It recently came to my attention that South Africa has its very own PES Society of amazingly passionate and loyal fans, that NOT having them do the review for the new PES title would be an absolute crime.
The task was tackled, mind the pun by Rafeeq Cariem, putting the game through its paces. Let us take a look at what he thought of the title.
Official Title: eFootball Pro Evolution Soccer 2021 Season Update! Talk about a mouthful for a game title! We will go with PES2021 for short, just to keep us with a little bit of whatever sanity we have left! The annual release of Konami’s PES title has always been met with a certain level of excitement by its staunch followers. This year was different, very different. Last month, the announcement made by Konami, that PES 2021 would be a mere update, sent shockwaves through the PES community. A decision that was met with either disbelief & fury, or understanding & hope. No sooner after they announced the update, Konami released a short clip showcasing what could be PES2022 graphics on the UNREAL engine soon had those very opposed to the update to calm down, just a bit.
Given the year the human race has had to endure, Konami’s transparency regarding their production was definitely admirable.
UPDATE OR COPY AND PASTE?
When it comes to game modes, PES 21 is 100% a mere copy and paste from its predecessor with a few superficial surface changes. This is disappointing but expected. The challenging and pure simulation approach to gameplay has always been the PES allure that kept fans away from other footballing titles. The fact that PES 20’s gameplay received high praise when it launched, made the update pill easier for fans to swallow. The gameplay thoughts below are based largely off the offline experience and online games where the connection allowed the game to be played as intended.
In PES 2021 the moment you attempt your first intricate tiki-taka teamplay you’ll feel that PES 2021 definitely plays, and feels like a different game. A more responsive, more refined, and more natural depiction of the beautiful sport we love so much. As with every new season of PES, PES2021 definitely takes some getting used to. While passing feels and looks better, it can take some time adjusting to the way the AI interprets your controller input.
The level of satisfaction you get when you play a perfectly weighted through ball is still unmatched. The unpredictable nature of the passing does spoil the mood a bit. Stray passes have always been a pain point for PES players, and seeing it not fixed will be met with expectation rather than outrage.
Scoring a screamer in PES is the benchmark when it comes to sheer football simulation ecstasy, and PES 21 is no different. In fact, the long-range shooting feels even better. If you’re controlling a player with the right skill cards and ability, the decision to go for the square lottery button instead of the pass definitely has the chance of being rewarded. As always, finesse shots leave you feeling like an artist that has just created a piece of work worthy to be put on the highest of pedestals.
Alas, shooting inside the box has largely been left unchanged. My discontentment in the lack of changes is mainly due to the ease at which keepers are beaten at their near post. In real life, keepers are told to form a deep bond with their near post and guard it well. In PES 20 and now 21, the goalkeepers offer up their near post to oncoming attackers’ gift wrapped, making it easy to concede soft goals.
GOALKEEPERS AND DEFENDING
To those fans looking for an update in the goalkeeping department, I can confidently tell you that keepers are as inconsistent as they’ve always been. Pulling off saves with the agility of Spider-Man, and then a few moments later they concede goals which should warrant a match-fixing investigation.
For newcomers to the series defending has always been one of the most challenging aspects of the game. PES 21 is as unforgiving as always. One lapse in concentration at the back and you’re chasing back trying to put off a striker who has the goal at his mercy. The interception system definitely needs an overhaul as players still fail to control passes they’ve successfully intercepted. The ball ricochets off players far too often, and this takes away from the simulation experience.
THE REST OF THE GAME
While the majority of the game code remains the same, players who have not had PES2020 and are getting PES2021 will have a deal on their hands. The subtle nuances, players appealing for offside, goalkeepers celebrating a save to your entire squad rushing to the referee to brandish a red for any potential “leg-breaking” challenge is something worth seeing for yourself. It is often overlooked but those small details are what sets a game apart, especially in the rat race of sports titles. Free kick advantage can still be a frustrating thing to deal with in-game but once you understand the mechanism behind it more than the real-life concept, it becomes something that you tend to overlook as a fault. Off the field, the edit mode has remained the same and still allows for Konami’s Fans to replicate their favourite team as close to their real-world counterparts. Menus seem a bit more interactive and less “heavy” which is a welcomed change. The rest of the user interface is mostly unchanged but fans can expect a huge overhaul when the next-gen version is released.
Overall, the year 2020 has been like taking an unpredictable rollercoaster with your eyes blindfolded. Therefore the decision taken by Konami to push out an update instead of a fully-fledged iteration of the game is acceptable. Especially since the update includes enough subtle tweaks to the award-winning gameplay to keep fans warm until the eagerly anticipated Unreal engine powered PES 22 comes out on next-gen consoles.