PES 2020 is strong on the pitch, but falls short everywhere else.
With PES 2020, Konami seem to be making a very public statement, that they’re shaking things up for the franchise. From the (unnecessary) addition of “eFootball” to the name, to the shiny new user interface, to the improvements made to the presentation, there’s definitely a new coat of polish here. On top of that, PES 2020 does most of its talking on the pitch, where the actual simulation aspects remain its biggest strength, as it has always been for the series. Sadly, though the football itself is as good as ever – perhaps even better, thanks to some tweaks – most of the changes made by Konami to the game are of the superficial variety, and there’s very little here that actually refreshes the series like many would have been hoping.
"Though the football itself is as good as ever – perhaps even better, thanks to some tweaks – most of the changes made by Konami to the game are of the superficial variety, and there’s very little here that actually refreshes the series like many would have been hoping."
Before we get to the changes PES 2020 does make though, let’s talk about the thing that really matters first- the on-pitch action. While PES 2019 quickened the pace of the game to make nearly every match a blistering affair of bombing runs and high-speed attacks, PES 2020 dials the pace back down. In doing so, it injects more variety into how one might approach any given match. The focus on building up the play from the back and through the midfield is greater here than it was last year, and that allows you to take stock of the team you’re playing against and shape your own strategy accordingly.
That matters, because opposing teams function with much better AI this year. They respond to your actions more effectively and more realistically, they’re much more adept at defending against attacks, and similarly, much more capable of crafting their own formidable counters. Going down by a goal means that they immediately try to push up the field and score an equalizer, while if you’re losing, you’ll find the opposing team being less ambitious in offence and worrying more about defending their lead. As such, more often than not, you have to tailor the way you play based on the situation you find yourself in during matches, rather than relying on the same strategy for every single match, against every single team.
It also helps that there’s a greater margin for error in your own actions as well. Passes and through balls are much less guaranteed to find their intended target than you’d expect, and PES 2020 actually takes into account factors such as your position when you receive the ball, the direction you’re facing, the pace at which the ball is passed, and the defenders around you and your teammates while deciding if the pass you’ve made will even be a good one, much less one that lands at the feet of the player you want it to. This means that you also have to be spatially aware, and actually think about your next move while building attacks. This, combined with the improved dribbling, gives you a lot more to think about when you’re in possession of the ball.
"More often than not, you have to tailor the way you play based on the situation you find yourself in during matches, rather than relying on the same strategy for every single match, against every single team."
Improvements on the pitch are also backed up by improvements to the presentation. PES 2020 has a new default camera, which mirrors a real-life matchday broadcast much more closely. In addition, pre-match cutscenes showing the stadia, the tunnels, the pitch, and the players are all rendered very well, and it all comes together to deliver the strongest presentation that I’ve seen in a PES game to date. The stadia and player models themselves look great as well, for the most part, especially when it comes to grounds that are fully licensed. The commentary is still as stale and repetitive as ever, and it’s high time the series makes some much-needed improvements in this area, but at least the visual aspects of the presentation have improved.
Visual improvements can be seen in other areas as well- more specifically, the user interface. PES games had been using the same clunky, archaic menus for years, and with each new instalment, they would feel progressively more dated. The menus and interface in PES 2020 are slick and minimalistic. And sure, this is a very cosmetic change, and when all is said and done, won’t have any mechanical impact- but it’s nice to see the game making this much-needed change, even if it’s a change that should have come a long time ago.
So the moment-to-moment simulation is as strong as ever, thanks to some minor but important tweaks, while the game’s presentation has improved significantly- but what about other areas that have been in dire need of an improvement for some time now? For instance, what about the Master League? PES’ single player career mode has been lambasted in recent years for being static and in need of an overhaul, and PES 2020 definitely makes some changes. But are they enough to give the mode the shot in the arm it needs?
"The moment-to-moment simulation is as strong as ever, thanks to some minor but important tweaks, while the game’s presentation has improved significantly"
Disappointingly enough, that doesn’t seem to be the case. There are some improvements that deserve to be mentioned. Transfers are much more realistic now, and negotiations actually feel like negotiations, rather than arbitrarily throwing around ridiculous sums to get the players you want. There are also cutscenes that show media interactions, and interactions with members of your staff, and many of these also see you making some dialogue choices.
And while the improvement to the transfers is appreciated, those aforementioned cutscenes don’t really add much. They have little to no impact on things, other than some minor changes in player morale – which themselves doesn’t manifest in any meaningful way – and after you’ve seen the same cutscenes twice or thrice, you’ll get bored of them and skip through them- I certainly did. So Master League has seen some minor improvements, along with some additions that ultimately add very little- and at the end of the day, it’s still the same Master League experience we’ve been seeing in PES for years now. As it was in last year’s game, and the one before that, so it is in PES 2020- Master League is in desperate need of a reinvention.
Outside of Master League, myClub remains virtually unchanged. Konami have also introduced the new Matchday feature. It definitely seems promising, but at launch, it’s not actually interesting as much as it is conceptually interesting. Even if Konami do invest time and resources into it though, I just don’t see how in its current form it could become anything more than a neat thing to keep an eye on on the side.
"Master League has seen some minor improvements, along with some additions that ultimately add very little- and at the end of the day, it’s still the same Master League experience we’ve been seeing in PES for years now. As it was in last year’s game, and the one before that, so it is in PES 2020- Master League is in desperate need of a reinvention."
The biggest issue with PES 2020 is that the changes and improvements it makes – for the most part – rarely go beyond the surface level. Mechanical gameplay on the pitch has changed tangibly, but as you’d expect, these are iterative changes rather than completely new additions. What PES has been in need of is something to keep players engaged with its strong simulation gameplay. In not making any significant improvements to its meatier modes, it misses out on that opportunity. PES 2020 is an accomplished football sim, but the same could be said for PES 2019, and the changes Konami has made this year don’t amount to much. As such, if you already have last year’s game, I find it a little hard to recommend getting PES 2020 as well. Maybe next year, with the advent of next gen consoles, Konami will actually move the series forward in a meaningful way.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
On-pitch action is as good as ever; Presentation has improved considerably.
Commentary is still bad; Master League improvements are far from enough.
PES 2020 is an accomplished football sim, but the same could be said for PES 2019, and the changes Konami has made this year don't amount to much. As such, if you already have last year's game, I find it a little hard to recommend getting PES 2020 as well.