Konami is looking to change things up when it comes to PES. There’s the whole name change situation for starters, with the game now being called eFootball PES 2020 as Konami looks to push the series’ esports credentials and fight against FIFA for dominance within that space. Then there’s the aggressiveness of their licensing, as Konami snap up league licenses and even grabbed the complete, exclusive team license for Juventus, giving FIFA a taste of their own medicine. While these are all major steps, what really matters is what is happening on the virtual pitch as well as the experience around it.
With the game’s release still around the corner and online servers currently unavailable, we’ve stepped into the game’s offline modes of Master League and Become A Legend for this Road in Progress. Don’t worry, we’ll be checking out the online modes ahead of our full review. Oh, and the difficulty was set to Professional to get a more authentic experience – I did play one match on regular where Norwich managed to beat Newcastle 4-0, and that was with Pukki on the bench!
When loading up eFootball PES 2020 for the first time, the most striking thing is how minimal the main menu is. It’s become the norm for sports games to have huge menus with large boxed images showing all the modes and updates, but Konami decided that minimalist logos for each mode is enough. It really does give a clean feel to the experience, though minimalism doesn’t quite make it into the modes themselves, but then you will want and need to see more information when playing anyway.
The second thing that struck me was just how important it is to enable autosaves in the settings. After a few matches with Everton in the Master League, I turned the console off and was surprised to find none of my progress had been saved. I picked Manchester United for the second try, but with the first online squad update only set to appear on Thursday that meant I still had Lukaku and Sanchez available in my squad. This turned out to be quite a blessing as Sanchez is on his way to becoming this season’s top scorer, even if some of the battles are tough.
With PES 2020 you can feel that the arcade-like gameplay of old is fast fading. It’s been apparent through the last few PES titles that Konami is going for more realism on the pitch, and it all comes to fruition here. Each players’ strengths and weaknesses really come into play, such as Lukaku being able to hold off smaller defenders with his strength and size and Sanchez being able to run into space. The realism doesn’t just extend to the skills players have, but also the ones they don’t. Try and cross the ball with a player who isn’t a typical winger and the ball is more than likely to end up going out for a goal kick, or get someone’s whose first-time shooting skills are low and the ball could end up practically anywhere. The AI will also make mistakes like mistimed passes or playing the ball to the opposition, giving you a chance to snatch the ball and counter attack.
Tactical choices matter when playing full matches and you need to be aware of your opponent’s line up. The same tactic isn’t going to always work. In one match a 4-3-3 with wide players may cut the opposite team apart leading to tons of chances, but that same tactic could lead to your next match devolving into a battle for midfield with only a couple of shots actually getting through. You can play with the tactics in a match set up screen or in the main Master League menu, setting your team’s attitude in various scenarios.
The Master League experience is simple and familiar. You’ll start by creating a manager or choose a likeness from legends such as Cruyff or Maradona, and then pick the team you want to manage. Evolving your squad you send out scouts to find players or try to make offers for specific targets, and you’ve also got the advice of your assistant manager helping you decide which players to keep and get rid of, even digging into negotiating prices and wages to stick within your team’s budget. There are unvoiced cutscenes going through different scenarios, as well as press conferences to attend where you’ll answer questions to set the tone.
Become A Legend, on the other hand, puts you in the boots of a player, taking them through their career from being a young prospect to a potential footballer of the year award winner. There’s none of the pizazz and story of FIFA’s now concluded The Journey mode – in fact, the mode as a whole feels a bit basic, compared even to Master League – but there’s still a real appeal to taking a player through their career.
You start by deciding the position you’ll play and the role you have in the team, as well as the league you want to play in, but don’t get too choose the team you sign with. My box-to-box attacking midfielder got picked up by Norwich. From here it’s the performances that matter; play well and you’ll earn more time ono pitch, but fail to perform and you’ll either be benched or left off the team sheet altogether. Before each match you get a message stating if you’re playing and in what role, able to skip past the simulation when you’re not involved. Your player won’t be a star from the beginning and will struggle to do simple things like keeping the ball, but the more matches they play the better their attributes become over time.
eFootball PES 2020 really gives off the impression that Konami is trying to cement itself as the more realistic football simulator, where you really need to pay attention to the details to have a successful season or get beaten if you’re not quite prepared. Master League and Become a Legend both offer different experiences with my personal preference here being Master League, especially as Become A Legend does seem a bit basic in comparison to that mode as well as similar modes in other sporting titles. However, the action on the pitch is really rather good and if you want a challenge in a sports game (or are a lifelong Juventus fan) then eFootball PES 2020 may be exactly what you need.