And the hits just keep on coming! Our next stop in the fall 2019 sports gaming calendar is a slightly fresh face for a series that has been making serious strides over the past few years. The newly renamed eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 is the same PES experience, only with a newly refocused emphasis on the online and presumably esports arena. So, can they manage to continue the series’ upward trajectory, or has the franchise finally hit its plateau?
Shades of the Past
It’s important to acknowledge from the jump that a vast majority of the on-field portion of PES 2020 is very reminiscent of the experience that was delivered last season. This most certainly isn’t a bad thing, especially when you consider the massive improvements over the prior several years. When the action on the pitch was building upon an already solid foundation, there was no need to go about reinventing the wheel. That said, there have been plenty of quality of life improvements that are very welcome additions to the pitch.
One such enhancement is the keeper play. In previous seasons the AI behaviors have left something to be desired, with the goalie play being a semi-frequent offender. Sometimes the keeper would play too out of the box, leaving them excessively prone to being victimized by a cleverly played chip shot. Other times they would simply play the wrong angle on a shot. These were both sticking points that seem to be dramatically improved for 2020. This isn’t to say that things are perfect, but at least the elite keepers that you’d expect to be among the best in the world finally play like it.
The somewhat sluggish ball-handling mechanics have also received a substantial tune-up thanks to consultation efforts of Andres Iniesta. We’ve finally reached a point where foot speed legitimately plays as much of a role in a player getting open as their overall speed. Sure, there are still plenty of opportunities to just blaze past defenders with reckless abandon, but now there’s also the ability to utilize the right stick to tie the opposition in knots. The mechanics have enough depth that newbies have the random chance to simply luck out and successfully shed defenders, while those that invest the time to perfect the nuances of the system can legitimately drop the opposition’s jock on the sod.
I should note that the single player ball control is a far cry from the exaggerated juggling shenanigans found in FIFA, but I felt like EA had reached a point of absurdity a couple of installments back. This more grounded approach, while a bit less flashy, feels more authentic to the sport. And while it’s certainly in the player’s best interest to at least attempt these digital dekes, there’s no legitimate necessity to perform them. Hell, I played my first three matches before I even realized that these enhanced mechanics existed, and I managed to still remain competitive. It just took things to the next level once I stumbled into trying these new tools.
A last notable addition this year would be the newfound focus on precision passing among teammates. When transitioning between players, it tends to be a bit more difficult to keep a handle on the rock. For example, when trying to settle a cross, it’s better to position the player’s body facing the direction that the pass is coming from, to better gain control and transition into a more aggressive offensive move. The one exception to this rule would have to be one-timers, which seem to take a bit more timing and focus in order to execute with both the laces and the faces. Ultimately this does result in the overall pace running a smidgen slower, but once again, it just feels more authentic this way.
Refinement Over Innovation
Much like last season, I fell into the never-ending time-suck of the single player career mode, “Become a Legend.” Though it lacks a vast majority of the cinematic flare pioneered by its competitor, PES 2020’s gameplay transfers over swimmingly well to the solo-centric experience. As I wound my way through the campaign I found myself wishing there was more direction and player customization. This is very much a meat and potatoes mode that revolves around the action on the pitch. While it may not be anything groundbreaking, it’s a damn fine way to burn several hours.
One of the biggest criticisms of the last outing was the lack of love being shown to Master League. There seems to be a larger emphasis on delivering a decidedly more cinematic experience this time around, while also giving players the tools to craft their own narrative. There are some interactive elements to these encounters, but they largely tended to be of little consequence in the broad scheme of things.
It was nice to see the mode venture outside of its traditional comfort zone, but I would’ve rather seen fewer narrative sequences, if the outcomes could’ve had more far-reaching impacts to a managerial career. This is absolutely a step in the right direction, but sadly it felt more like a baby step than a full-on sprint towards innovation. Thank Christ they did revamp the trade system though, because if that hadn’t happened there would’ve been riots in the streets.
A Yellow Card
An aspect of overall gameplay that could still use a bit more attention is the defensive side of the ball. Despite offensive players having an increasingly large footwork arsenal at their disposal, it feels like there isn’t any counter to these shenanigans on the defensive side of the ball. The key is to keep a defender’s butt between the ball and the goal and hope to god that they don’t get deked into oblivion.
Further compounding this defensive deficiency is another long-standing issue that has plagued the franchise: control shifting. For some reason it felt like roughly about a quarter of the time, when I hit the button to switch to the player closest to the ball, I would get someone other than the athlete I was expecting. Granted, this wasn’t enough of an impact that it cost me entire games, but it certainly cost me a goal or two. I’m sure that there isn’t any clear-cut way to resolve this issue in a concise way, as this feels like it’s a pretty subjective process, but if they can get it right three quarters of the time, surely there has to be a way to tighten up those percentages a bit more.
In many respects, playing eFootball Pro Evo Soccer 2020 felt like playing an outing from EA several seasons ago. And believe me when I say that this isn’t a dig at all. The overall pacing is slower than FIFA, but it wasn’t that long ago that I preferred this more deliberate style of gameplay. Increasing the focus on ball control and consistently maintaining possession at the team level further drives home this impression. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they’ve certainly made up enough ground to be able to stand toe-to-toe with the competition.
eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.