Pro Evolution Soccer 2014

Pure Elegant Soccer

PES 2014 is a pretty endearing sports game.
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: October 19, 2013
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There was a time in the great football wars around the turn of the century where the Pro Evolution Soccer series went toe-to-toe with the mighty EA FIFA machine. Some would say nods to realism that the PES series built its foundation on made it the better footie experience than the arcade action delivered by EA.

As the years passed, EA caught up enough in the gameplay department that their vast array of licenses and presentation polish vaulted them back to the top. While I certainly wouldn’t call PES 2014 an afterthought, you don’t hear anyone really talking about the game anymore and most folks will say that FIFA is their go-to game.

That’s especially true in English speaking countries seeing as how the MLS isn’t represented at all and the English Premier League uses made up names for 95% of the teams (Manchester United escapes this ignominy). The leagues actual players are represented at least and there are over a dozen other fully licensed leagues along with a whole host of international squads and some random “name” teams from smaller league so even if they can’t quite match up with the roster of something like Football Manager. Certainly if you are a fan of other European sides you’ll find all your alternates kits available (although no Spanish stadiums, EA owns those rights somehow).

Those little accoutrements aside, the thing that really matter in any soccer sim is how much control the player has and how fun is the game to play. These factors can often work against each other but when they come together in harmony the beauty of the game comes out. This year Konami has made a major overhaul to the base of the game by moving to the Fox engine (making its debut long before the more hyped Metal Gear Solid 5) which meant building everything from the ground back up with a new focus on where everything starts in soccer… the ball!

Konami has introduced TrueBall Tech this year, whatever the hell that is. While I won’t bore you with the details what it boils down to is that using the right stick and a few modifier buttons let you really have the best control yet of the ball. Easily use your body to shield the ball from the defenders, pass the ball to any spot on the pitch you want, and even line up shots with more control than you’ve ever seen. It might take a while to get used to all the control variations (that don’t line up too closely with FIFA) there is an excellent training system that allowed even a relative neophyte like me to feel a little like Pele on the field.

Alongside the new ball technology is the MASS system which gives players mass for the first time yet in the series. As hard as it is to believe, player collisions are a new feature in 2013. The result is you finally see strategic tackling without sliding and much more interesting one-on-one situations where the defender can really work to alter the shot. Even running out with Messi I’d have trouble getting into the goal box once a defender got too close and soon I’d see the other side knocking the ball halfway into the defense. PES is constantly challenging you in that way and early on it might seem like you’ll never score a single goal. If you aren’t going to take the time to study how to effectively pass and set up shots or how to properly time the power and angle of passes and shots you’ll be doomed to a whole lot of losses with the occasional nil-nil draw thrown in. Dig in and get the feel for the scheme and you’ll find it’s more intuitive than you might think at first glance (is that an oxymoron?).

Once I got better though the ball felt like it was flowing off my feet (via my fingers) and I was setting up back-and-forth passing between multiple players finishing with a laser into the corner. It’s not a seismic shift in how you play soccer on your console, but it’s new enough that it does feel like the game has changed. I found it very similar to the new control system in NBA 2K14 and along the same lines the initial learning curve was a bit steep but it quickly levels off and then you don’t want to go back to the old way.

The new engine helps make defense a bit less of a challenge this year. I usually had to resort to a lot of slide tackles after my man blew by me for the hundredth time, a tactic that routinely led to a red card and man down for more than half the game. Not only do the refs seem a little more willing to let them play this year but it’s easier than ever to face up on the ball and safely attack the defender. You might not get too many steals but you’ll find yourself cutting off the passing lanes and knocking balls away with a few deft strokes of the analog stick.
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