Konami puts a focus on gameplay and esports, but lacks a lot of anything else with its latest football title.
Note: This is the final review of eFootball PES 2020, after we shared our review in progress earlier this week, which has since been taken down.
It's quite clear which path Konami is choosing with this year's iteration of their Pro Evolution Soccer franchise. By putting "eFootball" in the title of its latest game - up until now named simply PES each year - its ambitions to take PES 2020 into the esports scene seem evident, but what does this actually mean for a game which is competing with EA Sports' FIFA on multiple levels? This year it is more important than ever to ask yourself what you value most in a football game.
It's safe to say that eFootball PES 2020 can easily be called the best Pro Evolution Soccer game we've ever played, which is mostly owing to multiple smaller adjustments and improvements to the gameplay, as the developer has been elevating it year by year. This could also have been said last year, but it's now truer than ever. First and foremost this means we get to play a game which recreates real football, more so than any other football simulation has ever done, building upon the foundations from prior years.
This is an ad:
Right from the start you'll notice miss-kicks occurring more often than ever before, however. Positioning your body, and even using the correct foot when receiving or passing the ball, plays a crucial role in passing the ball around. Whereas in previous PES games you could have your back turned to a teammate on the receiving end of a pass, this year attempting to kick the ball in a completely different direction to where the body is facing will result in bad or slow passes - providing the opposing team with a chance to take control.
These miss-kicks and moments of losing control also happen more often when dribbling at speed or attempting to kick the ball before fully controlling it. This is obviously also dependent on the skills and assets of the player you're controlling, as a one-touch through-ball will have more chance of landing in the right feet from Lionel Messi than from Harry Maguire (both, like most other players and stadiums, look fantastic in eFootball PES 2020). It takes some time to get used to, but eventually makes for a much better game.
This realism is also helped by lots of other small adjustments. There's more variety in trapping the ball, not only in the animations but also by streamlining the controls, which for example allow you by simply holding the right trigger to let the ball roll without touching it - perfect for keeping your opponents on their toes. The extra animations do however have a big impact on the physical game on the pitch, giving strikers the tools to hold up play and allowing other players to connect, just like we see all the time on the telly. These improvements also pass over to the other side of the pitch. Defenders can tackle in different directions, pull shirts, and clear the ball in more ways (including using some amazing headers). As a last-ditch effort there's even the option to perform an Intentional Foul to save the day. This likewise applies to the goalkeepers, who feel more reliable and have more instruments to handle dangerous situations and to make saves.
This is an ad:
Konami also boldly introduces a new camera view as the standard choice in eFootball PES 2020; a Stadium View. This takes some time to get used to and actually makes players on the far side of the pitch fairly hard to see, especially when you're trying to make perfect tackle or dribble past an opposing player, which requires you to move physically closer to the action (we've been playing on a 55-inch screen). It won't be ideal for everyone, and will surely pursue players to change it back to the familiar Dynamic View, but it does make the action look better, and more like watching a real match. On top of that, it will also make watching esports matches a lot more attractive, so Konami's choice in this is sensible.
When playing against the CPU, however, we still get to see some minor slipups. Like last year the AI gets caught in a lot of ball watching, not letting the closest or most logical player pick up a loose ball. Luckily these are few and far between. There are some small improvements though, which contribute to the overall realism. If you're playing with partner club Manchester United (which is one of almost 20 partner clubs included; as well as 10 smaller licensed leagues), and Rashford scored two goals in the first half, the AI will activate a Tight Marking strategy to keep this specific player in rein, which even commentators Peter Drury and Jim Beglin note. Speaking of, the commentary is almost the same as last year and once again a repetitive disappointment.
Thereby we get to the Master League, one of the few offline options you can dig into, and Konami even called "Remastered" this year. Not much has actually changed in the Master League though. Yes, we have some added cinematics; multiple answers for the press, players, and club management; and a bunch of famous former players/coachs (from Diego Maradona to Roberto Carlos and Zico), but nothing has really been done to really improve Master League - it's the same as many years ago. The cinematics - wherein you get to see press conferences, meetings, new players signings, and pep talks before the match - look and feel as if they're from the last console generation, and don't even come close to anything EA Sports or 2K Games has been doing with their exiting sport narratives for the last couple of years.
Next to the close-to-perfect gameplay, Konami isn't providing much else offline for its players with eFootball 2020. There's local, co-op, cup, and league matches, as well as Master League and Become a Legend (which is the same as last year), and that's it. It's like watching the European Qualifiers for UEFA Euro 2020 (which, by the way, will be added as free DLC in Q2 next year) without the usage of the VAR, which would be perfectly fine last year but now feels like it belongs to a different era.
And that's where we find MyClub, the most popular mode in PES for the last few years. It's frankly also the same as before and allows you to build a team with the best players you can assemble. This is either done by spending GP or MyClub Coins, both of which can be earned by completing tasks, such as taking part in a Challenge Cup or winning matches. MyClub Coins can also be bought with real money, but the balance here is excellent and allows you to gradually build a squad just by playing, from ranked to co-op, simulated, or vs com matches. It doesn't feel you need to spend any extra money to enjoy myClub, and in the mode itself there are small adjustments and improvements, such as a more detailed player stats and the option the use unique kits as your third or fourth kit.
Konami's also added a new mode called Matchday, which consists of recurring events linked to real-life derbies and international matches. These can be played by everyone and will grant lofty rewards for MyClub. Here you can pick a side to work for with others to gradually build an advantage towards the Grand Final of each event. All the matches will be analysed to find the best performing user from both sides, who are selected as Representatives and earn the right to compete in the Grand Final on behalf of their team. Both sides, either winning or losing, will gain rewards from this, even for watching the livestream of the Grand Final. Match Day adds a certain presence to the online side of eFootball PES 2020, which makes it feel a little more like a busy community, which is the first online step forward for Konami. Luckily playing online also works like a charm, with servers working just fine and matchmaking being on point.
There's a lot of fun to be found online in eFootball PES 2020. Be it a Quick Match, climbing through the ranks in Divisions, building your dream team in MyClub, earning rewards in Matchday, or playing Co-op with friends or random strangers. In a way it makes up for the lack of content eFootball PES 2020 is missing offline.
Nevertheless Konami puts gameplay first, although it will take some years before it will even come anywhere close to adding modes which could compete with or provide a similar experience as FIFA's The Journey or Volta. What is does provide is some of the best digital football you can play at home, with friends or online - and isn't that what matters most?
Once again, this is our final review, an updated version of our earlier review in progress, based on eFootball PES 2020 with the latest patches, transfer update, and online modes.
8 / 10
Gameplay is better than ever, Animations and players look the part, Match Day adds online presence.
Lacking in content, variation, and innovation, CPU can be caught ball-watching at times.