That moment every PES fanatic has patiently waited for is now upon us. The surgery has been performed in the shape of a new engine powered by elements of Kojima’s highly anticipated FOX Engine. PES is about to endure a rigorous pre-season regimen before the season begins on Next-Gen very soon. Can the star player return to his glory days?
We were treated to preview code featuring a selection of four teams including Santos and Bayern (similar to E3 and Windsor code) as well as the Italian and German national sides. Unfortunately the code only allowed us to play in Exhibition mode as well as other bugs like the inability to substitute players with Bayern and Santos. That speed demon Robben was on the bench for Bayern and there was no way I could get him on, so pass the ball to Ribery it was!
Ultimately every football game is only as good as its core engine. The underlying football fundamentals we all hope to see are dependent on the technology implemented to provide both a visually, technically and responsively satisfying experience. On the visual front PES 2014 excels in many aspects with photo-realism and high levels of attention to detail in the faces, kits, stadiums and broadcast style pre-match scenes. For the superficial amongst us, yes, the grass does look superb and the stadium lighting further emphasizes its appearance with varying degrees. Furthermore, the lighting effects used in the game are also stunning. You can even see the light reflecting off the gloss of player’s boots. All of these visual improvements instantly showcase the power of the FOX Engine elements that have been utilised in the new PES Engine.
The player models have also been enhanced, although they could still be further developed by adding a wider range of body styles. Kick-off a match and it’s clear that the visual improvements are seen in the various gameplay camera angles, but there is a clear difference between the level of detail in gameplay versus replay cameras. Speaking to Hosada-San at the recent Windsor play-test, he informs us that it’s a memory limitation of the current-generation hardware rather than one of the new engine. Other graphical concerns we had were focused on the frame-rate of the cut-scenes specifically, not a fundamental problem but rather an unfortunate reminder of the “old” engine and something we hope is will be addressed in the final retail code. Another indication of attention to detail is the movement of the player kit fabric, which looks great and is particularly evident when performing physical actions like sliding.
Moving on to the atmospheric features of PES 2014 and that intriguing Heart feature instantly comes to mind. Although difficult to describe, it’s a feature that is clearly designed to be significant under a strict set of conditions. However, I did experience a moment where the crowd raised their volume in response to Montillo beating David Alaba with a deft touch and then embarrassing Dante with a Marseille-roulette before laying off a pass for Andre to finish. Heart remains a n aspect that will become more evident over the course of the season with extended game-time and possibly in other game modes where matches hold more importance.
The distinction of players on the pitch is not only aided by the improved visuals but also by PES ID. Similar to Heart, this feature than can only be truly examined with more teams and players. However, with the limited players available in the preview code, PES does what it has always done best and provides the player with a true sense that they are in control a unique individual. Neymar, Balotelli, Montillo, Ribery, Lahm, Schweinsteiger and Pirlo but to name a few, all play in a unique way and allow the player to quickly identify their strengths and use that to their benefit.
One of the aspects that negatively affected my experiences with PES over the last half decade was the urgent need to improve the integral ball physics and the way the ball behaves in-game. So the announcement of the TrueBall Tech feature in the first press release was welcomed with open arms. The ball does have an added element of freedom in PES 2014, clear from the way it travels upon striking it in different ways. Passing is joyous particularly when the ball is played on the deck, and the shooting has been much improved in terms of variety. Different shooting styles are more apparent now with more obvious visual feedback (partly due to the enhanced animations database). We would personally like to see the shooting controls become a little looser in the final version. Moreover, the weight of the ball could be tweaked in order to give a better sense of “Oompf” when striking the ball with power. Passing is an area that PES 2014 outdoes its predecessors with flying colours. Variety of passing styles and deft touches add a real sense of depth to those who like to play the “Tiki Taka” way. But as with the earlier code at Windsor, the responsiveness of the passing triggers needs to be tweaked for the final release. If “pass and move” is your brand of football, then rest assured PES will offer you a great platform to showcase your talents.
A fundamental element in any sports simulation is the way it mimics the pace and speed of the real sport. This is another area in which PES 2014 demonstrates its class, to put it simply, the pace of the game is superb. Both players and the ball travel with life-like authenticity. You can feel the benefits of having a speed merchant player, yet the pace and movement of players has been titred to perfection in order to match the real sport. The carefully adjusted speed of PES 2014 allows you to play your brand of football. Passing or long ball, direct or slow build up play the decision is yours. The midfield plays a huge role in PES 2014 as midfield battles are central to the outcome of the match. More often than not you will find yourself cheering at the fact you have had a shot on goal!
