With EA Sports now exclusively producing games from two major sports leagues in NHL and NFL, it’s astonishing the PES series has managed to hang around as long as it has. As popular as every league sport is, however, perhaps it’s a testament to just how rabid soccer (note that we’ll be calling PES a “soccer” game to avoid confusion) fans are that there’s still room for two video game franchises. While soccer remains a fairly unpopular professional sport in America, one need look no further than E3 to see just how important PES is in other parts of the world. Konami had one of the larger publisher booths at the convention, yet the majority if it wasn’t devoted to Metal Gear or Castlevania; it was devoted to PES. While many American gamers quickly jaunted past its giant enclosed arena to play Lords of Shadow 2, international media were flocking to it as if it were Grand Theft Auto V. Now in its twelve year, PES is as popular as ever and ready to use the Metal Gear Solid V engine to produce the best looking game of soccer yet.
PES 2014 plays similar to previous titles, albeit with a few tweaks. Thankfully, these can all be learned in the excellent Performance Training, a intuitive tutorial designed to help advanced players perfect their game and novices learn the ropes. Dribbling occurs automatically, with faster movement enabled by holding down R1. Triangle plays the ball through to your teammate and pressing circle either crosses the ball or plays a long ball. On the defensive side of things, holding that button plus X allows opponents to be jostled, hopefully robbing them of the ball. Holding X lets a defensive player get close to their opponent and apply pressure, while doing so while moving the left stick away from the opponent and towards the goal pressures him and leads to mistakes, giving an opportunity to steal the ball. Hitting X twice while applying pressure makes your player tacke the opponent. These 1 on 1 battles are more enjoyable than ever, as the wins and losses are determined based on the actions of the players and not left up to chance.
Free Kicks have also been refined. When offensively lined up for one, holding square controls the power; the longer the power, the less accuracy. The left stick adjusts trajectory and the right stick controls the direction of the shot. This new system plays nicely, making it easier to control shots, but still giving it some challenge thanks to the multiple variables and wavering trajectory.
Perhaps the standout of PES 2013, however, is the Fox Engine. Yes, the oft-touted Metal Gear Solid V engine is making its debut with PES 2013. Don’t expect exlamation marks to appear above player’s heads, however, as the game still looks and feels like a soccer game. Graphically, things look better than they ever have in the series, although it still decidedly feels like a current generation game and not a showcase for this intriugiing new engine. What it does provide, though, is the framework for a solid game of soccer. Physics seem more realistic than ever and moving around in the engine just feels great. It’s something that will surely be fleshed out as the series moves forward into the next generation, but it’s a promising start as it stands.
Musically, the game disappoints. The soundtrack is both awful and barren, with the standout “licensed” public domain track being Guajira Guantanamera. That’s not a joke, Guantanamera is honestly the standout of the soundtrack. At a time when FIFA 14 is offering one of its strongest soundtracks yet, full of great indie artists like Foals, Grouplove and Crystal Fighters, Konami needs to step their game up with PES. It’s frequently mentioned that songs can be imported into the game, with is a poor substitution for an almost nonexistent soundtrack. Commentating is also disappointing, feeling unnatural and full of rudimentary comments. Expect to hear things like “He did well to get it. What next?” at least five times in every match.
PES 2014 is another strong entry into the second fiddle series, providing a great no frills game of soccer. With a lack of licensed assets, an uninspired presentation and an almost nonexistent soundtrack, it can’t complete with the polish or flair of FIFA 14, but the core game of soccer has been tweaked in fundamentally impressive ways. The debut of the Fox Engine signals exciting things to come for the series, already showing off some unique and realistic physics here. With improved player handling, new collision detection and the best visuals of the series, PES 2014 is simply another great soccer game.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 3