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Hands-on with eFootball PES 2020, the new Pro Evolution Soccer

Konami has some new ideas

eFootball PES 2020

Pro Evolution Soccer’s name change, announced earlier this week, is a nod to publisher Konami’s esports ambitions. But eFootball PES 2020 still feels like it’s part of the Pro Evolution family.

I played the game for about an hour at E3, which is nowhere near enough time to offer a useful take on an annually iterated sports franchise. But certain aspects of the game did stand out. Konami seems to be focused on differentiating PES from its mighty competitor, EA Sports’ FIFA games, by slowing the pace down considerably.

I’m used to FIFA, so I found the going sluggish to begin with. But after a few games, I began to appreciate that this is the speed at which real football is played, and it allows players to find the time and the space to be creative.

As always, PES is best when it’s serving up the delightful tricks of the world’s top players. And with FC Barcelona as its central licensed asset, the game has plenty of star power. I find that the slower pace allows these tricks to unfold and flower.

Facial animations and body scans of Suarez, Messi and Coutinho mostly look good, but PES also has classic players like Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldinho and Beckham. They feel unique in play, with their own styles. For the first time, the game features a narrative, story-led sections including dialog trees for some of these classic players.

The number of licensed teams so far announced is pretty small, including Arsenal and the French national team as well as Barça. But more are expected to be signed. Konami is limited by a labyrinthine set of licensing rules, required by EA’s exclusive deal with FIFA. But it can have two teams from the English Premier League and three from the Bundesliga. In England, PES can also license full teams of real players, but must use euphemisms for the clubs themselves, such as “Manchester Reds” for Man. United.

The fact is that PES, despite its lack of a full FIFA license and its comparative paucity of resources, is a survivor. It has its die-hard fans, as well as those tempted to take the odd vacation from FIFA. It’s out on Sept. 10 for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.