EFootball is here.
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For a good five years now, PES has felt superior to FIFA on the pitch. If you don't believe this, you haven't played PES since everyone still called it Pro Evo, back in 2006. It is a fact.
PES's problem, of course, is that it lacks the licensing firepower to rival EA's behemoth. Publisher Konami's attempts to address that have culminated in what it says has been a long-term goal for the series--getting Manchester United as a fully-fledged partner club. The company is quick to point to the access this brings--from full 3D body scans to an immaculately recreated in-game Old Trafford--and the global appeal of having such a big club on the cover of PES will be enormous. Even if that cover star is Scott McTominay.
But these token gestures--see also the equivalent partnerships in previous years with clubs such as Arsenal, Fulham, Inter Milan, and Barcelona--always feel to some extent like Konami is trying to trick unsuspecting players into thinking it has a greater roster of licenses than it actually has. "Look at us!" the Man Utd Edition shouts. "We have the real Man Red now!"
While these gestures--especially, as I said, with a club as big as Man Utd--help, I think people care more about having entire licensed leagues, even if they aren't in so much detail as these much-vaunted partner clubs. One big statement won't do much to tempt serial FIFA players, who know FIFA 20 will have Man Utd in it anyway. Meanwhile, die-hard PES fans will just mod the real kits into PES 2020. What matters most in PES is how it feels on the pitch.
I only got to play three matches of PES 2020 during a recent preview event, but it already feels surprisingly different from last year's game. The most notable change when you first jump into a match is the new camera angle, which aims to provide a closer experience to what we're used to seeing on Sky Sports. It works, even if it's quite disorienting at first.
My second big takeaway was just how poor AI defenses appeared. Back lines seemed to push up aggressively, leaving huge gaping gaps for me to exploit. My winger pairing of Anthony Martial and Juan Mata, combined with the pace of Marcus Rashford up front, wreaked havoc in behind. This might have been the tactics of the team I was playing against--PES Legends, since that and Man Utd were the only two sides available in my demo--but it did also occur when playing against a human player later on.
On the ball, things have slowed down once again, and while this was once a refreshing change--bringing PES's gamespeed down made the series simultaneously more realistic and more satisfying--it's now got to the point where things are starting to feel a little sluggish. Animations look beautiful but take ages to complete. Not being used to this, I was already informing the DualShock in my hands of my next desired move, but it would take so long for that to happen that it was often no longer the right course of action. Hopefully, some of these teething problems can be ironed out in the remaining weeks until launch, leaving those animations--which really do look beautiful--to properly shine.
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PES's off-pitch aesthetics have been given a makeover, too, with new-look menus that were, let's face it, much needed. Everything feels a little smoother, which is welcome given the amount of time PES heads will likely spend in the game's edit suite.
It's difficult to get a real feel for a football game in just three short matches since both PES and FIFA (and others like Football Manager) are played so heavily over the course of a year, with so much hidden depth beneath the surface to expose. I was a little disappointed by what I played so far, but I put some of that down to my own rustiness, the limited nature of this demo, and the high bar Konami has set over the past five seasons. I remain cautiously optimistic about PES 2020.
PES 2020 launches for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on September 12. A demo will be released on July 30.