Reading an article in EDGE, diagrams, screenshots and teaser trailers, these are all great but nothing can compare to actually getting your hands on a new PES for the first time. It’s where you form your first opinion of the game and learn more about it, something that no pre-release asset or article can provide. This year, with a brand new engine behind the game, that statement had more weight behind it than you can ever imagine. Excitement? Yes, I had it in abundance. Trepidation? Sure, there was plenty of that too. How would the Fox Engine change a series that I had followed for so long? After playing it for several hours at E3 2013, the answer was very much positive.
The Difficulty Curve
Pick up the pad and start to play PES 2014 like any of the previous titles in the series, you’ll find that you won’t get very far. Whilst the game retains that distinct PES feeling, it plays differently and that is very much a good thing. The power of the Fox Engine combined with some new features, means that the rigid feel of previous games has gone. MASS and TrueBall tech have much to do with getting rid of that, helping to make the on-pitch action in PES 2014 look and feel more natural than its predecessors. For instance, when you’re dribbling, the player you’re controlling not only moves more realistically, you feel his weight shifting as he jogs or sprints in the desired direction. Sprint too much and attempt to turn at the last minute? It’s more than likely the ball will go out of play or will be intercepted by the opposition. This applies to even the star players such as Robben, Ribery or Neymar. After all you don’t see these guys constantly sprinting in real life matches like headless chickens, do you? Well, Robben maybe! Sorry, bad joke. In all seriousness, it’s a great change, one that forces you to think about when you sprint and dribble with some real care. I learnt the harsh way, and I suspect many of you will too.
Another area where MASS and TrueBall Tech come into play is with the first touch and control system. There is a real emphasis on first touch an control in PES 2014, something that is apparent even in your first match. The physics system works in tandem with the TrueBall Tech to simulate how well you end up controlling a ground or lofted pass. The results are sublime, with the level of success dependent on where the player is, how his body is positioned and which direction you push the analogue stick. Much like the dribbling mechanics, you have total control, but everything is bound within reality. Sometimes your player will take the perfect Bergkamp-esque touch, whereas others he’ll fail completely. It’s not completely black and white, there is a grey area too. So if you happen to take a less than perfect touch that doesn’t immediately mean you’ll lose the ball. Sometimes that will be enough, depending on the situation of course. Whatever the result, once you get you used to it, you’ll never feel cheated. Whatever you do has an impact on how successful you are. It’s a harsh lesson to learn, but oh so rewarding when you get it right. I said this to a few people after playing 2014, but I think the difficulty curve will be steeper for regular PES players, whereas total newcomers might adjust a little easier. That’s not because it’s “newbie friendly”, but more because a newcomer won’t be stuck with certain bad habits.
Freedom of Passing
Quite possibly one the best parts of PES 2014, the freedom of passing in the game is exceptional. That might sound a little weird at this early stage, but it doesn’t make it any less true. The Fox Engine and the introduction of TrueBall Tech has done wonders for this integral part of the game. Even at four bars, what most would call assisted, there is variety and freedom in the passing. At times, even on the one or two bars, the passing in PES 2013 felt very much on rails and assisted, frustrating many hardcore fans. Putting the pass level down to three or less resulted in even more freedom, but I rarely strayed too much from four or three as I felt they were good enough. I felt that I could weight and direct the passes in exactly the way I wanted. Obviously I wasn’t always successful, but the sheer fact that three and fours bars felt so good speaks volumes.
Lofted passes also felt great, allowing you to spread play when you like. The ball won’t just travel in straight line like a target missile; it will curve depending on how you strike it and where you want it to go. Building up moves in PES never felt so satisfying, mixing up ground passes with lofted long balls is a real joy to witness and be part of. It’s so good, that you’ll almost forget about the through ball button. In fact, I can probably count the number of times I used the button on one hand. The standard passing is so varied and free now that the through balls almost seem useless. If I was being totally honest, it appears as if over the top through passes and ground ones have been toned down in terms of their success rate. Each time I tried to put a player through using the dedicated button, I under or over hit it. Going by previous iterations and how overpowered the through balls were, this was and still is a massive positive for me. Hopefully it results in people using their actual passing skills rather than rely on the through ball button.
Audio and Visual Depth
Whilst the E3 2013 code lacked the polish of the screenshots and trailers you’ve seen so far, it’s still a step up when compared to any previous current-gen titles. “That’s not hard”, I hear you say. Yes, you’re right. I’m not going to lie to you and say it look next-gen, because it doesn’t. However, previous PES titles aside, it’s a MASSIVE step up when it comes to the current-gen standards. It’s using the power of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, finally pushing both of them on a technical front. Animations are fluid, player models look great, lighting is fantastic and stadiums look great. The latter is exemplified by the breathtaking crowds. Now, they’re not fully 3D, but man do they look good. Whether it’s the Bayern fans creating a mosaic before kick-off or Santos followers lighting up flares during a match, they really add to the sense of occasion.
Coming back to the animations, just the like best PES titles of the past, you’ll notice new ones as you play and be amazed. It could be the frighteningly real way Robben runs, or something simple like the way a player moves his head when flicking a ball on. Even goalkeepers have new animations, but more on them later. For now, let’s move to sound in PES 2014. It’s difficult to completely comment on the audio side of things due to the environment we were playing in (noisy E3 showfloor), but we did manage to bump up the volume on a few pods we played on and the noise from the crowd in relation to what was happening on the pitch was just amazing. The enthusiasm of the Bayern fans and the sheer passion of the Santos faithful came across brilliantly. Whilst the Heart feature was full featured in the E3 build, if this is an early indication of what Konami plan to do with it then I for one can’t wait to see how it turns out.
