Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is Konami’s attempt at a major overhaul for the the PES franchise, with the FOX Engine taking a central stand in proceedings. There are also additions in terms of competitions with the Asian Champions League and the Europa League is now a standalone competition. The question is whether PES 2014 improves upon its predecessor, or if it is a runner-up this time round.
PES 2014 is a technically sound game, with the majority of the on the pitch gameplay being very well implemented. The physicality of the players feels solid, especially when they jostle for the ball, mainly thanks to the Motion Animation Stability System, or the MASS effect as I like to call it. This system takes into account a player’s movement, size and strength when fighting for the ball, but it’s done in a way that doesn’t mean the big players will always win out.
Seeing Walcott enter a situation where he is being fought for the ball by Vidić makes you think he’ll lose the ball, but with a quick flick of the right analog stick to push back or wrong foot from Vidić sees Walcott being able to run into free space. It never feels like you lose the ball unfairly in these situations, with mistakes being punished justly.
This MASS effect works in conjunction with TrueBall physics, so the ball will react correctly to player touches. Fail to bring it under control and the ball will bounce away from you but press a trigger and the player will be able to chest down or trap the ball to bring it under their control. Of course, this all depends on how closely guarded the receiving player is and if the defender can put a player off. This doesn’t just mean putting a player off physically but mentally too.
This mental motivation system is called Heart and it can affect a player’s performance during a match. Playing away games, mislaying passes and shots can have a negative affect on a player, but the team can work their way back into a game. The Heart system doesn’t make its presence known right away however, instead requiring some exposure. For me the Heart system made itself known during my UEFA Champions League as North London – full licensing for teams is still not present, though a lot of player licensing is.
The Champions League run had seen my team qualify top of the group table, holding off both Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen. I met Porto in the 2nd round and over the two legs managed to beat them too. It’s in the quarter final where my player’s started to falter, drawn against Barcelona. The first leg at home I lost 3-1. In the 2nd leg both I and the players felt worse. Passing was off, mistakes were made in defence and within 5 minutes Barcelona were 1-0 up (4-1 on aggregate). The team managed to rebuff attempted forays by Barca, and then in the 70th minute something changed.
Podolski managed to get the ball and charge down the wing, while in the middle Walcott was looking for space. A through ball to him and Walcott was away, but Puyol was right on him. Walcott shot but Valdes parried it. However, Giroud had followed Walcott into the box and managed to tap in the loose ball. Something changed when that went in, and when the full time whistle blew the score was 3-1 to North London. Extra time and the game finished 6-6 on aggregate, with North London going through on away goals. Heart made its presence known then, and its in these moments where you don’t know how the match will play out where PES 2014 shines.
Online-wise, the game is a simple affair. There aren’t the in-depth modes like FIFA’s Ultimate team but as a pure gaming experience it works for the most part. You can have general ranked matches, and Master League Online also makes a return. Although the game may falter when connecting at times, when it does it flows very well. The only issues with the online was when I tried to cancel matchmaking, where instead of jumping back to the main menu it took an age to disconnect, so much time in fact that I thought my PS3 had frozen even though it hadn’t. Also, when downloading updates the P2P download was very slow, though HTTP download works well.
The game does have faults, with frame rate issues being a problem especially in replays and celebrations; this is very noticeable and jarring when compared to the smooth running of the main gameplay. The commentary is still terrible, which at times ruins the sporting atmosphere. With the likes of UFC and NBA 2K titles proving that commentary can be done well there’s really no excuse for lacklustre effort in that area anymore. There also seems to be a bit of a slowdown when attacking – the game stutters in some instances when shots are being taken as if it’s trying to catch up. It didn’t happen to me often, but it was certainly off-putting when it did.
PES 2014 is a good football game, with very little to criticise on the pitch once you get the hang of it. The MASS and TrueBall elements make the on-pitch gameplay feel authentic, while Heart makes games much more tense and interesting. It’s the things off the pitch that let down the game, as the commentary needs work, and the framerate issues need to be resolved. The squads aren’t quite up to date, with Özil, for example, remaining at Real Madrid, so some updates are required. So, while PES 2014 isn’t a FIFA killer, it is fun.