Football (or soccer) fans always look forward to September, when all the major leagues have started up again and Konami kicks off the digital season with their release of a new Pro Evolution Soccer – followed by EA’s FIFA a few weeks later. We’re reviewing Konami’s latest on a PS4 Pro this year.
When we say “the new Pro Evolution Soccer”, we should really say “eFootball PES 2020”, as it’s officially called. It’s a horrible name and the game will most likely just stick in gamers’ minds as PES 2020, but it does showcase Konami’s commitment to the eSports phenomenon. If you’re not an eSports fanatic, however, rest assured: the biggest changes this year have very little to do with large tournament events or anything like that.
For starters, I was delighted to see that PES 2020 (I guess I’m going to drop the eFootball part already) has received a fairly major visual upgrade from PES 2019. There is a ton of detail in how (licensed) players are rendered, but the same can be said for stadiums and even the crowds in attendance. The biggest change, however, is in how the games are presented to you – the default camera is absolutely brilliant this year, and it’s the closest thing to a TV broadcast I’ve seen so far in a videogame. The camera turns and zooms in and out dynamically, as if a professional crew was filming and directing it.
Going back to earlier games, as a result, will probably feel unrealistic. That also translates to the actual gameplay, which has been changed by Konami to more accurately reflect what is going to work and what is not. Receiving a pass with a defender behind you? Passing it on instantly to your teammate who is even further behind is much more likely to fail this time around – as it would in real life. The same goes for shots on goal, where the direction you face is more crucial than ever before.
These changes might feel small, but they change the flow of the game. Instead of a lightning quick breakaway, you might have to stop and wait for teammates to catch up or move into position you can realistically pass to. It makes the approach to your gameplay style much more thought out, and the reward feels so much sweeter when you score. This is especially true when you go online and you get the sense that players are feeling each other out to spot weaknesses in their tactics rather than rushing them. It also feels like an understanding of how the game is played, rather than a mastery of gamepad controls, is a bigger factor this year. As someone who played for many years, I loved this.
The AI feels like it could use a little work though, since playing against a CPU opponent can lead to silly defensive mistakes and you’ll also notice your teammates not spotting what is clearly a great potential run for space. Konami’s been pretty decent about post-release updates in previous years though, so fingers crossed for some balancing changes in the near future.
In terms of content, it’s no secret that PES lost the Champions League license to FIFA last year, and they’re replacing it with licenses for specific teams on top of the leagues that are still in there. These team licenses include Barcelona and Juventus, as well as newcomers like Man United and Bayern München. Extremely popular teams that will delight their fans, but will hold less of an appeal to those supporting the rival team(s). What holds more universal appeal is the presence of several legends of the game, some of whom (like Diego Maradona) you can also have as a manager in Master League mode.
Master league, when you’re looking at gameplay modes, received the biggest upgrade this year. There are a lot of pivotal moments included in the mode this time around, including press conferences, meetings with the board and transfer talks. There’s a new mode called Matchday as well, which is the online competitive portion that also includes live streams of the final matches in the series. It’s a mode that went live just before release and it’ll be interesting to see if it takes off – which I’m sure will affect the direction that next year’s game will take. In it, you earn points for the team you support, which the player who did the best getting the right to play the final match. This time, that wasn’t me.
Although the new PES is a little rough around the edges when it comes to a few AI flaws here and there, the changes made to the core gameplay definitely are a step in the right direction and I hope Konami irons out the flaws in the near future. The presentation is gorgeous as well, and I can’t stress enough how wonderful the camera is in this game. Pro Evolution Soccer has a great foundation to build on again.