STAFF REVIEW of Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 (Xbox 360)

Saturday, October 5, 2013.
by Scott Fowler

Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 Box art It's time for the Champions League everybody! What's that, you might ask? Why, it's football!

Yeah, not that weird pointy Yank aberration, but real football, aka soccer. Konami takes their annual crack at the license game with this year’s Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) 2014. Let's take it down to the pitch for my review!

I'm sort of "that guy". Like I mentioned in my FIFA 14 review, I know more than the average Canadian American about Soccer. (I'm going to mix it up between calling it Soccer and Football, just to be inconsistent. It's kind of my thing!) Knowing more than the average North American Joe, however, still means I don't know much compared to the rest of the world in this area.

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and its annual competition for European league bragging rights and continental supremacy in the Champions League. Other international league play is included, with Europa League, Super Cup, Copa Libertadores, and Copa Sudamericana to name a few.

So, anyone reading this review also probably knows that EA and FIFA is the proverbial 800lb gorilla in the soccer gaming world, at least internationally, and the licensing and marketing that goes with it. That leaves an interesting niche for Konami with this product. I say interesting because I've played previous years iterations, and they always seemed more, no-nonsense, in a good way, than the FIFA offerings. Less peripherals, more concentration on the match, and more "right to the game" sort of action. That always seemed to work fairly well, too. It was almost as if PES knew its place in the market, and catered to its diehard fans, and they totally existed. The action on the field was sort of the brilliant place it operated, a more true-to-life simulation than the rock and roll heavy powerhouse of FIFA.

The moment I started this year’s game, I knew that they were still trying to fill that role. I somehow wish I'd received this game a week prior to the FIFA release than a week after. Had that been the case, I would have reviewed it in a vacuum, and it could have stood on its own without the strong comparisons to the EA product. In and of itself, looking at the game and layout, it's quite simple. Unfortunately, there's a difference between simple and dated, and I think in their efforts for "easy", they ended up feeling old and lazy.

The navigation on this game could literally have come right out of the first generation of Xbox gaming, and it isn't very pretty or contemporary. You can chalk that up to the focus being more simulation oriented, but it just felt disconnected, and in my opinion ended up tainting the overall game feel. The music and audio, also, are less than stellar. I found the soundtrack, with classical opera and minimal "rock and roll" sort of vibe, to be almost over-selling the more "polite" approach this game takes to the sport. The in-game commentary was repetitive and uninspired, and lacked the casual, effortless banter of the FIFA offering.

Again, I know it’s a rather unfair comparison, but with the price points of the games being identical, it’s not like comparing a Lexus to a Toyota, yet it feels that way throughout.

The game options include Various international league competitions, and the applicable online play. They also offer the Master league, which is a simple ownership position, similar to franchise mode, allowing players to control all aspects of a teams management. Again, this is a much simpler overall simulation, and gets straight to the heart of the matter of playing soccer.

The Heart of the matter. Another new thing in this years version is Heart, which tries to tie in those wonderful things in sports known as intangibles, into more direct impact on the game. You can experience the fluctuation of emotion in a player on fire, or feel the dismal valley of getting an own goal or having a disastrous play in that costs your team a goal. I haven't played enough to know exactly how much change things brings, but it's cool to have a real mechanic behind the concept of home pitch advantage. I think this is probably something that could be even more capitalized in the Xbox one, with more processing power to put to use.

New this year is Konami's Fox Engine. In reading some online reviews and release related information, you learn that Konami took great effort to impart subtle emotional changes and facial constructs to events, adding a nice layer of nuanced graphics and game play. Unfortunately, there seems to be an overall jittery effect to the game play itself, like the Frames per Second on the game itself was impacted by all these added layers of subtlety. The end result is a game that's not as smooth as it should be, graphically. This might be just code normalization and something that will really take off in the next gen consoles, so let’s hope that this is more a hardware limitation than just lazy design.

Other new tweaks to the underlying physics in the game focus on ball movement and player interactions and overall physics, making the game decidedly realistic in its presentation of challenges and tackles. Contact feels very real and accurate, and the easy challenges and interceptions aren't always easy, which is a positive.Game play falls into familiar territory. The interactions between players are significantly improved in this years game, but I found even early on that the controls were limited.

In this game, though, that wasn't entirely bad. It was fairly easy to pick up from the start, and held to a more realistic simulation, if not significantly more bland and generic. I didn't have significant time to get into the controls and slider nuances that I could tweak because I just wasn't interested in enhancing the core product. Again, though, this is a double edge sword, and I think part of the goal of Konami in their design efforts. KISS: Keep it Stupid Simple.

I think that for the casual gamer, or bigtime fan of some obscure UEFA member teams that want a simple soccer experience, this is the game to go to, as it's definitely less intimidating in its offerings than FIFA. I think my biggest concern about that, though, is that this game sort of straddles the line between a "full game" and an arcade level offering, and at the same price point of $60, I think it is a hard sell to most people compared to the features and online competition and support of EA's competition.

Get back to your core: Great, simple, easy Soccer. Go big on game play and simulation, and focus on what you're good at: Not Being FIFA

Overall: 7.9 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.8 / 10
Sound: 7.7 / 10


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