eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 Review — Premier League Gameplay Wrapped Up in a League Two Package
PES 2020 is a gorgeous, curling free-kick from the legendary boot of David Beckham that just misses the top right corner as time expires.
eFootball PES 2020
Xbox One, PC
Review copy provided by the publisher
The score sits at a 1-1 deadlock as we move into the 80th minute. My recently promoted Paris F.C. side is somehow staying with Ligue 1 titans Paris Saint-Germain. Newly acquired winger Moussa Diaby takes the ball up PSG’s flank, using his world-class pace to beat Thomas Meunier down the field. I’ve recently been training him as a “prolific crosser”, and my striker is quickly moving through the center of the box, waiting for that perfect pass. I send it in, but Thiago Silva out jumps my player and wins the ball.
PSG pushes it up the field, quickly getting the ball to Neymar in the final third. My defense tries to hold on for the last few minutes and preserve a draw, but my right-back’s A.I. decides now is the time to just waltz away from a streaking Kylian Mbappe. Neymar plays the ball in perfectly and Mbappe finishes like the star youngster he is. It’s moments like these that perfectly illustrate how great eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 can be, while at the same time shooting itself in the foot with questionable decisions.
Make no mistake, PES 2020‘s on-field product is absolutely quality with the ball at your feet. If you’re a FIFA convert, it may take some time to get used to the slower pace of PES. However, once it clicks, the game handles beautifully (for the most part). By slowing the game down, PES gets away from the ping-pong arcade-style that FIFA often devolves into. Instead, the game becomes one that prioritizes positioning and tactics.
Finding space is one of the most important things a player can do in PES. Fortunately, the A.I. is usually good at this, and certain players will actually make those around them better. For instance, someone like Lionel Messi can “inspire” his teammates to believe he’ll find them with through-balls. This means they’ll make runs for him that open up the defense in ways that other players can’t. Even non-Argentinian superstars have abilities to help them find the space they need.
“Make no mistake, PES 2020‘s on-field product is absolutely quality.”
This season, Konami has added several tools you’ll need to incorporate into your skillset. The first is the new finesse dribbling that the team implemented with the help of Andres Iniesta. I have yet to master the intricacies of the system, but some of the skill I’ve seen in online games has left my jaw on the floor. Even for mere mortals like myself, the finesse dribble is effective at creating space to get off a shot or pass. I may not be able to get around my defender with ease, but I can use a quick flick of the right stick to grab that foot of space I need to get off a shot.
Another welcome addition is the context-sensitive kick accuracy on shots and passes. It really comes in handy when you’re on the counterattack and working to get a man in behind the defense. If you can properly time that through-ball, you’ll find yourself in a winnable 1v1 against the keeper. These situations don’t happen often, but when executed well, they are thrilling to pull off.
PES 2020 also forces you to be more mindful of your use of the sprint button. Instead of just constantly hammering it down and charging over the field, it’ll serve you much better if you only use it when you need it. Double-tapping the left trigger to dart past a defender with your pacey winger is one of my favorite tactics for getting into a scoring position.
Greatly improved ball physics complement all of these gameplay additions and tweaks to make a total package. The ball does not feel magnetized to the players’ feet. That means a missed pass will result in a 50/50 ball that could result in a physical collision. It also means even the best cross can be punted into the stands if your positioning isn’t on point. The ball doesn’t magically travel to the correct player. You have to put it there. PES 2020 asks a lot of you on the pitch, but those that dive in, ready to learn, will experience some of the most rewarding soccer there is.
“…you’d think (the ball) was infected with the Bubonic Plague given how quickly my defense tries to get away from it.”
That said, as near-perfect as the game on the field can be at times, it can feel equally busted at others. Because the ball isn’t magnetized to a player’s feet, your A.I. defenders will often just let it roll past them. At first, I thought this was just because I had started off on lower difficulties, but even when I bumped it up, there were a number of balls that just rolled through my defense. It’s so odd. The ball will literally trickle three feet in front of them, but you’d think it was infected with the Bubonic Plague given how quickly my defense tries to get away from it.
The weird goings-on doesn’t stop there, unfortunately. PES 2020 has maybe worse referees than the ones NFL fans experienced during the 2012 referee lockout. Seriously, I was playing an online game and absolutely barreled over the other player. It was clear foul and led to a goal that very much should not have counted. The ref did nothing. Next play, I lightly clipped an opposing player’s toenail and saw a yellow card.
