As sure as death and taxes, the biggest sporting (video game) rivalry returns for yet another year, as FIFA takes on PES.
This year, Pro Evo goes by the alternative name of eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020, although most fans are calling it PES 2020.
With that name, the franchise also gets arguably more important additions. For one, Juventus are exclusively in PES 2020 which means the Italian champions won’t be found in EA’s FIFA title this year. It’s a black eye for EA’s monopoly on licensing, and it doesn’t end there. PES 2020 is also focusing on Euro 2020 next year when that competition rolls around, so the future looks rosy for the newly renamed franchise.
On the pitch, things might just be better than ever. Perhaps owing to the smaller numbers of players compared to its chief rival, every player feels unique in PES 2020. This isn’t just a stats game – each of these attributes feels game-changing. Whether its Alexandre Lacazette’s low centre of gravity or Harry Kane’s powerful shooting, each small animation feels like it feeds into the controller, and each press or directional push on the stick dictates play right back.
Last year’s Pro Evo made some excellent strides in attacking movement, and this seems to have been taken to the next level with PES 2020. Game management is key, and knowing when to press and when to stand off players, or when to push full-backs forward and when to build from the back, is just as key as an inch-perfect cross or a deftly executed finish.
Those finishes aren’t as cut and dry as they have been in football games of yore. Playing out like a Sunday morning sports bloopers reel is the new “miss-kicks” mechanic. Go for a shot when your player isn’t ready and they might shank it wide, blaze over, or even gift possession to an opponent. It’s the kind of thing that puts an end to spamming shots, almost goading players into making sure their angles are covered. Admittedly, this could’ve been horrendous, but it actually adds to the realism of the game – how many times have you heard a commentator say “it was easier to score” in an actual match, as your team’s striker hangs their hand in shame?
On the subject of commentary, this is where Pro Evo 2020 lets the team down. It walks the line between comical and farcical within seconds, with some of Peter Drury’s louder moments feeling almost aggressive in tone while Jim Beglin offers banal platitudes as he tiptoes around team names that the game doesn’t have licenses for. As an example, it feels strange to hear build-up about the North London Derby when only Arsenal can be mentioned by name, and while Spurs players can still be discussed, no context is given from a team perspective.
On the plus side, the new Stadium camera is delightful. Acting as a broadcast-style perspective, it ebbs and flows, moving from one end of the pitch to the other with grace. Of course, it takes some getting used to, but time spent adjusting to the little nuances pays dividends.
It also goes without saying that the stadiums that are licensed, such as Old Trafford or the Allianz Arena, absolutely thrum with vocal fans and small visual details. Players look close to PES 2019’s level of intricacy, but that’s no bad thing – elements like Aubameyang’s hairstyle or Granit Xhaka’s vacant expression when he gives away yet another penalty feel nailed on.
While PES 2020 may not offer the raft of game modes seen in other sports titles, what’s here has been shaken up impressively. Master League now has cutscenes, lending the previously menu-focused affair some much-needed personality, while the transfer system has been tweaked to allow for more realistic movements between clubs. The mode still feels constrained by relying on players being reborn as youngsters, rather than a fresh influx of random players, but it remains a fun mode to sink your teeth into.
MyClub feels identical to last year’s iteration, as does “Become A Legend” which continues to suffer from a lack of available teams. Earning your stripes as Southend United’s back-up right-back before making it big in the Premier League is a dream only achievable in FIFA for now.
In this year of evolution over revolution, it seems disappointing to have so many outdated squads. Logging in to find Eden Hazard still at Chelsea, no Nicolas Pepe at Arsenal and Lo Celso missing from the Spurs squad is a tough pill to swallow. This will no doubt be patched, but considering many naysayers would argue that sports games are a simple roster update it seems ironic that this was completely missed.
eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 (phew) is a great sports game that’s beginning to creak. Its on-the-pitch gameplay remains superb, but everything off of it (despite the new licences) feels harder to look past. Here’s hoping for a next-gen shake-up.