The Pro Evolution Football series has been around for 25 years and its simulation gameplay can be described as poetry in motion. Throughout the 90s and early 2000s, the PES series was once the Messi of football games, with its second to none simulation gameplay that left its rivals struggling to score. Its highest rated game sits on a whopping 94 on Metacritic, rubbing shoulders with superstars such as Super Mario 64, Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic, Diablo, Halo 3, Gears of War, Mass Effect 2, GTA Vice City and a number other classics. Unfortunately for Konami, the EA Sports FIFA juggernaut changed its arcade gameplay, turning their franchise around and has now been in the box seat for over 10 years. Konami has not backed down this generation and the team behind PES has worked hard to bring an arguably better football experience on the pitch, but instead of a full release this season, they have opted with an ‘updated’ version. Will the eFootball PES 2021 Update score the winner or run out of legs in injury time?
As mentioned, this season the PES series has opted out of creating a fully-fledged sequel and gone with an updated version of the 2020 game. This allowing Konami time to focus on its next game on the next generation consoles using a new engine, Unreal Engine 5. But do not let the word update throw players off, as it comes at a much cheaper price being between $40 and $60 depending on the outlet.
On the field, eFootball PES 2021 Update is a football fans love letter and is worth every penny. For those who are new to the series, PES is known for its realistic game play, with the ball having natural life-like physics and while not being glued to the player’s feet. The animations are fluid and crisp, making it both look like and feel like football. The tactics, and player movements are more in-depth than its competition. The player can also tweak any team’s formation, structure, build up play and movement to fit into their own play style. All this can also be pre-programmed to change on the fly depending on how the match is panning out.
Like most updates, 2021 has fixed a number of issues from the 2020 game. Players are faster, speed is more focused and attacking wingers will burn any player that dives in or is too flatfooted. The animations are also quicker, especially when dribbling normally or using the finesse button, creating a sense of speed with the ball at the player’s feet. AI defenders now attack loose balls more often; the goal keeping is a lot more consistent and even the referees, who actually officiate, make games look professional rather than an amateurish Sunday morning game. This improvement in refereeing goes hand in hand with the improved collision detection and it no longer looks like baby giraffes tripping over each other when contact is made.
There are some small gripes including that of the AI, which is not perfect. When playing against the CPU, it does tend to make too many loose passes that turns the ball over and provides the player with easy possession. The AI also has some lapses in defence when tracking players or trying to clear the ball out of the goalmouth as well. Another gripe is that the game has kept its heavy first touch, meaning players need to carefully meet the ball, direct it into their movements while paying attention to the players tiredness and when sprinting onto a ball. It is hard to say all these things are weaknesses, as they can emulate the beautiful game and player mishaps.
There are a decent amount of different game modes but nothing new for players of the 2020 version. These include:
- Kick Off includes general one off matches, be it versus the CPU, another player on the couch or teaming up to beat the AI. The player can also play a league or cup here. It also includes the postponed UEFA Euro 2020, where players can play a friendly, a league or the full cup itself.
- Master league is eFootball’s main campaign, where the player chooses a manager, my choice being Diego Maradona, to take on their chosen team. This mode sees the player managing a lot of aspects, such as juggling the squad, transfers, budgets, contracts, training, scouts and more. The player can choose to either play each match, simulate or watch the outcome or manage as a manager would. At the beginning of master league the player can choose an already established team, set their goals and try to achieve them or begin with a new team of unknown players, where the manager needs to train up players and utilise the transfer market. New to 2021 are three managers, Pep Guardiola, Frank Lampard and Ryan Giggs.
- Become a Legend, which has the player selecting a current real player or creating their own from scratch. Creating a new player will have the player gradually building their career via training to break into the first team and then into their international team. Selecting a current player will fast track the player into these matches. The player will control that player throughout their career and hopefully make them a legend.
- eFootball is the online mode, which includes playing in online matches, divisions or tournaments. It also includes Matchday, where the developer chooses a real life, real time big/derby game and players join up by choosing who they want to represent. Unfortunately playing with review code, the counter part real life seasons was just starting and this mode had not launched.
- My Club mode is eFootball’s take on FIFA’s Ultimate Team but with a strong focus on training up players rather than buying packs and risking real cash to recruit star players. While money can still be spent, players can earn points for playing games and doing certain in game actions. These points are used in a number of ways through agents to recruit randomly selected players, scouts to hone in on certain players or to use on transfers. Unwanted players can be discarded for points or used as training experience, which makes current players stronger. There are a number of online, single player or co-operative matches, leagues and tournaments that can be played with the player’s team in this mode which is a positive for those who like a fleshed out experience. The negative is it can get very cumbersome to navigate the menus, as there is a lot to take in.
The biggest draw back to the PES games, is the team licenses and the lack there of. While some teams and leagues are licensed, the majority are not. Some of the licensed teams included are Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United, Bayen Munich, Arsenal and some league such as the Italian Serie A & B, French Ligue and more. For those not licensed, changes are made to the team logos, kits, stadiums and even names. While some teams, such as the EPL teams got around the name issue in 2020 with there being no copyright on names of cities, it is not the case for most. Sadly, this licensing issue is the nail in the coffin for many football fans and they do not give the PES series a look in. While there is in-depth customisation, it takes a dedicated player to fix everything up for their favourite teams and leagues. Luckily PlayStation and PC players can do a quick Google on how to import saves and ‘fix’ these licensing issues.
Visually, the graphics match the fantastic animations. Players are very recognisable and world stars such as Messi, Ronaldo and Salah look very close to the real thing. Players like these are even recognisable in full flight and mimic their running and play style.
Commentary in any sports game adds another level of immersion and while the games commentary features stalwarts of Jim Drury and Peter Beglin, they get a bit on the nerves all too quickly. The lack of quality dialogue and the constant screaming of ‘Mane’ every time I cracked a shot wide from the Senegalese superstar grew old very quick. I found it best to turn it off and bring my Spotify up. The games menu system also needs an upgrade, and is strenuous effort just to work out where the player needs to go or what to do. With the next generation game already in development, Konami seriously needs to look at improvements for these things.
Pottsy for One More Game
eFootball PES 2021 Update was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 and is available on Xbox and PC.
The publisher provided code for this review. Our thoughts on this game are ours and ours alone.