For what feels like the 629th time, EA and Konami go head to head on the football pitch, with FIFA 14 and PES 2014 being released within a few days of each other. A few years ago it was Pro Evo that was the thinking man’s football game, leaving FIFA feeling clunky, slow and unresponsive – it doesn’t feel all that long ago that I spent far too much time at uni playing early PES games with my mates long into the night.
But that was in 1999.
As if proof were needed just how much gaming can change in a decade, recent PES titles have been below par, with FIFA becoming the league leader and leaving PES in a relegation battle. But this year… promises were made, physics engines were updated, massive effort was made to close the gap and make PES a driving force in the football market. Has it succeeded? Read on…
Loading up each game for the first time tells its own story. If you don’t think first impressions count for anything, then try navigating the main menus of these two titles and see if your opinion is still the same. While FIFA recognises the current trend of laying things out using various sized tiles with clear text and bright, colourful imagery (which does at times make some options tricky to find), PES sticks with the same menu style that I was using several years ago. Pages of text menus, with very little to engage players looking for some excitement from the off.Â And it’s not just the menus – while both games ask you for your favourite club when you first put the disc in (and PES even going as far as narrowing it down to your favourite player) this only goes to highlight the difference a few licenses make. In FIFA, I happily selected Aston Villa, smiled at the official club crest and up to date kits (along with the classic ’82 strip) and stepped seamlessly into the main menu. Meanwhile, over on PES, I selected West Midlands Village, sighed at the plain kits with no sponsor and wondered exactly when Weimann developed ginger hair. For first impressions, it’s a resounding win for FIFA.
I’m not going to judge a game on its menu systems or first impressions, even if PES dropped seeds of doubt into my head within 60 seconds of opening the box. The last time I played a Pro Evo game it really wasn’t a fun experience, so I went for that first. A quick match between West Midlands Village and Yorkshire Orange seemed sensible (that’s Villa vs Hull in case you’re not sure) and after a bit of tinkering with my starting lineup I was ready to kick off. With a feeling of impending dread, the game kicked off and… actually… this isn’t all that bad. Passing seemed ok, the controls were identical to 15 years ago (which is a good thing, I still change FIFA’s controller mapping to suit my uni PES muscle memory) and the keepers didn’t appear to be utter morons. Player models are a bit wonky, and a lot of players don’t look too convincing (I struggled at times to tell the difference between Agbonlahor and Benteke, and Guzan was given hair, something that hasn’t existed for a few years) but the gameplay was much better than I remember. Free kicks and corners were fun too, with a preview path of the ball showing before you take the kick, giving you a rough (but not exact) idea of where your expertly taken set piece is about to end up. Not bad, not bad. But as we come to th end of this generation’s gaming, should we still be getting horrific slowdown during replays and cutaway moments? Should the game still freeze for half a second when the ball goes off the pitch? And although a few minutes of playing helped this feel more satisfying to play, it was also a little sludgy at times and felt a bit heavy. Wondering if I was looking for faults I finished a couple of games and swapped back to FIFA for my first games on EA’s effort.
Flicking through the massive number of fully licensed teams only goes further to emphasise the advantage EA have with their official team details. It’s a cosmetic difference essentially, but makes a sizeable difference. Again, I went for Villa vs Hull (except this time it was Villa vs Hull), picked the strips and got taken straight to one of FIFA’s now trademark mini-games. After knocking in a few penalties and getting a bronze medal, the game started with the TV style presentation we’ve come to expect from EA’s sporting titles. The preview clips shows me players I recognised – Brad Guzan didn’t have hair, Benteke looked like the beast that he is, and the rest of the squad just looked… right. Cosmetics Iain, cosmetics. It might still play like a dog’s dinner.
It didn’t. Even with PES feeling more fluid than it has for a while, the level of animation, extra movements and sharpness in FIFA’s gameplay made it feel like I was playing a game newer than I’d been on a few minutes before. Players felt more like their real life counterparts – quick players were noticeably more speedy when chasing long balls, powerful players like Benteke can hold the ball up or plough their way through challenges, and more skilful players were able to turn with a single silky touch, control long balls without the ball pinging off half way across the pitch and send long passes straight to the feet of a teammate. Conversely, players in the lower leagues struggled to consistently keep the ball under control and were easier to keep in check during attacking moves. While there was some distinction between good and poor players in PES, it didn’t seem so pronounced or accurate as in FIFA. One thing in PES’s favour is the new Heart system, giving players some character by altering their confidence depending on their performance. Miss a couple of sitters, or hoof a couple of passes out of play and they’ll lose heart and start making some sloppy mistakes until they build their confidence up. It’s subtle, but it’s still quite a cool idea. So in terms of gameplay it was a much closer call then I expected, and kudos to Konami for making marked improvements in the gameplay of PES, but my opening couple of matches just about went in FIFA’s favour. 2-0.
Head to page 2 to see how things stand up when we go a bit deeper…