eFootball PES 2020 Review

October 9, 2019
Xbox One
Also on: PC, PS4

Keeping the bench warm

I don’t know whether I want to talk about Konami’s amazing licensing coup that’s given EA a bloody nose or the fact they’ve decided to slap eFootball as a prefix to get this review rolling. Given that the former is far more entertaining I feel it’s best to start there. It’s weirdly poetic when you consider that, for years, PES has been forced to use fake team names for clubs they didn’t have a licensing agreement with. This wasn’t too bad if your team was officially licensed but for others playing as Manchester Red and so forth just didn’t quite hit the mark. Whilst PES2020 still has plenty of fake teams, it’s exclusive licensing agreement with Italian giants Juventus has forced EA to use a completely different name, Piemonte Calcio if you’re curious, after the Piedmont region of Italy that Turin, Juventus’ home city, is located in.

Thankfully, in addition to nabbing Juventus, Konami has renamed the fake teams so that they make a bit more sense. Chelsea, or London Blue as they were, is now Chelsea B and if you’re a Spurs fan you’re no longer London White but Tottenham WB. It’s a minor change in the grand scheme of things but I’d wager makes things feel a little more real even if the logos and strips aren’t official. You can still rename teams and so forth or, if you’re on a PC or PS4, download files to alter kits and team names if you really want to go the extra mile. Ultimately this might not be a big deal for you and having all the players in the right teams generally means that you hardly notice.

This camera angle has taken some getting used to.

On the pitch things are a bit hit and miss. When things go right PES 2020 is a fantastic recreation of the beautiful game but when it doesn’t it gets very frustrating. Last year when we reviewed PES 2019 we praised its prowess in the most important department, on the pitch. At times you can see the evolution of last year’s engine and the influence Andreas Iniesta, who was brought in to consult on dribbling, has had on it. Playing as Manchester United I was struggling to beat the backline of Arsenal in a pre-season friendly. Rashford’s pace is useful but, in PES 2020 at least, his close-ball control is lacking. 

I decided, then, to bring on the much maligned and unloved Alexis Sanchez. Whilst in reality he’s on loan to Inter Milan (it seems that PES 2020 shipped with outdated teams), he seemed like the perfect option. In an instant my front line was transformed. I now had a small, elegant forward, whose every touch was a delicate move one way or the other allowing me to break ankles and, more importantly, defensive lines. Not long after coming on he flicked a glorious ball through to Romelu Lukaku (definitely outdated teams) who slotted it past the helpless keeper. I celebrated with a fist-pump knowing that, with the clock at eighty-eight minutes I didn’t have long to hold out for a slender one-nil victory.

The dynamic duo return; whether that’s a good thing is down to a matter of taste.

Other times, however, it feels as though you’re controlling players whose half-time drink is the other type of water. The same players who were passing with crisp accuracy befitting their level of professionalism I now had players who, seemingly of their own accord, decided that I didn’t want to pass out to my right as I had directed but straight ahead instead. Why, I cannot tell you, but when this version of PES’ passing rears its head it generally stays around for the full ninety minutes and it’s maddening. It is often accompanied by defenders who will run quite happily past the ball and a player change button that is a fraction too slow and leaves you half a step behind the play. The beautiful ebb and flow of my previous match now replaced by a maddening menagerie of expletives and cries of frustration.

The on-pitch frustrations don’t just stop with the twenty-two players on the pitch as they’re joined by the haphazard officiating. In reality I have every sympathy for the officials having been a qualified FA referee myself. It’s a difficult job and no-one goes out to deliberately make mistakes but in the virtual world you’d think that fouls are pretty straightforward to rule on. What I found in PES 2020 is that they were more like guidelines than rules with the referee more than happy to let a crunching tackle go so long as I didn’t get the ball back for a decent length of time. However, should I so much as nudge someone in the back I’m in the book and trying my best to defend a free kick. 

Why won’t you just let me press a button to go there? Why must you tease me so?

The commentary from Peter Drury and Jim Beglin continues to be woeful but by this point I get the feeling that this more than likely deliberate. It seems you’re never too far away from benign anecdotes or over-the-top delivery and I guess in a way it wouldn’t be PES without it. I’m almost certain that if, in the next iteration, the commentary were to be sublime there’d be a rather vocal minority clamouring for Peter Drury’s return. I won’t be one of them but in a way I could understand their disappointment and longing for him scream a player’s name long after the shot has taken place.

Much like the commentary the menus continue to be a disappointment. In Master League, for example, you get messages to read which simply tell you where to get the information you thought the message was going to tell you rather than just taking you there. It’s tiresome, especially for transfers but it seems like this rather roundabout approach is such a PES mainstay that Konami seem reluctant to change things too much. However, I would implore them to put game update notices that you receive every time you load the game up somewhere else as I don’t want to press ‘A’ half a dozen times just so that I can get to the main menu.

Visually, things look pretty good.

Online, things really haven’t moved forward much since last year’s outing. Konami’s answer to FIFA’s Ultimate Team, myClub, continues to be uninspiring with top-tier players far too easy to obtain. Having only used the points I started with, I already have Antoine Griezmann and Sergio Aguero up front, Ronaldinho in midfield and Jan Vertonghen in defence. Not world-beating just yet but they’d take far more effort (or money) in FIFA to acquire. Master League now includes some interactive scenes where you need to decide on how you want to answer a question either from the press or from the board. It’s gimmicky and really doesn’t need to be there in all honesty. Overall though, the game modes in PES remain largely unchanged. 

You can see what Konami is wanting to do and by bringing in competitions that you can enter in the eFootball section you feel that they’re hoping to get a foothold in the lucrative eSports world. To do so, however, you need a game that has a solid foundation that is predictable and in its current state PES 2020 is anything but that. The niggles experienced in single-player are very much present in online play. As such you can’t expect players to take something seriously if they don’t know whether their back four will show up or decide that today is the day that they’re going to AWOL. Konami need to focus on getting their match engine and AI to a point where you can trust the outcome before anything else, otherwise it could be another period in the wilderness after last year’s return to form.

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eFootball PES 2020 is a confusing title to recommend. It’s best likened to an Alfa Romeo as, when everything works, it’s majestic. However, when it’s not, which is most of the time, it’s such a frustrating experience because you know just how good it could be. 
Pete Taylor

A long time gamer since the days of the mighty ZX Spectrum +2. The bug really bit when I got a Sega Mega Drive 2 and it hasn’t let up since. Huge racing fan but I also enjoy losing myself in a well-told RPG and management sims. It doesn’t have to be good-looking to win my heart, it’s what’s deep down inside that matters.