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PES 2014 Review: From Substitute To First Team

“Fortune favours the brave” a wise man once told me. “He who dares wins” he added. These two quotes perfectly encapsulate the ethos that Konami needed to apply to their PES brand, in the face of tough competition and a struggle to define the future direction of their product for over half a decade. However, PES 2014 represents the most significant transformation the series has seen in over a decade. The timing could not have been more crucial with the next-generation on the horizon.

The FOX Engine is the godsend the PES faithful have been anticipating since Kojima et al started to flaunt Metal Gear Solid V. PES 2014’s graphical overhaul is nothing short of wonderful and highlights the fact that the game is pushing the current-gen hardware to its limits.  Player faces and clothing have astonishing photo-realistic detail and combined with player models that can match any sports game, you can’t help but admire its splendour. Zoom into the various assets in replay camera and you can see the fibres that make up the fabric of the shirts that move naturally and it is particularly evident when performing physical actions like sliding.

PES2014_UCL_Galatasaray_MunU

Although there is a lack of stadiums (which Konami have previously explained) and weather effects, those stadia that do make it into the game have never looked better. The turf looks varied with organic differences that look more stunning upon closer inspection – you can identify individual blades of grass. More importantly the game looks superb in gameplay cameras, with vivid lighting effects augmenting the photo-realistic feel. PES 2014 not only surpasses its sporting genre competition, it sets the new benchmark. The game also manages to pay tribute to the atmospheric experience of being at a football match, with lively crowds, various chants and pitch-side assets. Some great cinematic effects in the broadcast style of the game immerse the player in a feeling that they are watching the sport live on TV.

But graphical assets will only flourish if the game moves as well; this being another area in which Konami have impressed, with a decent set of animations and stitching of the different player motions providing natural visuals. There are moments of “wow” when players perform a turn or even play casual passes using  unique animations, but interestingly it’s what the players do after they have released the ball that makes it all the more impressive as they continue to look involved in the play based on their animations and movement.

PES 2014 caters to different styles of play in a manner that has never been seen before in a football title

On the pitch is ultimately where PES 2014 should be judged. With the introduction of a new game engine the expectations were high, with sports games really pushing the technical bar over the course of this generation. The gameplay engine manages to imitate the pace of the real sport with astounding accuracy. Moreover, players can influence that pace with their particular style of play, which reflects a deep and carefully considered game engine. The game permits you to speed up or slow down the tempo of any match depending or your team’s situation. But most importantly, PES 2014 caters to different styles of play in a manner that has never been seen before in a football title. Those who cherish the passing play or tiki-taka football will be able to practice their art. The speed demons amongst us can play that game too, utilising wingers and full backs to great effect and looking for that run from your pacey forward. Alternatively, the less gifted amongst us can just boot it up front and hope your target man can hold it up. There were some issues with regards to control responsiveness in previous build that have been addressed in the final code – there are still instances where you feel that player movement responsiveness could be refined – however, there is a chance that this may negatively impact the considered pace and feel of the game.

Mechanics

On a mechanical level, PES 2014 introduced two new features that play a crucial role in supporting the gameplay. MASS or Motion Animation Stability System is Konami’s “back of the box” wording for their hybrid physics and animations system. Compared to its predecessor, this year’s game is vastly improved in the physics department with procedural physical interactions between players that take into consideration the speed and weight of battling opponents. However, the system is still very primitive in its nature with instances where the collisions and interactions don’t make sense according to the laws of gravity or physics. Likewise, many of the physical battles between players don’t offer much in the way of visual feedback to make you believe that players are engaged in a battle of strength and positioning. In some ways this simplistic nature of the physics engine eradicates some of the problems that other developers have had to deal with using more complex systems, but with the next-generation on the horizon it may soon become dated due to its basic and limited nature.

Ball physics is an aspect of the PES series that has left much to be desired for too long. TrueBall Tech brings a welcome and refreshing change to the way the ball behaves based on timing and user input. Gone is that feeling that the ball is glued to the feet of players replaced with an evident feeling of the ball being a separate entity. Single or combinations flicks of the analogue stick provide variable deft touches and control options depending on the player’s weight and standing position. There is a real skill to ball control and possession in PES 2014 afforded by this new system, as it provides a learning curve that may be steep at first but can be extremely rewarding for those who master it or those who are more gifted with their thumbs.

PES2014_MunU_Juventus

The passing in PES, whether long or short in range, is glorious, with a real feeling of weight behind the ball. The variety in the types of passes, including fancy flicks, combines well with some of the new animation sets to provide some sweet moments. PES 2014 manages to provide an element of variability to the passing based on user error or inaccuracy across the range of passing support levels, hence giving the player a really satisfying feeling upon completing passes. The introduction of the advanced through ball provides players with a rewarding if complex system to master; though a little difficult to master due to the speed at which the target moves, with some tweaks in future patches it may become a vital element in attacking play.

