The leaves are changing, which signifies one thing in the world of video games. That is, the fact that this year’s version of the holiday onslaught is upon us. Triple A games are hitting retailers’ physical and digital aisles with regularity these days, including the latest iterations of incredibly popular annual sports series based on NHL hockey, NFL football and NBA basketball.
Left out of the above list was soccer, the world’s “Beautiful Game,” and the most popular sport on this majestic planet. The athletic game and many of its numerous professional leagues have once again been digitized through interactive means, thanks to two competing titles: EA Sports’ FIFA 14 and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer 2014. Both have been released, and are currently vying for fans’ hard-earned dough.
For the purposes of this review article, we’re going to focus solely on PES 2014 and the pros and cons that it brings to the table. This year is a big one for the series, so let’s dive in.
In comparison to its competitor, Konami’s footie franchise has regularly offered a more focused experience. Instead of dealing with an almost overwhelming amount of leagues, its developers have traditionally worked with a smaller list of organizations. To some, that may be a deal breaker, or at least a major negative, but fans of UEFA and Copa Santander Libertadores will probably disagree. This time around, though, things have changed, as new leagues have been brought into the fold, including the AFC Champions League, Argentine Primera Division and Chilean Primera Division. As such, there’s more to sink one’s teeth into, though “focused” is a term that can still be levied upon the game.
Like those before it, this year’s outing is filled with cup-based competitions, and can become a bit boring as a result. Players can choose to compete for many championship rewards, meaning there’s lots to fight for, though some, like the Konami Cup and the International Cup, are license-free and basic. Of course, all sports games are primarily centred around tournaments of varying lengths, but this is one that seems to outdo its peers in that regard. As such, those who choose it will hopefully be fans of table-based schedules, wherein a short round robin stage precedes playoff-style elimination rounds.
Outside of the many tournaments that made its cut, Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 offers standard exhibition, training and quick match options, as well as two returning, RPG-like Football Life scenarios. If you’ve played one of these games before then you’ll probably recognize both Become a Legend and Master League, the latter of which exists in both single player and online forms. Actually, Master League is merely one of only a couple of online-applicable modes to be found on this game disc, though at least one more will apparently be patched in relatively soon.
Become a Legend is, at its core, much like EA’s Be a Pro mode, wherein players create one rookie athlete and then attempt to make his career a magical one. However, this variation includes more micromanaging and is slower-paced – two downsides in my books. Going forward, the mode’s created player-focused gameplay doesn’t live up to the quality, polished offering that the FIFA franchise tends to offer. That’s not to say it’s bad by any means, because it’s really not, but it won’t appeal to everyone. There are simply too many menus, prompts and tutorials forced upon gamers, and none of them are visually pleasing. In fact, just about every menu in this game feels like it was ripped out of yesteryear, due to basic black on white designs and a boring, forgettable font.
If taking control of one fledgling player and trying to turn him into an internationally renowned superstar isn’t your cup of tea, then you can choose to pick a real-life footballer. However, there are many who would prefer to become a manager instead, and Master League caters to them. That’s because, through its many menus and painfully slow transfer negotiation wait times, the rather solid mode lets armchair managers take over control of their favourite teams. Doing so makes users responsible for roster transactions and overall team success, through player-controlled games and in-depth managerial options.
On the gameplay side of things, there’s a major change to note. You may have heard about this already, but Konami ended up employing the use of Kojima Productions’ Fox Engine for Pro Evolution Soccer 2014. The result is a more realistic looking and playing soccer game, which features players that have extra weight to them. As a result, what used to be a somewhat fast and arcade-like experience has slowed down a bit, and has also become more methodical. Some of the things that made recent entries so good can still be found within this revamped formula, but it feels as if important mechanics were lost along the way. In fact, I equate PES 2014 as being a transition year game that is marred by growing pains, because it’s not as fun as its predecessors were, and is somewhat stilted on the field. Players don’t move as swiftly as they used to, and there’s a noticeable identity crisis that returning fans will pick up on.
During pitch-based action, the ball bounces like it should and players react pretty well, utilizing relatively realistic animations. Special moves can also be pulled off by those who practice, or those who’ve simply been around the block a few times, but I’m admittedly not that great at these games and didn’t really utilize them much. I try to be creative when I can, but I’m much more of a standard player than a flashy skill guy.
Unfortunately, this year’s iteration has also taken a step backwards in terms of its presentation. It looks decent, and includes improved player faces and models, but certain angles tend to make their eyes look lifeless. Those occurrences were predominantly noticeable during pre-game ceremonies, where the camera would go down the line and show off both teams’ players, adding to an already problematic cinematic experience. In fact, those ceremonial videos seem to have some sort of underlying lag problem. They jut and slow down, but only momentarily, and the resulting effect makes them hard on the eyes.
We can all agree that developers aim to make sports games that feel like real, televised events, but Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 contains far too much dead air and repetition for that effect to take hold. Jim Beglin and Jon Champion return to provide English commentary, but they’re boring to listen to. Little colour commentary is ever offered, which means that what you get is basic play-by-play that is full of quite a few repeated lines. Even then, the microphones occasionally go quiet, creating unrealistic radio silence.
As a whole, Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 fails to live up to its lofty promises. Pre-release media buzz advertised this year’s iteration as being something spectacular, but it’s merely above-average, and suffers from an identity crisis. It’s certainly not a bad game, but it was hard not to be disappointed with it, especially when so much was promised.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we were provided with.
Prior to its release, Konami created lots of hype around Pro Evolution Soccer 2014, by promising an extraordinary, reworked iteration of the soccer series. Instead, what we received as the final product is merely a half-decent footie title, which suffers from a noticeable identity crisis.