Konami’s venerable soccer series returns for its 2014 edition, but should FIFA-gorged fans opt in?
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014: On the plus side
There was a time, some years back, when I held the (unofficial) duties of sports game reviewer for a prominent publication, largely because the other games writers didn’t want to cover them. I’m not the sportiest person (to put it mildly) but I do enjoy a good sports game in moderation.
The issue with sports games is that moderation is never what happens.
The yearly iteration cycle means that often changes from year to year are very slight indeed, and of interest only to the hardest of hardcore players, leaving aside those who’d pick up the title simply to get access to the latest rosters and players. I know how that feels — for many years I’d buy wrestling games for that reason, until the quality dipped below my own tolerance levels.
The thing is – and I’m being upfront about this, because I think it’s important — it’s been a good few years since I’ve seriously played any soccer title in depth. This isn’t going to be one of those reviews, so if you’re a really hardcore football game player, this review probably isn’t going to tell you much. If you’re a more casual player, or somebody who plays a lot of FIFA… then read on.
That out of the way, Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 does somewhat avoid the classic peril of sports titles, because Konami has switched over the underlying engine that runs the game. Switched it over to the “Fox” engine that runs the Metal Gear games, apparently, although I’m yet to spot a player hiding in a cardboard box on field. Maybe that’ll come in later DLC.
Jokes aside, the Fox engine does a great job for the most part in rendering believable onscreen action, with players that have real physicality and a ball that, for want of a better term, has life to it in a way that I don’t entirely recall since the heydays of Sensible Soccer.
Yes, I’m that old.
What I mean by that is that you have to physically work with the ball, rather than just assuming it’ll be there at your player’s feet. This takes some serious getting used to, and early on I was a mess of missed tackles, wide open defences and easy interceptions. You can pass with a tap of the button, but it takes some serious training before you’ll easily switch to receiving the exact same ball. While all this was happening, I was going down, time and time again with scorelines that would be more appropriate in the NFL.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 has an extremely strong simulation feel if that’s what you’re after, whether you’re playing exhibitions, leagues or the Legend mode that casts you in the role of a single player.
I dipped into that mode briefly one night, and five hours later emerged not realising the time had passed, simply because the flow of how that works — and it does mostly work well — makes for an entirely different kind of game. Yes, I know, it’s not a “new” phenomenon, but Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 manages it superbly. Although having randomly picked Wayne Rooney as my player of choice, I’m getting rather tired of looking at the back of his stubbly head.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014: On the minus side
Remember how I mentioned it had been a while since I’d seriously played a soccer game?
In some ways that wasn’t the entire truth; I had in recent weeks been playing, of all things… Pro Evolution Soccer.
It’s just that in this case, it was a $2 copy one of my kids picked up of Pro Evolution Soccer 2008, because, hey, $2 soccer game. I maintain it doesn’t count, because it’s not as though I was playing it as a contemporary game in any real way.
The perspective between the two highlights some issues that Pro Evolution Soccer has never dealt with that are still present in Pro Evolution Soccer 2014.
There’s the obvious issue that FIFA has sewn up a lot of the big licences, and that means that Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 has to do a lot of fakery alongside a scattershot quantity of actual teams. It seems unlikely that EA will stop driving truckloads of money up to FIFA, so that’s an issue that’s likely to remain.
The animation in Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is greatly improved — of course, it should be — but there’s still some quirkiness, especially when it comes to goalkeeping. Where player animations are very fluid, there’s still a quantity of fixed animation when it comes to goalies.
As an example, in one match, I rushed forward and belted a ball towards the bottom right corner, but even as I kicked it, I realised it was probably a little too easy to deflect.
The goalie did indeed dive, but his leap took him headfirst into the goalposts in a way that would have absolutely broken his neck in real life. It’s a sign of how immersive Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 can be that I audibly gasped.
The goalie blocked the shot, and then slid down the goalpost head first in a truly creepy way. I’m still not sure he wasn’t actually dead, although the fact that he kept playing suggests that he wasn’t.
The menus and layout are seriously in need of a makeover. They’re slow and stilted with a fake “mouse” motif that adds nothing beside the suspicion that nobody at Konami has bothered to look at this bit of the code since around 1998. You ideally don’t want to spend that much time in menus, but in certain modes it’s a necessity, and when they’re this clunky it’s an annoyance.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014: Pricing
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 sells for around $89.95 for Xbox 360/PS3 and $49.95 for PC.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014: Fat Duck verdict
FIFA remains the thorn in Pro Evolution Soccer 2014’s side, because even I can clearly see the attraction in full clubs, additional competitions and the general FIFA community. Then again, as freely noted, I’ve not been on top of soccer titles for a few years now, and I certainly haven’t had the opportunity to play any FIFA for a while.
That doesn’t mean that Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 isn’t a worthwhile game, though. There’s solidly some room for improvement — especially in those dreadful menus — but once you’re on the field fighting for every goal or racing to stop a breakaway player, it all meshes together in a way that gets even sports-apathetic me excited, which means it’s doing the core things very well indeed.