However, shooting was not given the same love that passing has seen in this transformation. It would be cruel to say that shooting has not been significantly changed in from last season, however, the changes are more mechanical rather than physics based. Eradicated are instances of shot trajectories not matching the impact and direction of the leg swing. The shooting mechanics have been improved with the direction and shot styles matching the on screen visual feedback from the various shoot types (with the exception of finesse shots). The problem with shooting in PES 2014 is due to its inconsistency which can only be attributed to ball physics programming linked to the shoot command since the passing aspects of gameplay are great. Furthermore, the finesse shot in PES 2014 seems rather underpowered with curled shots from outside the area failing to trouble goalkeepers nine times out of ten. However this might be attributed to the goalkeeper AI.

There is a real skill to ball control and possession in PES 2014…

Other elements in PES 2014 have seen some changes including the defensive side of the game. Sliding tackles, if timed well, feel good, and the improved physical aspects of the game make defending a real art of timing and attrition. The “man between the sticks” though still remains one of PES 2014’s primary weaknesses, due to a lack of positional awareness and urgency. They keepers fail to demonstrate that desperation to reach the ball first whether punching from corners, rushing to collect ground balls or diving acrobatically to reach shots. There is also a positional awareness problem that makes them prone to making silly errors that lead to “cheap” goals. Again, like shooting, there is a consistency issue with the keepers – there are instances where they make brilliant double saves, however, these occurrences are rare and far between.

PES2014_S_o-Paulo

Not so artificial intelligence

The AI is one of the aspects of PES that continued to improve and evolve even during the difficult times. Hence it is pleasing to see that it has remained one of the game’s strong points. In the attacking third players demonstrate a clear eagerness to move into space and support the ball carrier. It is rare to find yourself in a cul-de-sac unless you play with defensive tactics and/or run the ball into the corner! The movement of your teammate AI always provides an outlet and their positional sense and behaviour mimics that of their real life counterparts with real accuracy. Similarly, on the defensive side of things, the game does a stellar job of maintaining formation structures and replacing out of position players when you defend especially against counter-attacks. Defenders track spaces and players very well, a facet that is more evident with better defensively equipped teams. The only negative with regards to the AI elements of the game is player awareness and response specifically with loose balls. There have been more than a few instances where players take a second too long to react to loose balls and demonstrate no urgency in trying to collect the ball.

There is no doubt that the phenomenon of the twelfth man impacts football matches. Konami’s attempt to interactively replicate the twelfth man element is called Heart. Although it is not an instantly obvious feature, given extended play during tournament or master league modes the feature becomes apparent. It’s a great touch and a superb way of replicating the morale and emotional aspects of the beautiful game. Some fans might be on the fence about such a feature being implemented that can affect matches, however, PES 2014 strives to be a simulation and a unique one at that. Thus features like Heart are necessary to replicate the unpredictability of this game we love and provide that added sense of depth and realism.

Modes, Leagues, and Online

There have been no significant changes to the game modes in PES 2014, with the usual suspects returning for this year’s version. Modes such as Master League that require improvements to provide a deeper and more addictive experience have unfortunately returned wearing the same clothes. At the time of writing the PES 2014 online servers were not active yet. Konami promises the introduction of 11 vs 11 online play as well as the return of previous online modes such a Master League online which has seen some tweaks to its structure. Online modes and features remain a challenge that Konami must overcome by developing their online structure as well as providing deeper and more immersive online modes. They don’t need to look far to find some inspiration in the sports genre – some of their competition are even finding ways of making extra cash from addictive online game modes.

chilean league

This year sees the introduction of the AFC Champions League, Argentinian and Chilean leagues all licensed in game. Konami have continued their assault on licenses with the introduction of these three competitions that will please many fans globally as well as giving us European based players the opportunity to try something different. On the presentation front, for all its graphical beauty the menu’s in PES need urgent and desperate attention! But I would rather Konami focused on the gameplay elements in PES before giving us some pretty and intuitive menus.

Conclusions

PES 2014 is everything you would want in a football game in so many aspects. With the introduction of a new game engine Konami have finally delivered on many fronts after what seemed like endless soul searching. Gone are those feelings of nostalgia replaced with renewed excitement for what the future of the series might hold. You can’t help shake the feeling that this engine is limited by the current-gen hardware and that with the anticipated arrival of the next-generation consoles and further development of this engine the various underperforming elements of the game can be refined to produce a beautiful game. In the meantime, if you can overlook the technical shortcomings of PES 2014 and give this game the time it deserves then you will be playing the finest football simulation Konami have ever produced.

8/10

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