Soccer season is in full flow already, and as such, Konami and EA have entered into its yearly competition. Konami’s output this year is the bizarrely rebranded eFootball PES 2020. With the unneeded name change, you’d perhaps expect a game that focuses more on its esports offerings than other areas of the game. This is true to some extent, but PES 2020 will feel very familiar to longtime PES players, for better and for worse. Little has changed over the last game aside from your usual array of tweaks and minor additions. The name change hasn’t brought with it any drastic changes either on or off the pitch. PES 2020 plays an utterly fantastic game of football, but not one that you haven’t experienced before.
PES 2020 Review | eXceptional Footwork
While not much has changed on the pitch in PES 2020 over PES 2019, it still plays just about the best game of football you can get without running to the park with a couple of jumpers for goal posts and a ball. The main new gameplay addition is the Finesse Dribble. It’s a fantastic new feature to the already exceptionally strong PES gameplay. With a flick, hold, and push of the right stick, you will be able to more easily outmaneuver your opponents and perform tricks. This is perfect for those situations where you find yourself surrounded by several different players. Or, it can be when you get your head around it.
This entry is not a game for the newcomers. It plays a relatively complex game of football over its competitors. Whether you are playing in a one-off match, tournament, Master League, Become a Legend, or the largely untouched, but still addictive myClub, there is a remarkable much depth to the PES 2020 gameplay.
PES 2020 lets you play your game however you want to, too. Passing and movement in the game is a joy and real highlight, with the fluid movement of attacking players benefiting from a huge variety of available passes and attacking options. If passing and moving isn’t your thing, the good ol’ lump ball tactic is alive and kicking in PES 2020, especially if you have a center back like Toby Alderweireld or David Luiz in your starting 11. This is an impressively realistic experience that’s not without its flaws, however.
PES 2020 Review | We’re off the ball
When you are on the ball, PES 2020 plays a ludicrously slick game of football. Off the ball, however, isn’t quite so pretty. Defending in PES 2020 is a chore. You’re made to work for everything. Sadly, your A.I. teammates aren’t up to the task. Often, I found that my teammates did not react to the ball when they should, often just standing there instead. This is a pain as it lets your opposition in to score and steal the ball time and time again, which is infuriating. While it appears realistic at times, moments like these swiftly remind you that you are playing a video game.
Tackling isn’t great, either. It’s far too easy to foul your opponent with the slightest touch, while sliding tackles feel slow and ungainly. It is difficult to pull off the tackles you want. You’ll find yourself pushing plenty of players over and cropping them when you thought you wouldn’t. Steer clear of sliding tackles in your box, as you will give away countless annoying penalties otherwise. When you do pull off a great piece of defending, however, it is rewarding. You will learn the timing of tackles better, but the trigger-happy and inconsistent referees won’t help you out; a sad, but true commitment to realism in that department.
PES 2020 Review | The beautiful game
Despite the odd frustrating moments that reminds you that you are playing a video game, PES 2020 does look as though you are watching a live football match. This is especially true of the new stadium camera angle. It can make shooting one-on-one from certain angles difficult, but it moves dynamically with the play, just as it does when you are watching on TV.
And it’s stunning every time. More than a few player likenesses are incredibly realistic, the player movement looks almost real, puffs of grass rip from the ground as you strike the ball, and the lighting is phenomenal, no matter the time of day the match is being played.
To make things even better this time around, Konami has stepped up with its licenses. It still lags massively behind FIFA in terms of the number of licenses, but PES 2020 is at its best when playing as a team such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich, or the fully-exclusive Juventus. The stadiums of teams such as these have been recreated in painstaking detail too, along with the kits and player likenesses. You’ll get better commentary, with team-exclusive lines to go along with the odd true-to-life chant from the crowds.
It’s an improvement over last year, but the match presentation in PES 2020 is disappointing. While these fully-licensed teams are great, they still lack in comparison to the partner clubs of FIFA. The crowds aren’t as lively, with less chanting and singing throughout. For the most part, every match feels the same in PES 2020, no matter the occasion or location. Part of the problem is dull and repetitive commentary. The number of times I heard about the number of fans turning up in their droves for such a momentous occasion (during bog-standard matches) was absurd.
Just as the matchday presentation is disappointing, the UI is, too. The menu design in the game is simple to a fault. During the new and slightly improved Master League, for example, you’ll lose track of what section of the menu you have highlighted. It takes a long time to locate simple things such as player records for your team, find the schedule, and to search for players to sign. In all modes, the menus are dull to look at and are not user-friendly. A more vibrant design to go along with the lively soundtrack would have given the game the presentation boost it deserves.
PES 2020 Review | masterful management
Although its menus are a pain to navigate, Master League remains as fun and addictive as ever. Although little of note has changed, the brand-new manager interactions are fun. As you begin a new Master League campaign, you’ll be given the choice of a selection of managers. Some are based on real-life managers, past and present like the likes of the late, great, Cruyff, Maradona, and Roberto Carlos. It’s odd but pleasing feeling to see different generations footballing legends on the sidelines, with the camera occasionally showing you their reactions to misses and quality goals.
Every now and then, too, the game will play a cutscene which shows your manager talking to members of the backroom staff or players about upcoming matches. You will have to give the odd press conference, too. Occasionally, you will need to answer questions on topics such as season expectations and why you lost an important match. In reality, your answers change little, but it is a nice touch nonetheless, putting you in more control as a manager than in previous installments.
PES 2020 Review | Hardly a drastic evolution
In truth, there isn’t too much different about this brave new era for PES. The rebranding to eFootball PES has not changed the way we play the game, and it looks and feels very familiar to what we’ve had for the last few years of this series. There is a brand-new online mode in the form of Matchday, but it offers little to the game. It works similarly to FIFA’s Weekend League, focusing on upcoming headline-grabbing games such as derbies and international matches, with great myClub rewards as its prize. It’s fun and pushes the esports angle a little harder, but it isn’t anything revolutionary.
Unfortunately, PES 2020 doesn’t feel like an evolution over 2019. It offers little in terms of new content and gameplay tweaks. Fans of the series will appreciate the Finesse Dribbling, manager interactions, and increased number of licenses, but you’ll find little to excite over what was already available in PES 2019. Despite it all, however, PES 2020 plays a glorious game of football that you won’t want to put down.