PES 2021

With the global situation influencing every studio around the world, Konami has decided to play the “transparency” card. Even in the game’s title, they state that Pro Evolution Soccer 2021 is nothing more than a season update of Pro Evolution Soccer 2020.

You can try to use whatever kind of diplomatic or PR-like statement you wish. The fact is that at a conveniently reduced price, Konami is giving you nothing more than a patch of PES 2020 with an updated option file.

How convenient is it, though? In terms of pure theory, it’s a terrible practice for any video game company. Still, if you dug around and researched, you’d probably find many cases of patched or repackaged games sold at full price. Think installments like Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes, which was a half-baked paid demo at best.

Konami opted to focus their main efforts and resources on next year’s version, even announcing the decision to start developing on the Unreal Engine instead of the Fox Engine, which is a remnant held over from Hideo Kojima and the PS3 generation. In case anybody’s forgotten, it was a disgraceful era. Seems like yesterday.

For PES 2021 Season Update, Konami made the right call. What’s surprising is not the announcement but the reactions and information all over the socials from long-timers in the industry. Well, supposedly. There’s nothing shocking in Konami’s philosophy. It’s nothing new for them; indeed, they’re going back to their roots.

During what’s considered its Golden Age, Winning Eleven was initially released in Japan and then followed up by a revised Western-market version commonly known as Pro Evolution Soccer, which was again tweaked and refined to give life to yet another version: the ne plus ultra, the final form or, as it was officially called, the Final Evolution.

It dropped fifteen years ago and had online updates for rosters. Mind-blowing. And that’s not even considering the Korean version. That’s a different thing all together. So, patched games being released within a year of one another is not a novelty, as you can see.

More important is what’s going on in the present and what you receive for a discounted price. On this occasion, you get all the good gameplay of recent years with the same number of problems.

Moving straight into core gameplay, the most significant improvements can be found in aerial plays and headers. Players’ feet are not stuck on the pitch, and when you cross the ball, you have a concrete chance of finalizing the action. Whether from a corner kick or amid an ongoing play, you find that the attacker is able to get rid of the defender and lift into the air.

Icardi, like the never-forgotten-always-in-our-hearts Mboma, emerges as the jumper he is in real life. Playing down the wings is useful when traffic becomes congested in the middle, and the number of times the forward arrives too late to make contact with the ball seems natural. Previously, you could have expected to just have the ball cleared away by the defender with a header.

The referee is the same: unreliable as always. There will always be at least one decision that you don’t agree with. The discrepancies in his understanding when it comes to certain types of collisions and the contexts they happen in are a hardcore part of the game. And they produce the same frustration you feel when watching a real-life match with a debatable, but absolutely innocent, human referee.

As for online gameplay, myClub is exactly as you left it. For anyone considering a transition from FIFA, yes, it’s a more enjoyable mode – though, not richer. There are a lot of bells and whistles that Konami needs to work on, as it’s anything but fresh or contemporary. There’s no customization, no way to make your club really yours, but the core loop is much more accessible.

The manager you choose determines your tactic (with some alternatives provided by two assistants you can allocate), meaning you can’t set offensive or defensive instructions. This feature is a strategic lock that adds a layer of fun to hunting for a more suitable manager. Some may not like the restriction, however.

Paying real money is an obvious advantage and a big shortcut to spending time reaching the best content, but unlike in FIFA, monetization is not pushed or mandatory as long as you play consistently and limit your agent spins guaranteeing featured or black ball players. This happens every week, meaning it’s only a matter of time before you get a competitive roster.

You probably won’t have your favorite players, the best of the bests, or legends, but therein lies the enticement of paying real money. It’s also where offline Master League steps in as a better alternative. You can manage your team within a conventional structure and transfer market, and play at your preferred pace.

You can even sign the legends you unlock in myClub. Yes, this requirement is stupid, and to circumvent it, you have to go through mods. Years ago you had a built-in virtual shop where you could spend points earned by winning Cups and Championships against the AI. It really was another era entirely… Especially now that we’re to this point. Seems like yesterday.

The offline part of the game is where the gameplay really shines. If you want to buy this game, do it for the offline mode. While far from ideal, it doubtless features the best gameplay the market has to offer at a decent level. Though, that’s not the greatest praise when the only meaningful alternative is an entirely different kind of football game like Captain Tsubasa, which essentially fires a Drive Shot to its own face.

