Yearly upgrades have come to be the norm for sport games since just about forever. Long gone are the days you’d buy one of them without having expectations or comparison points with previous versions. Coming in from Jaleco’s GOAL! and International Superstar Soccer, I had my doubts jumping back into soccer games with last year’s Pro Evolution Soccer – little improvements with new iterations for full price tend to hit me in all the wrong places. With that in mind, how did Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 shape up?, you might be asking.
As with each new iteration of the long running and recently renamed series, 2014 plays it extremely safe. Along with the obvious updates to rosters and inclusion of a few new teams to a handful of international leagues, most notably the Brazilian league. The same licenses missing from previous versions are still notably absent thanks to EA’s exclusivity deals through FIFA. There are also a couple of new tournaments as well. Some of them are of a more fantastical sort, like Konami Cup, a fully customizable championship that pits your chosen team in seemingly geographically impossible match ups.
In terms of presentation, Pro Evo 2014 is a step above last year’s game. Now powered by the same graphical engine as the upcoming Metal Gear Solid game, 2014 looks more realistic than previous entries in the series, although some of these improvements make performance suffer. Players are much more emotive and naturally rendered, which translates to better animations and stadium effects – zooming out, it might actually look like a TV broadcast, if it were not for the hilariously repetitive and tired commentary, a recurring issue with previous versions. Frustratingly enough, when things get too busy on the screen, the framerate takes a hit at spots, taking away much of that feeling. On the other hand, when the game is going smoothly, it really shows the leap in visual quality that comes with the new graphics engine.
All the while, looking and sounding better, PES 2014 is still incredibly unfriendly to get around to just about anywhere. After an incredibly obtuse startup sequence that takes a long time to get through, you’re dealt with menus that don’t help you get to anywhere. It’s even worse when you’re trying to deal with the aforementioned tournaments, which give you absolutely no feedback on whether or not the game is being saved. Hint: it’s never being saved – you have to make a manual save first before the game will do it automatically, which in this day and age is baffling to see.
Hand in hand with the clumsy menus comes Pro Evo 2014’s attempt at further realism with the re-introduction of the Become a Legend mode, which puts you in the game as a real life soccer player moving up the ranks. Unfortunately, although such a mode might sound ambitious at first, it’s pretty much made incredibly and unnecessarily difficult to deal with. At no point you are given a tutorial as to what you actually can do in this mode, other than a few tips during loading screens, leaving you wondering why you would even bother to try this feature out. If however you do manage to make it through with anything resembling a decent player, you’ll be able to carry him to a real life team in the other modes, but unfortunately not online.
Online is also another sticking point that’s been haunting this series since the move to current gen consoles. The constant need to upgrade content and the ever present unfriendliness to just about every aspect of getting a match going make the multiplayer an undertaking at first. When things do get going, though, and the more you start playing, PES 2014 shines. It’s truly a jewel in the deep rough – one that hopefully could be grinded down and fixed in next year’s iteration (please?).
When it comes down to teaching you the wonderful game, though, this year’s Pro Evolution Soccer tries its best. Previously covered topics in gameplay and simple commands like passing, shooting and dribbling are shown in standard training scenarios, but hilariously enough, more complex moves are introduced in videos that clumsily display controller commands on screen, in the hopes you’ll learn by watching, rather than doing. A weird choice, considering all other tenants of soccer are displayed and taught to you by actually letting you do then.
While it isn’t by leaps and bounds nor an earth shattering improvement to the series, Pro Evolution Soccer 2014’s further attempts at realism are to be lauded. Perhaps with the upcoming new crop of consoles we’ll finally get to see what was clumsily introduced in this year’s game down the line in a more elegant fashion.
If you’re a fan of last year’s game, there’s certainly something to appreciate in what 2014 teases at for the future. It’s the yearly growing laundry list of issues that holds back each new game, making it that much difficult to fully warrant an upgrade to any particular fan of the series.