PES 2014 demo: First impressions

The Pro Evolution Soccer series has long been in the shadow of EA’s FIFA franchise. Once the king of football simulation, PES lost its way during the transition from its home – the Playstation 2 – to the next generation of consoles. FIFA on the other hand, took it in its stride and just kept getting better and better. The Pro Evo games looked dated on new consoles and while early FIFA iterations on Xbox 360 and PS3 weren’t exactly ground breaking, unlike FIFA, PES took a long time to evolve. Too long.

Year after year, fans of the series would be told ‘this time, we’ve really changed things, PES is back’. Unfortunately Konami didn’t deliver on these promises – at least nowhere near to the extent that fans expected. FIFA, in the meantime, went from strength to strength and has evolved into a fantastic football sim. While some lost all hope with the PES games, confining them to a childhood memory, others – albeit while playing FIFA – still kept an eye on the series.

Thankfully, the past two games have shown promise. PES has been getting back on track, something which both delighted and frustrated those who defected to FIFA a long time ago. Frustration, because for all the improvements made in the past two iterations, they still weren’t quite there. They couldn’t quite prise people away from FIFA for long enough. I write from experience; I was someone who desperately wanted PES to be truly great again but couldn’t kid myself that it was, based on last years release.

You might notice that last sentence is in the past tense. And that’s because after spending a couple of days playing the the PES 2014 demo, I think the day has finally come. PES is back.

It’s so clear from the moment you start playing that finally, they really have revamped Pro Evolution Soccer. It’s all thanks to a completely new engine; the Fox Engine. Developed by Kojima productions, it’s completely changed the way the game plays and feels. Visually the game is on another level completely. The stadiums and crowd effects are like nothing we’ve seen before in a football game and really bring that ‘at the game’ feel to you, sat on your sofa. As for the action on the pitch, it’s leaps and bounds ahead of any PES game to date. Player models are incredibly detailed and likenesses while hit and miss (have they ever not been?) are for the most part, superb.

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The biggest improvement is the gameplay though. ‘Smooth’ is the first word that comes to mind; you expect the game to be rigid and player movement to be robotic as we’ve come to expect from PES, but this is not the case at all. Player animations and movements are all new and feel great. Dribbling is an area where the difference is most glaringly obvious; a real confident sense of control overcomes you as you slow down after a quick burst with Iniesta, choosing whether to try and take another man on or wait a split second longer to thread a ball through to a team mate. Or in typical Spain fashion, just go back and start again. It feels like you can do exactly what you want to do, and that’s what stands out. Passing the ball around is a joy and plays out like a real game. Playing with Spain for example, your teammates’ movements are so intelligent, precise and well…. Spain-like that it’s something to behold. The accuracy of the weighting of passes means that pinging a ball into the feet of a surrounded Xavi and then firing the ball back to sender to take opposition defenders out of the game is so fluid it’s almost uncanny – again, it really makes you feel like you can play how you want to play.

Defending is an art I’m yet to master as it’s not quite the same as in FIFA. A similar system though; one button to contain the player on the ball with your selected player, while another sends team mates to apply pressure. Then, you can double tap the same button you held to apply pressure to ‘stick a foot in’ and attempt to dispossess the ball carrier. Timing is crucial and it takes some time to get used to but it’s incredibly satisfying when you time a challenge just right. As well as general improvements in gameplay, there’s a new corner and free-kick system, which I’m yet to decide if it works or not. Time will tell whether or not it’s a worthwhile addition.

Overall it’s looking like Konami have finally cracked it this year. Playing the demo was the most fun I’ve had playing a football game for a long time. And with FIFA’s latest version looking like it does little to build on last years effort, perhaps this will be the year that people pick up Pro Evo for a change. I would highly encourage you to go and try out the demo, which is available now for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.