We're so used to the buzzwords and marketing terms publishers use to promote the new features coming to their annual sports games - especially football games - that it often seems like we've jotted them down before, and as such we rarely trust their supposed significance. And the same can be said about the real athletes advising them - did we ever feel their input in the final product? Keeping this in mind, we looked forward to maybe discovering something new and remarkable when we grabbed the controller ahead our time with this year's PES.
That being said, one positive thing about Konami and Pro Evolution Soccer is that every year, even though we completely ignore those PR buzzwords, we usually end up noticing a smoother, more natural response to our inputs. It's almost as if the 'tiki-taka' philosophy used by premium partner FC Barcelona had imprinted itself on the intentions of the Japanese developer. Season after season, PES offered the very best gameplay, and we were once again able to feel that natural touch in Los Angeles, this time during our first contact with eFootball PES 2020. Does Iniesta's advice and the introduction of 'finesse dribbling' make a significant impact?
Once again, we noticed better reactions from players, along with a more defined individual identity for the top players. Thanks to the new smooth movement system, they seem to behave in a more believable way, making for more fluid, connected passages of play. Their passes felt less rigid than last year, and their turns and runs were a bit more convincing. The ball is once again the protagonist, and in Tokyo, it has been treated with the same love as Oliver Atom inspired Iniesta back in the day.
The improvement in terms of the graphics helps as well. We're particularly happy with the enhanced lighting engine, which now makes for better shadows and a filler effect similar to ambient occlusion. It looks more realistic this way, with elements looking like they've actually been placed on the pitch. The turf that you play on has also been improved. This is without mentioning the kits and how the shirts move along with player animations, with a clothes model that PES has been crying out for and that looks to catch up with the already quality visuals for the players and their animations.
We played a couple of matches with two of the teams available in the E3 demo. Barça was featured along with Messi (as the new cover star), Iniesta (advisor and Legend), Ronaldinho (also showing off his own Legend skills), and even Johan Cruyff (introducing Legendary Coaches to Master League along with Maradona). Their opponents were the PES Legend Team, and as this collection of players were only going to be playable in LA, we grabbed them right away in our bid to be unstoppable. Just take a look at the lineup:
Oliver Kahn between the posts, with Matthäus, Vieira, Nevdéd, and Nakata forming the back line. Andrés Iniesta, David Beckham, and Francesco Totti sat in the midfield, and at the front there was Ronaldinho's magic together with Park Ji Sung and Batistuta playing as a number nine. We don't know if anyone will be able to assemble such a Dream Team on myClub in PES 2020, but it was enough to make us dream for just a short while.
As well-recreated as Ter Stegen, Piqué, Alba, Roberto, Messi, and Coutinho were, they could do little against our team for the ages. Batistuta was our absolute killer, scoring every now and then, but Iniesta also had a few of his classic goals. In fact, with both Iniesta and Ronaldinho we took the chance to touch the right stick to try out the 'finesse dribble' and the reaction we saw from the players was a pleasure to watch. You can tease your opponent even more if you cancel a shot (Square) or play a high ball (Circle) by pressing Triangle right before hitting the ball, turning your move into an unexpected pass (as long as you nail the timing, of course). Finally, we couldn't give Inspire a try, but this player feature allows teammates to take advantage of the inspiring star. With so many new attack combinations and possibilities, we'll have to see how easy it is to defend against real players...
Another welcome change is that there are new menus and a refreshed on-screen UI at last. Now everything is purple-coloured following the new eFootball PES 2020 branding, in a very clean contrast to the green. The screens are minimalist, and with big buttons and clearer text, the design finally looks it belongs on this console generation. On top of that, the in-game scoreboards and graphics are also TV-like, something that is perfectly in line with the new and realistic 'live broadcast' camera angle.
So, after scoring a bunch of goals with the Legend Team, we left our first encounter with PES 2020 quite happy, having had just about the most fun we'd had at E3 up until that point. A more advanced build will arrive in the demo on July 30 so that you can all play it for yourselves, including the Edit Mode for the first time in a demo. Considering our impressions, and if they can get rid of any trace of potential 'scripting' in the final product when it releases in September, we're not worried in terms of gameplay. However, we'll have to assess how it evolves in terms of both matchmaking and licenses when compared to its predecessor as we try to work out whether eFootball PES 2020 will be able to expand beyond the limits of the game's current, passionate community of fans.