PES 2020 Review: Great on the pitch, average off it

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It’s that time of the year again, when Konami tries to outdo EA in the football gaming stakes. This year’s iteration is expectedly called PES 2020, and while the Japanese developer’s game has not been as successful as FIFA, it has always held the upper hand when it comes to gameplay.

So does PES 2020 keep that streak alive?

We’ve been playing Konami’s latest offering to find out.

On the pitch

The short answer to the question posed above is yes. But you probably already knew that given the title of this review. Let’s then focus on what Konami gets right, and where it has room to improve.

First the former, with PES 2020 providing a truly solid representation of the football we see in real-life. We were particularly taken with the intelligence that the developer has baked into the gameplay. An example of this is tactics and formations.

We played primarily with Liverpool B (the team is no longer licensed to Konami), who sets up in a 4-3-3 formation. The tactics of the team dictate that the deepest lying midfielder and central attacker drop deeper, with the former creating three players at the back for the wings back to push forward. The attacker drops deeper to pick up ball and knit play together, as well as lead the press when the opposition has the ball.

This is pretty much how Liverpool plays in real life, and seeing it mimicked in-game is fantastic. Tactics can also be changed while a match is ongoing, and seeing formations shift or tempo of the game rise is equally pleasing.

As such for players who want to think a bit more purposefully about how they play, instead of just getting the ball to the most skilful or quickest player to score goals.

Johan Cruyff, Diego Maradona, and other icons are available as manager options in Master League.

Bounce of the ball

Another impressive improvement in PES 2020 is the way the ball moves, both in and out of possession. It reacts differently based on the player’s skill level, body position and weight of the pass.

This too is highly realistic and something we appreciated while playing. It also means that things don’t go as easily as planned, and just because you play a beautifully weighted through ball for a one-on-one with the keeper, doesn’t mean scoring is guaranteed.

Speaking of which, shooting is about more than simply pressing the power gauge to the right level, and is far more nuanced than that. Things like which foot the ball is being struck on, how quickly the player can get the ball out of his feet, and shooting angle all play a part to ensure not every chance hits the back of the net.

Now that we’ve waxed lyrical about PES 2020 does well, let’s focus on the things needing some spit and polish.

First is player faces and behaviour. While scans are highly accurate and detailed, there is just something off about the eyes and mouths of players, especially when you see them moving during a replay cutscene or celebrating. It can be a little jarring at times, with the whites of player’s eyes a bit disturbing.

Also in need of fine tuning is the reaction time of players, especially when the ball may pass them, with there being a slight lag to react to the situation. Whether this is an intentional gameplay mechanic is unclear, but it can become frustrating when players are not reacted as expected from goal kicks, corners or counter attacks.

Bayern Munich’s stadium, the Allianz Arena.

An abrasive UI 

Our small gripes aside, the overall on-pitch gameplay of PES 2020 is fantastic, but now we need to talk about the elephant in the room – licensing.

It’s been an area where PES as a franchise has long struggled, and it continues to be an issue here, especially if you’re club is not one of the handful of teams that are officially licensed in-game.

As such it diminishes the experience significantly in Master League, and at times feels like you’re playing the poor man’s FIFA, which stands in stark contrast to the PES 2020 gameplay.

Added to this is a UI that takes some time to get use to. There are still a flurry of notifications that pop up every time you launch the game, and while they are indeed there to provide timely and important updates, by the third or fourth one, you just want to skip through them as quickly as possible.

Master League and other game modes are also lacking attention, the main screen in the career mode is no cramped gull of information and equally difficult to navigate that you start to lose interest in the off-the-pitch managerial aspects of the game and want to rush to the actual matches.

Here, Konami still has plenty to learn, especially if it aims to take on the slick presentation of EA.

We will give them one credit in this department though, with commentary handled by the awesome duo of Peter Drury and Jim Beglin, both of which are significantly better than Martin Tyler and Alan Smith on FIFA.

Juventus are officially licensed in PES 2020, with Manchester United, Barcelona, Arsenal and Bayern Munich the other notable teams.

Final verdict

While Konami has added a number of refinements to the gameplay of PES 2020, all of which are for the better, the lingering issues for the franchise still remain, and continue to hamper what would otherwise be a superior title to FIFA.

Over the course of a full football season, these issues while bearable at first, will soon start to grate you.

As such PES 2020 only succeeds in one half of the gameplay experience, with licensing and a frustrating UI holding it back.


Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.