There once was a time when Pro Evolution Soccer really gave FIFA a run for its money. In recent years though a resurgent EA Sports has all but relegated the PES franchise to the bench.
Konami aren't ready to hang up their boots yet and last year's PES effort showed that the series could still be a worthy alternative to the behmoth that EA Sports' FIFA franchise has become.
This year marks the beginning of a new phase of Pro Evolution's life as it is the first year that the game is built using Kojima Productions' exceptionally detailed FOX Engine. While the game engine may have been designed with Metal Gear Solid in mind it has plenty of nice little features that make it ideal for building a football game.
On the surface it seems like not that much has changed from last year. The visuals have been tweaked and the control balancing has been fine-tuned to offer a better response especially in the online department. They have introduced new path-tracing aiming systems for corners and free kicks which, despite using the odd Japanese inverted X-axis convention, do make aiming place kicks much more easy to send where you want them to go. There's also a new aiming system for penalty kicks which is a little bit more awkward to get to grips with but after a good three hours in the Training mode you should get the hang of it. Either that or you'll need to buy a new controller; and possibly a new TV.
The ability to add short passes and decoy runs has also been added to the free kick system allowing players to really mess with their opponents at set pieces. As with last year's game though some of the deeper controls for things features like this add a layer of complexity to the control system which is unnecessarily fiddly in points. This is definitely a turn-off for the more casual players out there.
There's also the addition of the Asian Champions League this season adding another long list of top teams as well as a new competition for PES fans to try their hands at alongside the UEFA Champions League and Europa League and the South American Copa Libertadores.
The online multiplayer has the first major improvement though. The new FOX Engine has allowed Konami to finally implement 11 on 11 multiplayer so if you can manage to corral ten mates together online you can now play a full game against 11 opponents. Now, do I even have 11 mates?
The main improvements in PES 2014 come in the physics department. In fact the whole game has been redesigned using the advanced physics modelling offered by FOX allowing the ball to be modelled independently of the players for the first time in the series.
Separating the ball from the player is significant because it allows for more precise ball control which Konami has harnessed to recreate the individual skills of some of Europe's finest players more accurately than every before. This means Nemanja Vidic's tackles are even more crunching than before and Messi's sublime skills over the ball are even more dangerous.
Physics improvements aren't just relegated to the ball. Players and player interactions are also subject to the new physics system. This doesn't just mean that their baggy shorts flop around in a more realistic manner though. The interactions between players, (y'know tackles, fancy trick moves and nutmegs and such) are now more accurately recreated. Slide in and you can almost feel the crunch of aluminium studs on your own ankles. This is helped by the return of PES's very intuitive tracking and marking controls which pretty much allow you to dispossess opposing players without the need to resort to spamming the sliding tackle button.
Konami has also built in a new Heart system which adds morale effects for good or bad performance as individuals and as a team as well as the infamous crowd effect. Each player has a new 'Mental' attribute which governs how easily their spirit is affected by a game's events. To be perfectly honest this didn't seem to have any particularly big effect on the game although it's probably hard to lose team spirit when your team is beating Bayern Munich 11-0 in the Champions League quarter final.
On the crowd-side of things the FOX Engine has allowed Konami to make the crowds look and feel just that little bit more realistic. They now move and react in a more natural fashion giving a bit more of an organic flow to matches.
Despite switching to a new game engine PES 2014 is not as radically different as Konami would probably have hoped. It still plays comfortably at a casual level with a slightly over-complicated way to play for those that crave a bit more control over the game. Casually, it's a enjoyable experience but it's probably still falling a bit short of completing with FIFA for the more hardcore football games fans out there. Still PES 2014 is yet another step in the right direction and Konami cannot be faulted for that.
PES 2014 is available from today on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. PSP and PS2 versions are also on their way soon.
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