Preview

Pro Evolution Soccer 2014

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The next generation of consoles may be on the horizon, but Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 still has plenty to prove on current-gen hardware. Running on Kojima Productions’ cross-platform Fox Engine, PES 2014 can finally break free from the shackles which chained the previous six entries in the series to a modified version of PES’ PlayStation 2 engine. Fox Engine not only makes PES 2014 more visually appealing, but also informs the game’s animation, physics and artificial intelligence (AI) systems, resulting in the most realistic and immersive entry in the PES series yet.

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I was lucky enough to get my hands on preview code for PES 2014 so I could take the game for a spin and see if all the new features included in this year’s installment amounted to something special. The last time I invested significantly in a PES game was Pro Evolution Soccer 5 so clearly I had a lot to learn about all the control tweaks and new gameplay mechanics introduced since then.

The sample I played only had a single mode to try out – Exhibition Match. You could pick between Germany, Italy, Santos FC and FC Bayern Munich, and adjust your team tactics and player combinations using a feature called Game Plan. There was no option to change my opponent’s difficulty level so it goes without saying that the scoreline of the first few matches I played didn’t do my self-confidence any favours.

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The first thing that longtime PES players will notice when playing PES 2014 is the improved graphics. Superior lighting, animation and physics make general gameplay look that much better, but when you switch to Manual Replay Mode you can really appreciate the power of the Fox Engine with even the smallest detail such as the texture of players’ shirts being rendered. Players’ faces look a little plasticky at times, but at least they convey plenty of emotion during incidents such as being sent off after a malicious tackle.

Collision physics in sports games have come a long way over the past few years so this is an area which I paid careful attention to in PES 2014. The preview code contains some glitches such as players’ limbs occasionally passing through each other during contact, but for the most part the tackles are fairly realistic in terms of the angle of contact and size of the competing players influencing the resulting animation. At times contact between players is exaggerated, as if the targeted player dives at the moment he’s tackled. I hope this issue is ironed out for the final release because this aspect of the animation detracts from an otherwise impressive presentation.

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During the glory days of the PES franchise it had a reputation for being the most accurate football simulation on the market, and based on what I’ve played PES 2014 will once again earn this accolade. The game’s realism is particularly pronounced when you’re playing against an AI-controlled team who pass the ball back and forth and perform subtle skill moves on attack in such a way that you could just as well be watching a game of football being played out on TV. I was very impressed by how unpredictable PES 2014’s AI system is as a big part of the game’s challenge lies in trying to anticipate what your opponent is going to do next. The Player ID system returns from PES 2013 which faithfully replicates star footballers’ playing styles and even the way that certain teams link up on defence and offence. All these features help to make PES 2014 a very enjoyable offline experience for those players who want to hone their skills before competing in head-to-head matches.

Although PES 2014’s controls take some getting used to if you’re new to the series, it’s impressive how much mastery you have over your team and individual players once you get to grips with the control system. There are plenty of control options to tweak in the settings menu if, for example, you want to be able to aim shots manually, and you’re granted an amazing level of precision when lining up corners and free kicks thanks to a dotted line which shows you exactly where the ball is headed. Another feature I enjoyed was being able to plot the run of a player with the right analog stick before switching to another. This really helps on defence as you can ensure that as many players as possible are running towards your opponent’s line of attack in order to close them down and get the ball back in your possession.

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I’m very interested to see if the final version of PES 2014 lives up to the promise of the preview code I played. The Fox Engine is said to be simple to work with so I’m sure that the animation glitches I mentioned will be resolved by the time the game ships. Certain AI issues I picked up on, such as players running the ball out of bounds or chipping the keeper with 100% accuracy, should also be ironed out by then. Importantly, PES 2014 feels like a game for football fans made by football fans, and the new technology at its core serves to further underline what makes this franchise such as appealing proposition for gamers who get their kicks from playing sports titles.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 was previewed on the PlayStation 3.


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