll feel like your shots have no real weight or power behind them at all, despite your intentions. On occasion, some shot types, volleys for example, will take a strange trajectory towards the goal.
That much is clear as soon as you start passing the ball around. Where PES has always been about snappy passing and a feeling of direct control over players, 2014 adopts some of the automated nature of FIFA, but without the technical prowess to back it up. A lot of it is down to some lousy AI implementation, which means that passes often don’t go to the player you want, because the game seemingly thinks it knows better than you. Then there’s the addition of sloppy first touches, which theoretically offer a more realistic representation of how players perform in the real world, but leads to frustration when all that stands between you and a world-class strike is a well-placed pass.
That’s the thing with PES. It’s never been a game where you’re immediately excellent. Have you previously conquered online, or strolled through PES 2013 on Superstar difficulty? It’ll still take weeks to adjust to every nuance and alteration. And with this being the most dramatic update the series has had in years, it’s no surprise the first few matches feel off.
Knocking down some of the assist settings helps to alleviate the messy AI somewhat, and if you’re particularly dextrous, you can control players off the ball to. But the inconsistent AI rears its ugly head again when you’re trying to set up goals, with players making runs down the pitch in all the wrong places, or failing to chase down the ball when you need them too. These frustrating moments aren’t frequent enough to ruin the experience entirely, but when you find yourself yearning for another bash at last year’s game, clearly something has gone awry.
When it does all come together, though, PES 2014 can be a wonderful thing. Zipping down the right wing to launch a well-placed cross, or ducking through the midfield with a killer through ball, is nicely fast-paced and, at times, edge-of-your-seat thrilling. Finishing those maneuvers remains as tight as ever, with a real feeling of control as you expertly blast a shot past the keeper and into the top corner of the net. The excellent jockeying and tactical positioning in defense, the dribbling system, and the shot modifiers all make a welcome return, too, with improved player-contact animations seeing players fight for the ball–and lose it–in a much more compelling way than before.
PES 2014 certainly looks a little sharper than previous PES games, but don’t expect a huge graphical overhaul here. Instead, the focus is on player emotions, with new facial animations resulting in some uncanny representations of joy, despair, and frustration as keepers are beaten, posts are hit, and offsides render a once-beautiful goal meaningless. Sadly, the frame rate takes quite a hit during these moments, as well as during match buildup and replays, which is incredibly jarring against the otherwise smooth play on the pitch.
There’s another emotionally charged feature in PES 2014 called Heart, which tracks and displays players’ emotional states and changes their performance based on elements like how many shots they make on target or how much the crowd is getting behind the team. So, for example, if you’re playing away, the lack of a home crowd to cheer the team on means they perform worse than at home. Unfortunately, it’s tough to tell the difference between an emotionally uplifted team and one that’s down in the dumps, making Heart a firm idea, but not an essential mechanic.
Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s within PES 2014’s animation and visuals where you can see the Fox Engine’s biggest influence, with plenty of new player movements to observe. Players jostling for the ball, crunching tackles and collisions; all these aspects help create a realistic battle for possession while looking amazing in the process.
The visual side of PES 2014 is, in fact, at another level compared to its predecessors. The difference is night and day; player models, stadiums and crowds all look wonderful. For the first time in this console generation, PES actually looks better than FIFA. Some of the player likenesses are uncanny – it’s just shame Konami couldn’t squeeze more into the game on day one. More stadiums and weather types would’ve been nice too, but Konami has explained the reason for these exclusions already.
Elsewhere, PES 2014 remains way behind FIFA in terms of online and offline modes, as well as its overall presentation. Many of the modes remain unchanged from last year, including officially licensed tournaments such as the UEFA Champions League and South American Copa Liberators tournaments. The new addition is League mode, although it too remains largely unchanged from the version in 2012. (It was not included in PES 13.) Master League Online and Become a Legend do see some tweaks, including the ability to pick from three different playable leagues in MLO, each with a different attacking and defending style, and the option to play as a keeper in Become a Legend and bark orders at your team from a far.
The objective in MLO has switched from trying to create a profit to concentrating on building the best team with a fixed budget. Other tweaks include the ability to manage national and international squads in the Master League, as well as use players created in Become a Legend in online matches. None of these tweaks make these dated modes any more compelling, and they absolutely pale in comparison to the likes of FIFA’s huge online leagues, EA Sports Football Club, and Ultimate Team. In a feature that has been a long time coming, you can at least now play in full 11-vs.-11 matches online.
Crucially, though, that intangible PES magic remains and expands with the potential of the new engine; matches take on their own personalities (helped by new player emotions – perform well and your play will visibly improve during the game) and you’ll discuss great goals for years, especially now that shooting and heading are weightier, more natural feeling. Even Master League is better. Streamlined and slicker than last year’s bizarre cut-scene driven noise.
Where PES 2013 could get away with some less-than-stellar modes thanks to some excellent on-pitch action, 2014 can’t pull off the same feat. There’s still lots of fun to be had blasting goals out on the pitch and taking on friends online, but not as much fun as last year, despite some additions that should have made it more so. The awfully garish menu system and painfully repetitive commentary certainly don’t do it any favors either. This is a game that tries to straddle the line between arcade action and sublime simulation and never succeeds at either. PES is at its best when it’s selective with its realism: here’s hoping next year it can go back to doing what it does best.
The move to new technology has allowed Konami to deliverer a strong and slick simulation, arguably its best on current consoles. This is a valiant first effort of what can be done with the Fox Engine, but the series has even brighter days ahead.
Fox engine sharpens up the visuals
Impressive new facial animations
Can still provide a fun game of football
Heart system works well
It’s as complex as you want it to be
Often beautiful passages of attacking play
Motion Animation Stability System is very noticeable and makes contact between players feel solid.
TrueBall movement makes the ball react correctly in situations
Frame rate issues during match buildup and replays
Single- and multi-player modes horribly dated
Heart momentum feature can destroy a game
Loses some of the direct control and feel of previous games in the series.
Game sometimes stutters before taking a shot.