We’re in September, the season has started and we’re feeling how we do each year at this time; we want a football game to play as we follow our favourite teams. eFootball PES 2020 (we’ll be referring to it as PES 2020 to avoid exhaustion!), is the first football title to be released for the 19/20 season and from a personal point of view, a very anticipated title. Konami promised big changes for Master League this year and that’s the mode I fell in love with as a teenager. Alongside that we were expecting improvements to MyClub and the general gameplay experience. Does PES 2020 live up to its fanbases incredibly high expectations though?
Unfortunately none of the online modes are playable as of yet due to the servers not being available, so we’ll have to completely skip that part of the review for now and come back to it post-launch.
Let’s begin with the obvious – the game looks incredible. Konami continue to do a fantastic job making this look like the most realistic football game you’ll ever play. Stadiums are perfect, player faces are just stunning to the point you can hardly tell it’s been created in game and not just a photo. However, I will say this: while the best faces are amazing, the worst faces are horrendous and I don’t even mean the faces that are generic builds, I mean the faces that were done years ago and haven’t been touched since. I would be happy for Konami to take a break from updating the best players next year if it meant they gave other faces more attention to bring the average up to the rest of the insanely great face builds. Player models look a bit disjointed though. Body shapes look unrealistic with some looking like they are just out of shape. It’s not a stretch to say the models were better in 2019.
Right, let’s get onto how the game actually plays. Have you ever heard of a game of two halves? This is kind of like that. Let’s start with the good half. Half of the time I’m experiencing a weighted pace of play, with sharp passing and shooting that requires timing and precision. I really enjoy the general pace of the game. It allows you to really build attacks, play the ball and not just play ping pong football. I will say that 2019 did this well for me too but I believe 2020 to be slower. I’ll also answer the question, “Has the game been sped up since the demo?”. It does feel ever so slightly faster in my eyes, however it’s very marginal and I could be wrong (plus we don’t have any numbers to back this up).
Passing is unforgiving in 2020. The default passing settings feel closer to manual shooting than they have previously. As long as you make the effort to make sure you’re aiming your pass/cross in the direction you want, then you’ll be fine. However, if you pass the ball aimlessly you’ll be guaranteed to lose possession or to make a pass you didn’t intend to. The same goes for shooting. I’ve found many shots being hit right at the keeper because I’ve not focused on where I want the ball to go, I just shoot. This took a lot of getting used to for me and I’m still struggling to score because of it, but that is a skill issue as opposed to an issue with the game. Defending feels very similar to 2019 currently. I haven’t felt the need to adjust how I play compared to last year’s title. I wouldn’t necessarily say this was a bad thing, but I would love to see Konami come up with some new innovations to defending as it’s definitely part of the game that feels a bit neglected.
Aside from the above, the game generally feels the same as 2019. The first touch system feels good when it comes off and set pieces are unchanged. Overall when the game is at its best, it’s a really solid game of football.
Right. Now the bad half… I’ve been wrecked with what I can only imagine are bugs and glitches in the game. This has made playing matches ridiculously frustrating. While going through my Master League I recorded things that happened and the list includes the following: the ball going in three different directions while ping ponging off of my player’s chest; while I was on a counter attack one of my wingers decided to just not run, stand still and then once I was in a far worse position because I didn’t have support, started running again; fouls being given that were very clearly NOT fouls and then the classic, my player deciding to stop or just allow the ball to pass them as it was coming to their feet. I’ve also been having issues with opposition players catching up with me or tackling my players based on the fact my players are taking so long to finish their animations.
When I am having these problems I cannot even begin to explain how frustrated I become because it genuinely feels like the game is out of my hands. And what’s even more frustrating is that when I am not having the problems I enjoy playing the game! It has been really prevalent in Master League especially for me, playing game after game has felt like a massive chore because I’ve not felt confident the game wouldn’t throw some of these issues my way, disrupting my play and preventing me from winning. For context, I’ve been playing on Super Star, have drawn 3 games and lost 7 in the league as Manchester United. In 2019 I was more than capable of winning league games against the lower sides and managed to play out wins vs the bigger sides too. In none of these games have I felt like I have fairly lost which is what drives the frustration.
