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.
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.
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.