Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Also available on: PlayStation 3, PC
Reviewed by: Bracken Lee-Rudolph
Pro Evolution Soccer is the definite underdog in the faceoff against FIFA for the title of top football simulation – it cannot rival EA Sports’ behemoth in terms of licensing and variety, and the majority of football fans seem to prefer the latter title’s gameplay over that of Konami’s sim. However, PES has always retained a loyal fanbase and tried their best to build their franchise with each annual title - this year, culminating in a new engine. So does PES 2014 threaten EA’s stranglehold on the football simulation sub-genre? Or does it further acquaint itself with the title of second-best?
The new Fox engine is the first thing you’ll notice when you kick-off a match – the players move differently, the game is notably pacier and various new physics are on display (courtesy of the Havok engine integration) - not least of which is the cloth physics, which make the players’ kits move more realistically, semi-independently of the players themselves. However, the rest of the tweaks brought in by the new engine combination are not all as seamless as the kit movement.
Firstly, the AI: I found the AI frustrating and illogically built in Pro Evolution Soccer 2014. The AI in PES 2013 was decently challenging as opposition and fairly intuitive as friendly, and while there was limited autonomous movement, the AI players would always play in their correct positions. PES 2014 seems to spit on that notion and adopt a system of total football (popular in the 1970s), in that players seem to move between positions at will. While alternating runs are usually a good thing, you generally don’t want, for example, a star forward like Robin Van Persie to be switching places with an aging central defender like Rio Ferdinand when I need a confident goalscorer up front. The opposition AI is just as bad: They also swap positions, attempt senseless things and occasionally ignore your players’ runs to detrimental effect.
My next gripe was with the physics – specifically the ball physics, which are one of the most confounding aspects of the title. Players seem to play fairly normal lobbed passes and shots – but the physics on the end of them seem to go haywire, and the drive from 20m away from goal that you had planned turns into a glorified chip shot which glides toward the goal excruciatingly slowly. What both highlights this problem and dampens its effect is the way in which, inexplicably, the goalkeepers fail to save these shots and defenders seem to have an aversion to clearing them. This breaks the realism of the title from the start of play and it’s easy to feel as if the title hasn’t had all its kinks ironed out on release.
However, my biggest gripe with the title wasn’t its illogical AI or its frustratingly inaccurate ball physics – it was how mechanic and inorganic the game feels during play. This is a similar complaint I had in PES 2013, where the title had a Command List to show what buttons to press in what specific order and direction to execute certain shots, tricks and/or manoeuvres. What this system does to the title is that it makes it feel far less organic, it makes the gameplay feel far more rigid and it detracts from the overall increase in fluidity that PES 2014 strived to achieve.
That’s not to say that the title is bereft of all enjoyment – there are some enjoyable aspects to Konami’s latest title in the lengthy series. The tutorial segments of the title make it really simple for players of all denominations and skill levels to get acquainted with the title’s more technical elements quickly, and practice them in a non-game environment. This will allow players to have a decent grasp of the gameplay mechanics going into a match, as well as giving football fans a chance to practice with the mechanics they’ll use repeatedly in their game plan.
Additionally, the advanced control schemes – while imperfect – offer a different and innovative experience in terms of shot and creative passing. The premise of these controls is quite simple: instead of the left analog controlling movement, once the through pass or shot button has been pressed, the left analog controls direction and distance. This allows players to place their shots more carefully and control the distance of their passes while not compromising on power. The gameplay on the new engine certainly isn’t completely horrific, but it is a definite step back from last year’s edition.
Graphically, the title looks excellent. The pitches and crowds look excellent – and certain areas are often adorned with team livery and badges (where applicable, due to the limited licensing). Player models - specifically the more prominent and licensed players, look very true to their real world counterparts, down to the small details of their faces. The only complaints I did have were against the occasionally disjointed animations and average, unsightly menu layouts.
The audio doesn’t impress as much as the visual performance, for several reasons. While the crowds sound realistic at important moments in matches (goals, heavy tackles, breaks in play, etc.), the mid-match ambience is quite conspicuously dead. Additionally, the commentary is very poor and adds very little to the title. The soundtrack, while oddly chosen, is very iconic and fits the title well and the sound effects in the matches are very fitting to the game.
The title’s lasting appeal would be very much down to its online modes, as very few strides have been made to adding to or improving the ready made modes. Unfortunately, the Xbox 360 version of the title has been riddled with errors which have prevented me from being able to get online and into a match. While a patch is on the way, and the PlayStation 3 version reportedly works fine, it is disappointing that the online hasn’t worked since release.
PES 2014 – with a little more work to optimise the gameplay to the new engine, could have been a great stride forward for the series. However, numerous errors and glitches mean that the latest Pro Evolution Soccer title ends up looking quite poor in comparison to what came before. Numerous issues plague the title, from the frankly daft AI to the twisted ball physics. The audio also disappoints as the title seems to lack the atmosphere which inhabits football stadia on match-day. An absentee online mode, while present in infrastructure, compounds the negative aspects of the title to the point where I’m questioning whether PES 2014 is really worth playing on Xbox 360.
That’s not to say that the title is all bad; visually, the game is fantastic, minus some occasionally robotic player animations, the new control layouts are intuitive (if sometimes frustratingly different), and the game is easy to pick up and play due to a comprehensive tutorial system. It’s very rare to see an annual sports title get worse from year-to-year, but PES 2014 seems to have managed to do that – much to the dismay of those hopeful that the new Fox Engine would herald a new age for the second-place football simulator on the market.
Lasting Appeal: 5/10