You wouldn’t be able to distinguish last year’s Master League footage from this year’s if it weren’t for the background. You have a few more managers to choose from, but you’ll play with the same screens, the same cutscenes, the same texts… If you are familiar with this game mode from the previous version, there’s not much more to say: you’ll have to convince yourself to pay money for a roster update.

The interface is something Konami needs to redesign from scratch and deeply work on for the next generation of PES. It’s mind-boggling how, after 30 years plus of making video games, they could offer us something so bungling. Instead of having a complete and user-friendly menu, the design seems prehistoric.

From a usability point of view, it’s anything but user-friendly. It’s clearly intended for mobile purposes, feeling more like an adaptation of PES Mobile and not vice versa. You boot the game; you click on the Featured Players the game puts right under your nose; you wait for a network connection, updates, another Featured Players page… And, after all that waiting, you wind up at the myClub main menu? What’s gives? It’s just the normal myClub button?

We’re in an era of high resolutions, with screens as big as walls, and we still have to deal with extremely time-wasting interfaces. Did you collect 40 scouts and do you want to get all the players? Choose a scout, manually skip the animations, confirm the player. For each player.

Do you want to release them or transform them into Experience Trainers? Choose a player, open the player menu, click on the preferred option, confirm everything. For each player. No way to perform a batch operation… Hours of your life wasted this way.

Do you want to level up your roster in the training menu? You go into the training menu and are presented with a huge rectangle for each player. Here you can see player icons displaying role, overall, ball color, and level. You choose a player, then the type of trainer, and then you have to scroll through an unsorted list and match the on-screen criteria on the fly.

You’re expected to pair each trainer according to play style, favorite foot, and nationality. It’s your job to constantly go in and out of these pages, hemorrhaging time along the way. Extremely inefficient. And as if that’s not enough, make sure to avoid adding 3 Experience Trainers since the multipliers don’t stack.

That way you have better chances of leveling up by choosing only one trainer every time. You’re gonna waste hours of your life thanks to PES’s menu. Looking forward, Konami’s checklist of things to take care of is long if they want their peak-brand status back. The match menu is another example of silliness.

Common sense dictates that in this day and age, we should have a database of referees to choose from, with attributes and different ways of managing a match.

Goalkeepers with the “defensive GK” trait stay ridiculously glued to the goal line in 1-on-1s. Player switching’s getting worse. Teams like Milan and Inter are not licensed anymore – not a problem, except that the replacement assets look like they’ve been left to an unpaid intern who just painted a flat color over the previous content.

As for online competition, it’s time now to share some sweet words for the community. In the myClub eFootball League, if you’re in the lead but a user decides to boycott the contest by not giving any input for a minute, the system senses the idle player and calls the match. When this happens, you are not guaranteed a thing.

You don’t get a win counted toward your winning streak; instead, you’ve just wasted your time. And it’s not uncommon to play against people with at least an A courtesy rating who abandon the game. How do they manage to keep that status? Try yourself to quit a bunch of times and the game will downgrade you to a B without a second thought.

The situation is frankly demotivating. The average opponent doesn’t waste a second in trying to exploit the kick-off glitch, even if he’s already leading 3-0. Less popular, some corner kick routines involve a strong and not-so-high near post cross or a low pass for a first-touch shot.

Most players rely on spamming long balls in the middle, constantly first passing, shielding and shooting – an easily recognizable diamond formation or one with 3 forwards and an attacking midfielder is what you’ll play against most. Lose the ball and they just go for the goal this way.

It’s genuinely hilarious and not at all rare that, right inside the area, they’ll prefer to keep on passing the ball closer and closer to the net instead of shooting. So, you decide to try the official Ranked Match Online Division instead, or whatever it’s called, to see how different it is: the true Gotha of professional PES e-sports players with real mad skills.

And because you’re a filthy cheater, you decide to go with Saudi Arabia in order to give no quarter to your trained rival. You get immediately paired against somebody using a weak and obscure team called Bayern Munchen, who roosts on the formation screen, staring at his already prepared formation – one with a single attacker and literally everybody amassed in front of the goalkeeper, ready to face your Invincible Armada.

The match starts. You score, because we all know how OP Saudi Arabia is, and then your opponent switches by putting everybody in the middle. Then, somehow he scores after you manage to contain him for the whole match, and you shamelessly end up with a draw. Maybe it’s better to play offline. Yeah, but…mmm…don’t forget you NEED an online connection to play offline.

Oh well. Let’s play FIFA. It’s got a face-scanned Dua Lipa, much better. Yeah.