An AI driven player dodges from one opponent to the next with a lifelike fluidity you’d expect from any true to life broadcast. He dodges and dances around bodies as the defence closes in just moments before making a calculated decision to pass. A fellow player finds his ball, makes his play and scores effortlessly during our test run. “No one has come even close to beating this AI,” quips a Konami rep in a proud tone that would only tug at a gamer’s sense of competitiveness. “Most people get scored on pretty quickly.” After a second consecutive goal by the hands of a human error, it was clear that Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 was sticking to a certain reputation it has earned over the years — one of a simulation.

While the competition in FIFA has always had the benefit of fancy presentations, brand recognition and the recognizable faces that go along with it, the PES series has always been Mr. Fundamentals, where flash took a back seat to substance. It was the difference between watching a highlight reel, and seeing the beauty and slow methodical tactics that produced the play beforehand. This hasn’t always played in the series’ favour when it came to casual recognition due to the learning curve, but for this very reason, it’s retained a following that favours the authentic.

Everything this time around is just more dynamic with the introduction of TruBall Tech as dubbed by Konami itself. It’s the company’s way of giving the ball a method of movement separate from the player by making kicking situations more unpredictable.

Realism of course is first noticed through the visual, and one of the key changes that was made in PES2014 over the previous installments was making sure that movements were more true to life. Konami’s Fox Engine played a key role in producing many of the lifelike animations that decorated each play. Instead of only powering an aged stealth agent in Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zero, Konami has utilized the same graphics’ engine to provide the muscle behind PES2014 and it’s noticed immediately. It’s seen within the running game and every fluid pass, felt with the weight every individual player seems to carry and it’s implemented right down to the ball itself. Forget the days where videogame players on a soccer field were extensions of a ping-pong table, one straight darting pass to the next. Everything this time around is just more dynamic with the introduction of TruBall Tech as dubbed by Konami itself. It’s the company’s way of giving the ball a method of movement separate from the player by making kicking situations more unpredictable. It forces the player to utilize timing in relation to how close the ball is, because like in real life, over kicking due to proximity can basically give the opponent an opportunity to take away a hard earned score attempt. Realism as it stands visually can’t replace intelligent AI however, and it’s one of the problems that plagues PES2014 when it comes to team members. There were moments when AI driven teammates would run down the wrong lanes or setup in silly places for a professional soccer player. While it didn’t happen all the time, it took away from the consistent polish that drove its other elements.

The weaknesses that have plagued the series from a presentation standpoint also seem to remain. There’s still that tinge of dissatisfaction in seeing unfamiliar brands and faces plastered on a game designed to respect the sport like few others. It’s an aspect to the series that unfortunately has become a part of its identity as long as EA’s claws remain wrapped around the most notable soccer licenses. But as a result it has forced the PES team to work with what it’s got. All changes and features combined, the team has managed to produce a game where its attractiveness runs deeper than just a pretty smile, for those willing to invest the time needed to see it.

Words By. Noel Ransome