Dominating the football simulation genre on console and returning to the top of their game has been the goal for Konami’s PES series for years now, with them edging ever closer to this as each new yearly instalment arrives. Looking to make a bold statement, the latest offering brings in a new era with a slight name change to eFootball PES 2020 and displays a clear commitment towards getting the biggest names involved on the licensing side. Will the other aspects, such as the gameplay and the selection of game modes present, help to provide the ultimate football experience?
Where to begin with eFootball PES 2020… or simply PES 2020 as almost everyone will still continue to call it. Let’s start with the star of the show, the gameplay. From the moment the referee blows that whistle to kick off, until the 90 minutes are up, you’ll be encapsulated in one of the most realistic representations of the beautiful game. Everything is fluid, movement is smooth, first touches are exquisite and anyone trying to ‘ping-pong’ pass will come undone in an instant. PES 2020 is about build-up play, counter-attacks and generally waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Truth be told, it’s brilliant in that sense.
One of the key new features is in regards the dribbling, with the finest of movements being able to be made. Just imagine running at a defender and moving the ball ever so slightly out of the way of their attempted tackle to win a free-kick, or pulling off a nutmeg on whoever’s marking you before facing up to the goalkeeper and sliding the ball past him for a goal. It feels damn good, especially in tandem with the already glorious control you have over player movements and body shifting. What’s even better is that just like skill manoeuvres, it won’t be easy for everyone to perform such things and only with practice will players become masterful at it – this prevents the match turning into a circus act.
Everything good that happens in your favour during a match will feel as if it’s well-earned, with very little room for fluking it. This is never more apparent than when passing and shooting because rushing either action, particularly whilst off-balance, tussling or facing away from the intended target, will most likely end up going wayward. It also encourages you to utilise the strengths of your players and avoid getting into situations that expose weaknesses. For example, with someone like Romelu Lukaku, holding off a defender and powering through is a viable option, whereas Jesse Lingard would be shoved away from the ball far easier, so it’s beneficial to keep him out of a shoulder to shoulder challenge. The same physicality awareness is greatly used for incoming aerial balls too.
There are a couple of niggling gameplay issues that have caught my eye though, with the weirdest occurrences seeing players failing to lock-on to a loose ball, standing docile as it rolls past. The same problem sometimes arises after a great tackle and rather than retain possession of the ball, they stay still and allow time for the opposition to get up, often leading to them regaining it. Also, as much as I love the shooting mechanics, the ball does tend to be a tad float-y when struck with any real power in open play. Fortunately, none of these issues are overly detrimental, with the locking-on predicament happening infrequently.
Brace yourself for some gloomier news though, as the gameplay takes a significant hit when you venture into the online realm. For all the good work in PES 2019 to ensure the difference between offline and online experience is minimal, PES 2020 appears to undo that progress. The easiest way to describe the difference is to suggest that offline is akin to vintage Barcelona, whilst the online side of proceedings is similar to Stoke City. It’s rather sluggish and that interrupts the entire flow of each match, leading to a much less enjoyable game. There are lots of moments when the visuals judder as well; almost as if the Xbox One X cannot cope with everything that’s unfolding before your very eyes.
Moving on to the game modes and there’s actually only one new mode in PES 2020, Matchday. Every day, players can compete online in 1vs1 matches and earn points for one of two featured sides that week – currently it’s Milan versus Inter. Participating garners rewards for use in myClub, but whether or not you’ll find an opponent is anyone’s guess. The problem here is that the competition window is only open for a few hours and even on launch week, there aren’t many people taking part. On paper, it’s a decent idea, however after only successfully finding a single opponent from cumulative hours of searching, something needs to change.
I believe PES 2020 is lacking all-round where the online population is concerned to be quite frank, because it’s also tricky to find a match in other areas of the in-game eFootball category of modes. As an advocate for co-op gaming, there’s nothing more disappointing than wanting a 3vs3 and ending up in a 3vs3 consisting of only one human on each team, with the rest being bots. The Online Divisions offering will have you waiting around in matchmaking too, so you’ll need to have plenty of patience. Don’t even think about Teamplay lobbies though as there’s seldom anyone in there, which limits your online options significantly.
That leaves you with Master League, Become a Legend and myClub to get stuck into, which always provide plenty of depth. Master League sees you taking over a team in the hopes of leading them to glory, managing contracts and transfers, setting the training schedules and deciding who gets promoted from the youth team. It’s great to witness the players developing as the season unfolds and you can spend hours and hours of enjoyment in Master League, but there are no worthwhile additions. The cutscenes are bland and repetitive, whilst the new dialogue choices don’t deliver an obvious consequence and seem pointless.
For those who simply prefer to turn themselves into a superstar, Become a Legend is ready to throw you into the action as a sole player. Starting out as low-rated character, the aim is to make every minute on the pitch count; putting in good performances to ensure the coach picks you for the next game. As you grow as a player, the national team may come calling and a move to one of the best clubs in the world could be on the cards. Again though, I had a very similar experience in previous instalments of PES and it’s almost as if they’ve run out of ideas for Become a Legend.
The same can be said for myClub – essentially the PES version of Ultimate Team – the mode in which you build a dream team by earning currency, signing new players and coveting the many special upgraded versions of those players who are performing to a high standard in reality. Despite the choice to play against the A.I. or humans in 1vs1 and 3vs3 matches, there’s nothing I haven’t seen before. It’s fun, don’t be mistaken on that, however the acquisition of top players is far too easy and will limit longevity in my opinion. For example, without investing a load of time, my team was soon comprised of a 94 rated Kane and a 91 rated Wijnaldum, alongside the likes of Alderweireld, Ter Stegen, Gimenez and more.
Aside from those meaty modes, the only ones left to discover are the standard Kick Off types which basically include normal versus matches, regular leagues, tournaments and training mini-games. These are ideal options for people short on time or just wanting to play with or against a few mates locally. The training is as important as ever to get a feel of the way the new mechanics work and how set pieces differ slightly.
Visually, the player models are great for the teams that Konami have partnered with and the likeness, including the atmospheres, within the famous grounds such as Old Trafford are captured well too. The only complaint is that it’s rather obvious which players have been neglected outside of the big names as a fair few look bloody awful. In regards the audio, and apart from the monotonous commentary, credit must be given for the indie-fuelled soundtrack that gets better with each listen.
eFootball PES 2020 is a brilliant game offline that delivers plenty to do and exciting gameplay to be enjoyed. If it’s to be judged solely on playing against the A.I. and friends locally, PES 2020 on Xbox One is a must have. Sadly for Konami, the online side presents a slight dip in quality and the constant waiting to find a match is a pain, especially for the new Matchday mode. It’s also disappointing that the game modes that are synonymous with the series haven’t noticeably evolved.
Still, eFootball PES 2020 is worth a purchase if you’re the type of gamer who appreciates the purest form of football over fancy gimmicks.