But how does the game move and have the animations and physics been improved? The simple answer is yes. M.A.S.S. (Motion Animation Stability System) is the tech that has been developed to handle the motions and animations in-game. PES 2014 moves and plays with much more freedom and fluidity than any other PES title to date. The enhanced animation database adds much more depth and variety to the way the game moves and plays. There are often sequences of play that are capped off with a stunning passing animation or skill move. But with more complex systems come more complex problems. Our main problem with this PES 2014 code is the latency in player movement that ultimately means that often you feel that players take too long to turn or respond to your movement input, with the issue more apparent when you are being pressed. On a positive note players do have much improved physical weight to them, but unfortunately in this code their movement feels a little stiff and a fraction too slow. We are hopeful that with some tweaks to the controls, this latency can be eradicated in the final version.
The enhanced animation database in PES 2014 gives the game a much needed injection of visual authenticity and variety. The fact that new animations surprise you after a fortnight of daily play is a delight. However, the animation stitching in PES 2014 needs to be given some necessary attention. Too often are there instances where players will skip footsteps or perform “Scissorlegs” as they come to perform a pass or shooting animation. The animation system needs to be tweaked in order to allow players to anticipate and adjust feet (mini-steps) and better time their approach to ball striking. Another disappointment is the lack of real foot-planting in the code we played. Too often are there instances where a players standing foot would slide whilst running or performing a pass/shot. As foot-planting remains the holy grail of football games, we can only hope that it can be addressed in future code. We would love to see the game given an additional element of freedom, in the sense that there is room for variability in the movements of the players within certain limits of human muscle stretch and player limb length. This would add a whole new level of authenticity and variety to the existing and improved animation database and is something that we anticipate the new engine would allow them to implement.
The physical aspects of the modern game are truly present in PES 2014, if you need an example then play with Santos against the more physical Bayern Munich in this code. Those midfield battles are evident in PES 2014 and fortunately a big portion of the match takes place in this area as it should do. With the new engine in PES 2014, the physics allows for a new dimension in physical collision outcomes. There is a definite feeling that there is a much improved variety in the various collisions between players during physical battles or tackles/collision. However, as with any new system (FIFA Impact Engine fiasco) on some occasions the collisions demonstrate some strange occurrences that don’t look natural or authentic. However, this is something that will no doubt be improved as later code becomes available. Physical battles are vastly improved and you feel the impact of player strength as two players battle for possession shoulder to shoulder. There is a definite distinction between smaller more mobile players and bigger more physical players. Unlike with FIFA, you get a sense of a real tussle and not two blow-up dolls bouncing off each other. But the visual feedback element of the physical battles could be improved by tussles impacting players’ movement, balance and subsequent steps.
Moving forward we now approach the Goalkeepers debate. Within a few minutes you notice the obvious improvements with goalkeeper-specific new animations and reactions that add a sense of variety. There is a definite improvement in this department. Unfortunately for all their improvements, the keepers in this code still feel a little soul-less. To address this issue, keepers could do with an enhanced sense of urgency and aggression particularly when there is a threat on their goal. We would love to see more reactivity from the keepers and saves that truly make you hold your breath.
Overall the AI in PES 2014 is good, not that PES has had any fundamental problems in this area before. Defensively, players understand their position and always attempt cover empty spaces, whilst on the attacking front players always try to make space and look to move. We did endure some moments of randomness where players reacted awkwardly or made strange decisions to stop chasing a ball. This also happened on a few occasions at the end of a physical battle between two players. However, this might just be a case of tweaking the player anticipatory awareness elements. To briefly touch on Referees, we felt they were a tad harsh in this Preview code with regards to giving cards. On quite a few occasions where a yellow would have been sufficient a red was brandished! Rest assured that referees will be better than this in the final version.
There are still many aspects of PES 2014 that remain unknown including game modes, online modes, depth of editing options and any unannounced features. We sincerely hope that the online modes are given a complete overhaul with the introduction of the new engine. If anything this would be the perfect time to give the PES brand an online infrastructure and presence for the next-generation. Konami’s recent flurry of activity in the transfer market signing up the licenses for the AFC Champions League, Argentinian Primera Division and 23 Brazilian club licenses is a statement in itself that the PES Production team mean business and are ready to invest in the brand to further strengthen its global presence.
In certain respects PES 2014 represents the most realistic football simulation to date. A vast improvement over its predecessor, the series looks like it is finally emerging from the shadows to challenge once again. Although we had some issues with certain aspects of the game, we are hopeful that many of these technical problems can be tweaked/addressed in the next code that we are very much looking forward to. With a new engine comes bigger expectations, but we believe that it’s important for people to understand that the new engine was developed with a long term vision and that the current gen hardware has certain limitations. One thing is for certain, we are all looking forward to sampling more advanced PES 2014 code.