With Konami and PES’s renewed focus on eSports comes a new name change for the venerable football franchise. In steps eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020, which I’ll be referring to as either Pro Evolution Soccer or PES from here on out, because that is a mouthful. Much like last year’s game, Pro Evolution Soccer 2020’s main star is the ball, and the franchise continues to elevate because of it.
Pro Evolution Soccer has always been known for beautiful stadiums and pitches, but the introduction of an all new camera mode that makes the entire match come to life on your TV. It feels like watching a game live, and that’s the highest praise I can give it. I’ve never been great at soccer games, I’ll admit it, but unlike FIFA, Pro Evolution Soccer has always “clicked” a little bit more for me. Maybe it’s because I feel like I can accomplish something in this franchise, like scoring goals or passing across the pitch to gain momentum.
It’s a beautiful thing to see your team so in sync as you work your way toward the goal. I wish the AI here was a little better, in fact last year’s game didn’t have as many AI issues as I experienced in PES 2020. Granted, the AI was probably competent enough more times than not, but it felt like every other match I was yelling “what are you doing?!” at my AI controlled teammates. This problem persisted across both my AI partners and the other team too. I often found both teams not defending the ball properly, or just not defending other players at all.
I felt the real changes in Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 as soon as I stepped onto the pitch for the first time though. When PES 2019 slowed matches down, I could really feel the weight of the ball as I kicked it from player to player. This year’s title adds additional weight to the players, and the clearer pitch angle from the new camera helps give a sense of purpose to every input that players give.
Controls are still as tight as ever, but passing the ball sometimes felt off. One time I kicked the ball directly out of bounds instead of where I thought it should have headed. Again, it wasn’t something I experienced too often when I’m passing hundreds of times an hour, but it was still enough to make me (an experienced Pro Evolution Soccer player) notice.
New player animations also help bring the pitch to life, and give the players more lifelike movements. With Pro Evolution Soccer 2020’s emphasis on player positioning and movements, it was much easier to notice the extra attention that went into the animations. This added focus now affects passing too. There are additional elements that will go into pass completion now, which affects the pacing of a possession.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 hasn’t seen as many new enhancements as last year’s title in the way matches play out, but the focus on the small details elevate each match to greatness. Games are tense and methodical, and players will end up focusing more on positioning and defense instead of just kicking the ball up the field as fast as possible.
Master League seems to have taken up a lot of the “new features” budget, and sees the biggest changes in any of the game modes. There are narrative cutscenes here now that help make this mode seem more intimate, even if I didn’t find them helping to make things any more interesting. It feels a bit closer to the narrative stories from Madden or FIFA, except not nearly as good. It’s a bit disappointing that the biggest changes to an existing mode don’t affect gameplay meaningfully, and still feels like something I’ve played in years past.
I had a big problem navigating menus in last year’s Pro Evolution Soccer, and that issue is still absolutely prevalent here. The menus suck, and as year after year goes by, I’ve given up hoping to have a more streamlined experience.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2020’s MyClub mode where players craft a fantasy team remains the franchise’s best (if not most confusing) mode. I’d love to be better at this, but I just don’t have the time to sink into games for months and months that I used to. Luckily, it’s significantly easier to pick up and play a match or two if I’ve got some down time now, so that will probably end up being my go to.
I did spend some time in MyClub in order to check out the microtransactions, which don’t seem as “in your face” this year as in the past. Much like any title in the Fire Emblem franchise, I don’t seem to be able to build a well rounded team, but you can always sink money into it if you want to.
Despite the terrible menus and spotty AI, this is the best on-pitch experience of Pro Evolution Soccer yet. Weighty characters and slower matches mix to create some of the best soccer moments I’ve experienced in a video game. I didn’t find the other modes as enticing as I’m sure others will, but the ball is the real star here, and any time you spend on the pitch with it should end up being magical.
eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based on a PS4 copy of the game provided by the publisher. Purchases are available here.