The Set Piece Conundrum
The ability to direct set pieces via a dotted line, a new feature that turned out to be a bit of a talking point between the lucky people that played PES 2014. Sounds simple enough and it is, but its inclusion is somewhat of a double edged sword. You are given the freedom to adjust the direction, height and curve of the ball for both free-kicks and corners. If it sounds great, that’s because it is. It works really well, a little too well in fact. What do I mean by that? Well, you can score directly from corners and it makes the art of the free-kick a little too easy. The free-kick point is less of an issue, but as I played more and more it became apparent that you could score directly from corners almost every single time, turning it into a bit of an exploit. Two corners in a row I did the exact same thing and hit the same point of the crossbar. If I spent a bit more time with it I’m certain I could’ve done what other players were doing, scoring direct from corners regularly.
This possible exploit was fed back to the relevant people, but I still feel something would lost if the feature was taken away altogether. I enjoyed whipping in corners and free-kicks just as much as I welcomed the challenge of defending them. The tactical element fascinated me, but not everyone is going to be as fair and sportsmanlike when it comes to using this feature. It’s sad, but that’s the truth. A suggestion was made by me to limit where the dotted line could go for corners, but then that would take away an element of freedom which was the idea behind it initially. Like I said at the beginning of this section, it’s a double edged sword situation and I don’t envy Konami in how they go about dealing it. I just hope it’s not taken it out completely, but ultimately that might be long term solution. You can even turn the dotted line off right now with a simple press of R1 or RB.
Penalties have also been tweaked, with the kicker getting reticule on-screen that gets bigger as you move towards the corners of the goal. This makes it slight easier for the goalkeeper to save shots, but the kicker can move the reticule at the last second to fool the shot stopper. It’s a nice little mechanic, but I hope it’s smoothed out a little with a proper explanation of how it works delivered to players before they take or attempt to stop their first penalty. The little mysteries have been a staple of PES titles of the past, but for mechanics like this they really should be explained the first time you come across them.
Let’s start with goalkeepers shall we? They’re much improved. The men between the sticks are now more reliable and stable, with new animations introduced to reflect differing styles. In the E3 build, Neuer was most impressive. He came out for the ball when he could, catching wherever possible. In PES 2013 the keepers started to push the ball away from goal as much as possible, resulting in less rebound goals, and that’s even more apparent in PES 2014. The keepers also stand up much longer during one-on-one situations, making themselves big and spreading their body to make a save when necessary. I genuinely can’t remember playing a PES during this stage previously and saying “what a save” so many times.
Shooting has been slightly tweaked too, with the feel being less “floaty” than before and more natural. Long range shots in particular felt great, no matter if you scored or not. Staying with scoring, headers have been greatly improved, which means you can actually score them now if you’re in the right position instead of every single one floating over the bar. Crossing felt pretty much the same though, which isn’t necessarily a supremely bad thing, but it would’ve been nice if it had the same freedom as the rest of the passing model. This was fed back to Konami, so hopefully later builds of PES 2014 will have improved crossing.
Attacking wise, the AI was still as great as ever, with good movement around the ball carrier depending on which area of the pitch he is moving towards. The defensive side of things I’ll touch on in the next section, but the actual defending mechanic itself has improved thank to MASS and TrueBall Tech. You still double tap X or A to go into a tackle, but your player will now go towards the ball rather than the player. The feedback you get whether you’re successful or not via the resulting animations is lovely, more natural and realistic than any previous PES. In fact, that sentiment could apply to the entire physical side of the game, as it’s a real step up from PES 2013. It’s slight shame then that referees are a bit inconsistent without any prior warning, with some giving fouls when there actually wasn’t one committed. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as referees are inconsistent at the best of times in real life, but it would be great if there was an indication before the match as to what type of official (lenient, fair, strong and so on) you’re up against. This would allow you to adjust your style and escape the frustrations of certain referees.
Areas of Improvement
I mentioned a few slight improvements that could be made in other sections, with this particular one kept for the defensive AI and player awareness. It’s not something I noticed until the second day of playing PES 2014, but since then it was very much apparent. It had a slight negative impact on some matches, whereas in others it was completely affecting the result of matches, especially when playing against other human players. I noticed several occasions where one player would have the ball in a defensive and one or two players near him would just stand there doing nothing, even when the ball carrier came near them. There was no forward or sideways movement that would’ve made it easier for you to get out. In real life football this is what happens, if one player has the ball in the defensive area then others will move around accordingly, giving him options to move out and get the ball forward. This rarely happened in the E3 build of PES 2014.
To add to this frustration, these non-moving players would get in the way on several occasions, resulting in the ball being gifted to the opposition for a goal. There were several occasions where I benefited from this and the goal I scored as a result felt cheap. I was on the other end of it too, which was really frustrating. This also happened occasionally when defending corners, with cheap goals being scored on the back of the lack of defensive awareness. It’s a frustrating negative as the rest of the game is so good, really enjoyable. As you’d expect this was fed back to Konami and I was assured that in future builds this would be addressed. I would imagine it’s a case of the development team heightening the responsiveness of the defensive AI and other players on the pitch that are not being controlled. A new build should be available to play just before Gamescom, so I’m hoping to report with back positive things in relation to this after getting hands on with that.
I’ve played several builds of PES at this early stage and never come away feeling so positive about the game. It’s clear to see the Fox Engine and several new features have put a spring into PES 2014′s step that was missing from previous current-gen iterations. The game feels fresh, more fluid and realistic than before, yet it still retains that PES magic. It may not be next-gen, but if Konami stay on track and improve the game in key areas before it launches (modes and features), PES 2014 could well be a true return to form for the series. Can I have the next build now please, Konami?