A small caveat to the above, Konami have promised updates to the game on 10th and 12th September (launch day when you’ll likely be reading this and a few days after). I will say also, most of the issues described above are not covered in the fix notes, bar referees and fouls. We will be revisiting Offline play after those updates to see if the game feels improved from a bug stand point.
Menus are changed up completely and the main UI is much simpler than 2019. Everything is on one screen now and much easier to navigate. It’s still not as good as it could be, but last year’s menus took forever to navigate and were unnecessary, so I welcome the change.
The last thing I will touch on for now is Master League, mainly because none of the other offline modes are any different from previous years.
Master League has seen some changes in a fair few ways. Instead of creating your face build for the Master League manager selection it now has some “generic” built options which you can change the name and nationality of, as well as the legends that have been advertised. While the addition of the legends is great (it’s a fantastic selection), the generic builds are generally old men with a couple of younger options to pick from, who I didn’t feel reflected how I looked at all. Women were noticeably absent as well. This is something I’d love to see remedied in 2021 as EA are hot with this kind of stuff.
There is now more in-depth control over the stating budgets, transfer frequency and transfer difficulty. You can choose how incoming currency is used as well, whether it goes to the players’ salaries or into your transfer budget, as well as deciding how contract options (games won/goals scored/clean sheets) are paid out. It’s great to see slightly more depth in these kind of decisions.
There are a lot of new cut scenes, a few of which are unnecessary, and then there are some fun ones. You make “choices” in these scenes but they don’t seem to actually effect anything in the game. It would have been really great to see these choices affect your expectations from the board/fans and morale of the players like it does in Football Manager, for example. While that’s disappointing, the hope is now that Konami continue to build upon what they have input this year, as it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
Master League largely felt the same, but with some quality of life changes needed. Little things like notifications of transfer negotiation changes are now gone and you need to check the right tab when the little circle is above it.
The overall feeling in my PES 2019 review was that Konami needed to improve things off the pitch without compromising the on-field action. Sadly, the launch build of PES 2020 has somehow managed to achieve almost the opposite. A series of AI issues, gameplay bugs and glitches raise their head to create borderline unplayable situations during games. At one point, one of my central defenders was stuck up front, and I was somewhat brutally punished for it by the AI. No matter what I tried, I could not get them back into their actual position. Animations, one of the key areas that I gave a ton of praise after the early preview event, seem to almost trip over themselves and cause some serious issues with your computer controlled players, often preventing them from making the runs into space that you’d expect them to. If you do get lucky and a player has made a run, by the time the animation has completed to trap the ball, or even turn, you’re swamped by defenders around 80% of the time. If you play with a team with any semblance of pace whatsoever, you’re going to find it really tricky to get a shot off.
The most frustrating thing about the current build of the game (which is full retail code) is that it’s just so different to the preview build we played. At that event, everything felt fluid, smooth and perfectly paced. Here, while the pacing is mostly fine, everything around it conspires to make it frustrating at best, and outright anger-inducing at its worst. Defenders ignore through-balls that are coming right at them, wingers let balls go out for throw-ins that should be easily kept in play, and the referees are so twitchy when it comes to your tackling that you’re going to be giving away fouls on a frequency that I haven’t seen since PES5.
On the plus side, the licensing team is clearly hard at work doing what they can to get a grip on anything that slips through EA’s fingers, and doing a bang-up job of recreating things in the game. Chelsea Dagger is appropriately loud when it belts out after Juve nab a goal at home, and the atmosphere is, for the most part, getting better each year with PES. And yes, the menus look a lot better this year as well.
The game is fixable, because I’ve played a much, much better version of it. But right now, PES 2020 feels broken.