PES 2020 Demo Has Convinced Me This is the Year Konami's Soccer Sim Will Be a True Challenger to FIFA 20

The PES 2020 demo is here and, after playing a days worth of matches, I think Konami might carve out a bigger audience in the FIFA-dominated soccer market.

Pro Evolution Soccer has long felt like it was playing second fiddle to the much more popular FIFA franchise. Sure, there have been diehards who appreciated how closely PES‘ gameplay was able to match with the real-life product. However, whether they’re playing Ultimate Team or The Journey, most people tend to go after the fully licensed teams in FIFA. After playing the new demo for eFootball PES 2020, I think this might be the year Konami’s soccer sim starts to bring in FIFA players who are frustrated by the game’s infatuation with printing money through Ultimate Team.

The PES 2020 demo is pretty barebones. You can only play online and offline exhibition modes with 13 different clubs. To give you an idea of how beautiful the game can be when the players are face-scanned, the demo includes Manchester United, Juventus, Arsenal, Barcelona, and Bayern Munich. These five teams have signed featured deals with PES, and Juventus is exclusive to Konami’s game this year.

The players on those signature teams feature amazingly detailed models. Everything from their facial hair to their tattoos is picture-perfect. You can tell a ton of work went into making these models look just right. That said, Konami’s licensing department is still way behind FIFA. So, while these major clubs will look incredibly lifelike, don’t expect the same for non-featured teams.

The real selling point of the demo is the gameplay. FIFA fans might struggle to translate when they start. This is because PES slows things way down from the fast-paced, offensive-oriented games you experience in FIFA. Instead, you need to actually build up your attack effectively before earning a chance at goal. It feels much more like you’d expect the real-life game to play. You’re not just tapping one-touch through balls and slicing through the defense. Breakaways do happen, but they feel earned instead of given out like candy on Halloween.

“The real selling point of the demo is the gameplay.”

Within this slower pace are several changes that make the game behave realistically. Most notably is how the ball moves about the field. In FIFA, the ball often feels magnetized to the players, ping-ponging around with little chance of deviation. PES tosses that in the trash and lets the ball travel along a natural path. So, if your pass isn’t both aimed properly and given the correct power, it’s going to miss your target. This leads to situations where neither team has the ball and you’re making a mad dash to pick it back up.

In writing, it sounds like a small change; however, in play, it couldn’t feel better. Those tense seconds after a poorly placed ball are thrilling and just aren’t currently possible in FIFA’s engine. Adding to the intensity is the new first touch mechanic. Essentially, bad passes will lead to bad touches. Again, it sounds small in writing but makes a major impact, especially when you’re lining up as an inferior side. Defending also feels improved in both animation and gameplay. Tackling looks better than ever because of all the new animations included, and mechanics like contested headers are now more realistic. It won’t just be a battle of who’s the taller player.

Of course, it’s hard to say after playing the demo whether or not PES has fixed their presentation and mode problems. The game currently doesn’t have any commentary and all of the more important modes are still locked away. So, if PES has always had great gameplay, why am I convinced that this will be the year it challenges FIFA?

The answer is pretty simple. If you want to play Ultimate Team, you’re going to buy FIFA. That’s a guarantee. PES’ alternative to EA’s money-maker is serviceable at best. However, FUT changes almost never come to players who prefer career mode. We still haven’t heard from FIFA on what the changes are for career mode this year; however, given everything coming to FUT, it’s hard to see them spending too many development resources on a mode they haven’t prioritized in the past.

That leaves PES 2020 in an interesting place. We are in the second year of Konami’s plan to fix their career mode alternative called master league, and it looks leaps and bounds ahead of FIFA. If they can deliver an experience that FIFA can’t, PES could steal players looking for a quality career mode. I do not think PES 2020 will overtake FIFA 20 as the top soccer game on the market, but this feels like the first year in a while that Konami might finally be ready to differentiate itself enough to bring in a brand new community of players.

eFootball PES 2020 will be available for PC, PS4, and Xbox One on September 10.

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Ricky Frech

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