'Pro Evolution Soccer' has a reputation as the game for the “football purist” and the 2020 edition only serves to enhance that lustre. This year’s iteration of Konami’s football sim is a noticeable improvement on last year’s offering, particularly on the pitch.
The pace of the game initially seems quite slow but after a match or two it becomes apparent that it’s a lot more realistic than previous years. The ball physics are quite impressive, not just because of the goals or passes but it comes into its own with pitch bobbles, mishits, and deflections. At no point do you feel like the ball is glued to your player’s foot (even if you’re playing as Lionel Messi or Eden Hazard) and that’s something to be celebrated. The ball is always there to be won which makes defending your goal immensely rewarding. There’s a noticeable crunch with some of the heavier tackles and, if you're a fan of a meaty challenge, pulling off a well-executed “man, ball & all” sliding tackle is most satisfying indeed.
Spacing really comes to the fore in 'eFootball PES 2020'. Having a good shooting angle is all well and good, but having defenders in close proximity can pressure the striker into misplacing their shot, rewarding those who work to create space. The pacier players (the likes of Mbappe, Aubameyang, and Daniel James) will sometimes struggle to engage that first burst of speed when defenders are close, but that makes it all the more exhilarating when you do work the space to your advantage. The crowd in the virtual stadium lifts as one when the likes of Paul Pogba, Ronaldo, or Mo Salah strides into open space bearing down on goal. Too many sporting games allow players to rely on the right analog stick as a skill/hit stick and while it certainly offers a creative outlet it’s not a necessity to score goals and win games.
The primary reason that most long-time 'FIFA' fans dismiss 'PES' is the prevalence (or lack thereof) of licensing. While Konami are still behind on the licensing front, this is their best year yet in terms of official partners and have added some real heavy hitters to their stable. Manchester United replace Liverpool FC as their banner team in England, while the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus add some European gravitas. The addition of Juventus is a particular coup as they have an exclusivity deal with the Turin giants, denying EA’s 'FIFA' series the use of the official team name.
As the official home of Euro 2020 and with many other leagues signed up to the Konami brand, 'eFootball PES 2020' is clearly focused on narrowing the licensing gap. The game has finally waved goodbye to the iconic London FC (Chelsea) and West London White (Spurs) naming conventions that have been so confusing in the past to a much more straightforward system. The customisation that 'eFootball PES 2020' offers shows that they’re very much aware that fans will adjust the teams to a more correct status and that they are willing to facilitate that rather than obstruct it. Catering to what the fans want is a big plus in my eyes.
The Master League is a familiar concept and has improved the negotiating process when signing players. You know what you’re getting with the Master League for the most part and it’s a great way of bringing your team to rub shoulders with the world elite (I’ve taken over Derby with a view to surpassing Lampard’s Chelsea side).
The popular myClub feature returns with significant improvements and you’re clearly encouraged to participate with top level players being dropped in your lap from the outset. Hazard, Messi, and (cough) Sami Khedira were added to my squad almost immediately which is certainly going to get me more interested in progressing further. The myClub feature of 'eFootball PES 2020' rewards patience in a more palatable way than Ultimate Team in 'FIFA', while micro-transactions are still a factor they don’t come across as sinister as EA’s system.
The new Matchday mode encourages fans to play for a chance to represent the team of their choice in weekly live-streamed finals, an eSports style concept which will be really intriguing to see develop over the course of a season.
All in all, it’s a really good football game and well worth your time.