Throughout the previous console generation the race was tightly fought, with two leading football franchises battling for both innovation and technical advances in order to win the swaying voters of the genre. In modern times however, Konami’s upstart gas struggled to keep pace with EA SPORTS’ all-conquering FIFA franchise, with Pro Evolution Soccer being considering nothing more than the runner-up year-on-year. Things are only likely to get tougher as we move into a new generation, and so Konami have to make their stand here and now. And they’re making it with Pro Evolution Soccer 2014.
Given the pressure placed upon Konami with Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 it would be easy to predict that the videogame would go one of two ways: rise to the challenge or flop about like a wet fish on dry land, unable to decide which foot is its best and ending up weak on both. Pro Evolution Soccer has spent too long with the later as it’s ethos, but with Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 it makes definite strides to change this fact. There are a number of revisions to the formula, some decisively advantageous and others more questionable, but on the whole Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 sets a difficult pace for FIFA 2014 to try and match.
The first thing returning players will notice is the overhaul of the videogame’s presentation. Pro Evolution Soccer 2014’s visual design is light years ahead of previous instalments, from the user interface to the fluidity of the in-game animation, and the garnish of a recognisable frontend thanks to its influences from British television simply cannot be overlooked. It’s a shame then that the occasional staged sequence – panning of the team at the start of the match or the pitch entrances, for example – can be choppy during panning, even when playing with a full install.
The advances made in animation run far deeper than simply looking good, with Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 introducing the ‘Motion Animation Stability System.’ This is basically and overly complicated way of saying that players now react to body impacts with other players in a lifelike fashion, be it one or more players from either team. It allows you to anticipate reaction times and invest in the micro-management of a player’s feet with far greater accuracy then ever before. It’s far from revolutionary, but now that it’s here we’ll have a hard time going back to a football videogame with a lesser connection between impact and on-screen indicator.
The physics of the ball have also been improved inline with the player animations, with short flicks and high lobs now far more precise in their point of impact and therefore, yet again, easier to predict in those vital seconds before a secondary manoeuvre. It seems that a lot of the advancements Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 has made are in those few seconds before you take control of the ball – beating other players in the sprint or the gentle tap that sees it pass along the ground between forward players – these are moments that gamers didn’t know needed attention, but will be glad someone did.
It’s a shame then that one vital ingredient in this mixture hasn’t received the same amount of attention: aggressive defence. Said to reflect the ‘modern game’ far too much time on defence is spent waiting for an opportunistic grab or counterattack. Pressure marking is your only course of action for much each match and going in hard is a desperate last resort that often receives far greater punishment than landing on the ball ever should. The attacking play featured in Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is currently without equal, but in that same regard it’s made the defensive aspect feel weak by comparison.
Off the pitch Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is blessed with all manner of bulletpoint highlights, from the inclusion of the Asia Champions League to the exclusive rights for the use of the UEFA Champions League: which it unsurprisingly plays on heavily. The online gameplay also benefits from a refined interface and wealth of new gameplay options, yet suffers from the same lag problems that the genre has endured throughout this hardware generation: perfect when two players with fast connections meet, awful when one player doesn’t have an ISP that’s up-to-scratch. Of course, this is just the icing on the cake though, as Pro Evolution Soccer 2014’s new gameplay mechanics make it nigh-on essential for any football videogame fan, and the comprehensive nature of the package means that though it doesn’t take home the trophy this time, Pro Evolution Soccer is back to being more than an also-ran.