This year’s PES has admitted it’s not a full sequel but there are some changes to the gameplay – but is it enough to justify a purchase?
Sports games are having a tough time of it at the moment. With next gen gaming on the way, the likes of Madden NFL 21 and NBA 2K21 have massively underwhelmed with their last current gen release before the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X come out, whilst FIFA 21 will need to make big strides to avoid similar criticism.
EA and 2K Sports released the aforementioned titles with plenty of fanfare and a sizeable price tag to boot – making it difficult not to conclude that both publishers were taking their consumer base for a ride. Both scored poorly in our reviews for good reasons, they either lacked new features or the content within was so similar to last year’s edition that it seemed more like a patch than a brand new instalment.
There are caveats of course; we are living through a global pandemic and that has surely taken its toll on the development of games that need real innovation each year. Yet that should have been the basis for a more honest approach to this years’ releases.
And that’s why we begin this review commending Konami for what we feel is excellent expectation management.
eFootball PES 2021 Season Update is exactly what it says it is. In fact, it stays so true to its name that it’s hard to discern any real changes beyond the club transfers that have occurred in the past 12 months.
The important detail here is that Konami played this one as straight as they could. This transparency is welcome, particularly in a sector of the video games market that has been getting away with inadequate annual updates for far too long.
eFootball PES 2021 Season Update really is as close to a patch or annual update as you’re ever going to find. The title screen is different but the menus are identical, the user experience hasn’t changed at all, myClub is identical and so are the other modes. There really is little that gives you the sense that this is a new game, which in a perverse way is quite refreshing.
Of course rolling out what is effectively just an update will leave you open to criticism too, as problems that became apparent through the life cycle of PES 2020 largely still remain. Remember: this is a game we said was turning stale last year.
There is no other game in the sports market that needs an overhaul of its menus and design more desperately than PES. Navigating through the game is painful, the constant updates on the health of the game and online experience are valuable, in that nothing is hidden from the user, but they clog the screen and just get in the way.
PES has managed to get away with this because they were seen as quirky and charming aspects of a Japanese publisher wading into the world of football but that was the case in 2006. It’s 2020 now and all the poorly translated English phrases just make the game feel amateurish. Add to that the arduous nature of navigating the menus and you’re left with a pretty frustrating user experience.
Not far behind is the presentation and matchday experience, something that truthfully needs to be completely rebuilt. The commentary is so outdated now that it’s almost laughable. If you’re not hearing repetitive lines, you’re just not hearing much at all. Matches have regular spells of dead air that leave you wondering if the game has glitched out.
When Peter Drury or Jim Beglin finally emerge from the void it’s often to deliver a short generic burst of dialogue that doesn’t really tell you much more than what you’re seeing. Painted against the anecdotal commentary in 2K or Madden it makes you realise how far behind PES has fallen.
Crowd noise needs an overhaul too. There just isn’t the same dynamism as in FIFA and popular terrace chants are almost nowhere to be heard. It’s not the be all and end all but you’d hope next gen PES will be more layered and subsequently more engrossing.
Of course, gameplay is what we’re most interested in and there have been some noticeable tweaks, despite very few clues suggesting there would be pre-release.
PES 2020 played beautifully but there were a number of aggravating quirks that could spoil games, some of which appear to have been addressed in this year’s release. The first immediately obvious improvement is the responsiveness – everything from passing to dribbling feels tighter and more fluid, which compared to the occasionally sluggish moments in 2020 is very promising.
Advanced shooting remains tricky to perfect but so rewarding when you get it right. Finesse dribbling, now into its second year, has also received marked improvements that really takes it on from where it was last year. If, like us, you find a successful dribble almost as good as scoring a goal, this is the PES for you. The artificial intelligence is more susceptible to falling for one of the many skills pulled off on the right analogue stick and with a little work you’ll have an array of feints at your disposal. It just makes a football sim more fun.
The collision engine has also been fine tuned, leading to much more realistic outcomes when tackling or challenging a 50-50. After what feels like years of grumbles over how clunky and unpredictable it can be, this is welcome news.
We also have to commend Konami on the pricing structure, with eFootball PES 2021 Season Update coming in at an extremely fair £25 for the base game. Again, this shows a self-awareness and humility we’ve never really seen in the sport game realm.
Of course PES is almost online-only now, with Become A Legend and Master League falling by the wayside in recent years and although our feeling is that gameplay has improved, online still suffers from familiar issues. Some of the computer defending is woefully inadequate, whilst unexpected player switching can drive you insane when trying to defend.
There are still places for the offline gamer but myClub is where Konami has really staked its reputation over the last few years. Microtransactions exist but as has always been the case, the abundance of ways in which you can earn myClub coins still keeps PES in good credit.
The overriding feeling though is that PES just isn’t doing enough with what it has built. myClub is fun and has more layers than perhaps it was first given credit for – it is a legitimately good take on the Ultimate Team game modes that propelled EA into the stratosphere.
However, there’s just nowhere near the level of content that a mode like this should have. We said in our 2020 review that it was turning stale, and we’re now at the point where serious questions have to be asked.
There’s never been much in the way of competitions and challenges in myClub, on or offline, and when compared to EA and 2K it just looks embarrassing. There was literally no content on launch day either, which is hugely disappointing and just strange.
The bottom line is that PES is still the best football game around, which says as much about the competition as it does PES itself. For those yet to make the switch to PES, this will be worth every penny but for the hardcore fans there’s little here for you beyond updated players, kits, and transfers. The licensed clubs like Manchester United and Juventus still deliver a level of authenticity you can’t get elsewhere and you can’t argue with the £30 price tag.
Old problems feel all the more prominent now though and the onus really is on Konami to put their all into PES 2021. With the gameplay where it currently is all the foundations are in place for it to be the best football sim in decades. But they must take a sledgehammer to myClub and actually provide its userbase with something to do beyond the relatively mundane ranked online matches. All eyes therefore are on September 2021.
eFootball PES 2021 Season Update review
In Short: Nothing less or more than what was promised. Still the best football game around but its problems feel more glaring a year later.
Pros: Gameplay is responsive and fluid, whilst dribbling is more accessible and easier to pull off.
Cons: myClub desperately needs a reboot and the lack of content at launch is almost criminal. Presentation feels outdated now, it’s time for an overhaul.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Developer: PES Productions
Release Date: 15th September 2020
Age Rating: 3
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