It’s so inconsistent with what is and isn’t’ a foul that, for the first time, I’m actively pining for VAR. A defender will literally mug an opponent, steal his wallet, kick him in the groin, and take his girlfriend, and the ref is like “fair play, lad.” Two minutes later, a mid-fielder tickles a winger, and the ref sends him off with his second yellow. It really hurts the realism the rest of the game does a good job of creating and takes you out of the experience.
This strange sequence of incredible and putrid continues off the field and into the modes. I’ll start with Master League as it’s the one that saw the most updates in the off-season. The biggest addition here is likely the dynamic cutscenes Konami has added. While these unvoiced scenes are a nice touch, they don’t add much of substance to the game. It does make big games feel a bit more important but overall these feel like a missed opportunity.
In adding these cutscenes, they’ve taken away your ability to customize your manager. Instead, you can select soccer legends like Diego Maradona or Johan Cruyff to be your avatar. It’s neat to see these world-class managers in-game so often; however, I would think that limiting the manager options would lead to voiced characters. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
That said, Master League is mostly great. You have plenty of options for customization, including the ability to set your initial transfer budget at different levels. I liked this quite a bit as it let me play one save like I was a Qatari oil baron with billions of dollars in my pockets and another where I was scrimping and saving to afford even the worst players in English soccer. The transfer fees also feel much more realistic than they have in the past. However, the computer still makes worrying decisions during the transfer window, hamstringing their team in the process.
There is a ton of information at your disposal in Master League. However, finding it can prove difficult. It took me two seasons to figure out to set a secondary lineup sheet because the UI buried it under three menus. Once you tease out the mode’s intricacies, it has everything you’d want. Well, almost everything.
Konami’s continued take on regen players will undoubtedly frustrate veteran PES players. When a player retires, you’ll eventually see his exact name and model pop back up in the player pool as a fresh-faced youngster. Personally, I’ve never been that turned off by it, but I know quite a few players who absolutely hate it.
The other main mode is myClub, which is Konami’s take on FIFA Ultimate Team. Here, you’ll open card packs to try and get a starting XI full of superstars. PES makes it much easier to get a great squad than FIFA, but the concerns about microtransactions are still here. I also had a major problem of being unable to find a competitive match in a reasonable timeframe. Across the game, I was left waiting for what felt like forever as the game tried to matchmake me. PES 2020 doesn’t have dedicated servers, and it shows in the early days of the game. Hopefully, as the game becomes more populated, this problem goes away, but for now, I don’t know how often I’ll go back to the game’s online modes.
Everything else is much the same. Become a Legend lets you create a character and turn him into a star. It’s a basic player career mode, and the most exciting thing I can say about it is that the character creator is tons of fun to mess with. The new Matchday mode seems fun, but, again, I struggled to find an online match, so I wasn’t able to really get into it. Hopefully, they work out the kinks soon, so I can give it a go.
And, of course, we can’t finish this review without talking about the eternal license battle PES and FIFA are fighting. If you’re looking for the game with the most leagues and players, FIFA is the place to go. However, PES lets you edit almost everything, and intrepid players on the internet have created option files that let you easily import in nearly everything the game doesn’t have. Is it a perfect fix? Absolutely not, but I’d rather have the option to import in the Bundesliga than be permanently stuck playing with Piemonte Calcio instead of Juventus.
“On the one hand, it takes everything I don’t like about FIFA and improves it.”
PES 2020 is an odd case. On the one hand, it takes everything I don’t like about FIFA and improves it. The on-field product is light years ahead of its EA counterpart. There are neat touches like being able to import legends like David Beckham from myClub into Master League or saving your Master League team and using them in pick-up games. I love how PES handles player training in Master League, letting you have complete control of how your players develop.
On the other hand, everything FIFA does well, PES struggles with. FIFA’s menus are slick and easy to use. PES’s menus are clunky and feel somewhat labyrinthian. Ultimate Team is a playable mode both online and off. MyClub is fine, but the offline offerings are basically nonexistent. Heck, Konami didn’t even have the updated rosters in at launch. Players had to wait days to get fully updated rosters for a brand new game. It’s death by a thousand papercuts except instead of death it’s an irritating soccer experience.
All in all, PES might be the best soccer game video games have been graced with. It is also doing a ton of small things across its modes that I really appreciate. However, I can completely understand why someone would prefer the simplicity of FIFA. This might not be the year PES overtakes EA’s giant, but, as we move into the next console generation, it feels as if the tide is slowly turning in Konami’s favor. When the whistle blows, all the awkward choices made on the periphery fade away, and the beautiful game washes over you in all its digital glory.