While always on the heels of EA Sports’ football juggernaut FIFA, Pro Evo Soccer has managed to retain a loyal audience thanks to a focus on simulation and player interaction. It lacks some of the licenses of its rival, but eFootball PES 2020 offers compelling gameplay, solid graphics, and rewards investments of time into mastering its mechanics. If you find yourself tired of what EA is offering, Konami’s updated football title may be just what the doctor ordered.
What’s included in the (digital) box?
The franchise that used to be known as Pro Evolution Soccer has undergone a rebranding from publisher Konami this year. The new edition of the game bears the title eFootball PES 2020. Thankfully for longtime fans, the core of the game remains mostly intact from last year, while offering some on-field changes and a long-requested renovation of its front-end menus and user interface.
Before jumping into the details, some time should be spent covering what could be make-or-break concerns between PES 2020 and FIFA 20. There is currently no football game on the market that will allow hardcore fans the chance to officially play as all their favorite teams or players. Both franchises have exclusive deals that effectively fracture the availability of various clubs and leagues. The biggest exclusive acquisition was made by EA last year when it secured the Champions League license for the FIFA series. This also includes the Super Cup and Europa League.
In response to losing Champions League rights, PES 2020 will have exclusive access to the upcoming UEFA Euro 2020 Championship. The game will receive free DLC next year with updated teams and uniforms to mark the occasion. Each of the major football games also has exclusive partner clubs, with stand-in fictional clubs in the place of those teams of which each game failed to secure an exclusive deal. The most notable of these clubs would be Liverpool going with FIFA and Juventus going with PES 2020. All in all, FIFA has more official leagues and clubs, though PES has a few more exclusive stadiums.
Parking the bus
In the face of a deficit when it comes to official licensing, PES 2020 needs to offer something that you can’t get from FIFA and, thankfully, it comes in the form of methodical gameplay. Once the action on the pitch kicks off, PES 2020 offers a slower, more deliberate experience than what you’ll find from FIFA. While EA’s game will probably be more approachable for newcomers thanks to its glitzy presentation and faster pace, PES 2020 offers what might be a closer approximation of the real sport. Players move slower and ball handling is king in PES 2020.
During my initial matches, I tried laying on the sprint button, attempting to weave my way through the field like I was playing 16-bit hockey. This approach never worked. I turned over the ball constantly, missed all my shots, and never felt like I was making progress. I felt like my players were acting lethargic and that my controller inputs were laggy. Only after I watched a couple of matches in Coach mode and made the effort to familiarize myself with the ball-handling mechanics did things start to click for me.
Sometimes it feels like there are two different games going on at once in PES 2020, the slower close-quarters interactions and the moments during a breakaway. When dribbling, your player slows down and using positioning and timing to avoid steals or turnovers is key. In the moments where you manage to make a clean pass to a sprinting teammate, the game feels like everything speeds up and the crowd reacts appropriately to the breakaway. You’ll find yourself with an open look and tense with excitement, but your shot will sail over the net should you fail to wait for your player to position himself for a quality shot.
PES 2020 rewards players who take a quick second to set themselves up for precision passes and shots. You have the option to immediately fire at the goal upon receiving a pass from halfway across the field, but your accuracy and chances of actually scoring go way up if you take a moment to center up and make a clean kick. It kind of goes against much of the mental training I’ve received from sports video games over the last thirty years, but ball placement and human positioning matters in PES 2020. Much like the Souls games require players to be more deliberate and thoughtful with inputs for combat, PES rewards superior positioning and timing. You cannot expect to make quality shots or passes if your player is facing the wrong direction or is over-extended from sprinting.
Blurring the lines
From a presentation standpoint, PES 2020 offers a lot to like. Player models and faces range from excellent to average and the grass on the pitch looks as good as any competing sports game. Player animations are definitely an area where the game excels visually, with minimal clipping and movement that actually mimics real humans. The stadiums and the fans that fill them look very good. Some fans will wave giant flags that help increase the immersion and feeling of a big match atmosphere. The post-goal celebrations are not quite as impressive as seen in FIFA, but they get the job done. The individual stadiums range from plain to opulent, mostly mirroring their real-life counterparts (at least with the officially licensed locations).
I played the PC Steam version of the game and performance was very strong considering the quality of the presentation. Running the game at 4K 60Hz was easy to achieve with no image quality compromise, as well as lower resolution modes with 120 and 144Hz refresh rates. While the game will run in ultrawide resolutions, the front-end menus, cutscenes, and replays will only show in 16x9, leaving black bars on the sides of the screen. The 21:9 ultrawide presentation works perfectly during actual play and is quite a sight to see. The PC version also has proper HDR support, offering lush shades of grass, particularly during daylight games. Bright highlights from stadium lighting and player jerseys are also a standout in the HDR mode.
PES 2020 offers a new default camera that feels more like a TV broadcast than what the franchise used in previous years. The action is easy to follow and if you squint your eyes, becomes nearly indistinguishable from the real thing thanks to the smooth animation. The presentation as far as cinematics, commentary, and overlays leave much to be desired, though. The game likely has a much smaller budget than something like FIFA and it feels like this area of the game was neglected in favor of focusing on gameplay. While I have not played previous entries in the series, I am told that PES 2020’s menus are a monster upgrade from what was seen in years past. I had no issues with navigation or finding what I wanted at any time.
Coming into this review as a football newbie left me worried that I would be unable to connect with PES 2020, but am pleasantly surprised to say that there is fun to be had here. The omissions in officially licensed leagues and clubs is a tough pill to swallow and the in-game presentation feels very lackluster, but Konami manages to accomplish the goal of offering an entertaining representation of the sport. Solid graphics, a smooth PC port, outstanding animations, and rewarding gameplay help eFootball PES 2020 stand out against its sports game competition. It is worth a look if you have even a passing interest in a game of footie. 8/10 worm burners
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher. eFootball PES 2020 was made available for PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on September 10, 2019.
eFootball PES 2020
- Tight, methodical gameplay
- Outstanding animations
- Well-optimized PC port
- Clean, detailed graphics
- Lackluster presentation hurts immersion
- Licensing issues leaves the game without major leagues, clubs