Some people claim sign language is the world’s first true universal language. Those people would be right if those signs involved all the dramatics involved in the real universal language, soccer — or football in the majority of the world that isn’t called Canada and America. Strap on your boots, limber up, take some acting classes and get ready for Konami’s yearly production of the most popular sport in the world.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014, or Winning Eleven as it is called outside of North America, is to Konami what FIFA is to EA. Due to EA doing what EA likes to do by getting exclusive deals for their sports franchises, see Madden as an example, PES can’t be fairly judged using a strict comparison to FIFA. The lack of licenses automatically takes away from the shine and splendor for those seeking the highest amount of authenticity and realism. Outside of the teams in La Liga, Serie A and Brazil, if they were not in one of the major continental championships like the UEFA or AFC Champions League then they won’t be present in the game. Instead the players are present but they are all put on a fake team to represent their real life counterparts. Go Man Blue!
The graphics in the game do an admirable job at pushing the limits of the PlayStation 3. The players look detailed and life-like even when sprinting past everyone in a blur, helping to immerse the player in the realism of a sports game. Creating players takes scary depth to a whole new level with pinpoint modeling of character’s faces to help anyone who wants to team a dream team of Pele, Ronaldo and Socrates to have their wish. The crowds have too many similar models being repeated to help bring the graphical immersion to the next level, sadly, especially when they look faceless a lot of the time.
The meat and potatoes of the game are its Master League and Be a Legend modes, essentially franchise and career mode. Master mode lets you take over any team and put them in any league to allow you to achieve world glory. Set the rosters, give a game plan, buy and sell players, all the staple elements are there. Legend mode lets you take control of a real or user-created player in an attempt to reach the heights world soccer as the best player, through staying with one team your whole career like the ironman Francesco Totti or by being the mercenary and picking a new team every year ala Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
While on paper it sounds like any other staple mode of a sports game it lacks a real identity, especially in franchise mode. The in-game pop ups give off a more grandiose, micromanagement sim-like experience but instead the player is left with something barebones that serves to push an arcade experience. The game’s economy doesn’t work by being unbalanced, trying to sign players is based entirely around luck and is like pulling teeth due to design oversights, and the menus are stiff and clunky making it a chore to do something as simple as re-signing players to new contracts. It is not a fun experience for those who enjoy any kind of simulation or depth in their franchise modes.
Career mode is also a barebones experience as well, with hardly anything for the simulation fan to do. Sign for a team, set your training meter and keep skipping weeks until you’re called up by the manager to play if you chose to start off as a created player. I do give credit and enjoyed the realism of my 65-rated striker not starting every game in the Dutch Eredivisie, but with half of the leagues sporting a roster of fake teams it is not that exciting being stuck on a fake Middle Eastern team to get to play regular minutes.
Getting into the actual match the arcade style can definitely be felt. A simple button layout keeps the game easy, while a couple finesse buttons allow those who want a deeper, more technical experience to improve their game. Passing and shooting felt good, and it was nice to see a big difference between a player shooting with a 60 finishing and shanking the ball wide a lot, compared to a lethal 90 finishing and the ball wanting to rip through the netting. PES emphasizes ball control a lot more than FIFA, as I felt a significant difference in keeping control of the ball with weaker players compared to more elite players.
For those who did not read my Professional Baseball Spirits 2013 review, or have zero experience with the Japanese sporting import market, it would be a bit of a shock to learn that Konami can make quality sports games like EA and 2K outside of the PES series. This is why it is painful to admit that Konami makes EA look like the king of soccer games, even though they are notorious for re-hashing every sports franchise. Although the game’s controls are fine, the rest of the experience proves a bit dull. This is an arcade experience and plays like an arcade experience, but then tries to be something it is not with its game modes. This split personality hurts the overall package of the game, and outside of just playing quick matches there is zero point to play career or franchise mode unless you’re a diehard PES fan because every other soccer series does it better.
PES 2014 is an arcade soccer game that emphasizes tight controls and gameplay for those who enjoy kicking the ball around more than going over spreadsheets. But from a company that created, in my opinion, the best and deepest sports experience every created for a console in Professional Baseball Spirits 2013, it is severely disheartening that they could not put that same insane amount of depth into the PES series. Fans of the series will swoon and enjoy it, but without any tangible depth outside of quick matches or online it might not be worth the money for those undecided on what franchise to choose.
Dane Smith is the Japan editor for PlayStation Universe. When not out on the streets of Nagoya wondering why no one is looking for a Yakuza-style showdown, he can be found cracking open the newest RPG to hit the shelves. You can follow him on Twitter or read some of his past musings.