eFootball PES 2021 Season Update Review

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If you look below, you’ll find my review of last year’s, eFootball PES 2020. Everything about it, as one might have expected, is still true for this year’s encouragingly honest, but nontheless slightly disappointing, Season Update. Despite its invariable familiarity, though, eFootball PES 2021 is still, for my money, at least, the finest football game money can buy, and given what I have seen and heard about the imminent release of FIFA 21, is likely to remain as much for at least another season.

Preferences obviously vary wildly depending on what you want from a football game, but if what you want is a football game that, well, plays a really good game of football, then the clumsily named, eFootball PES 2021: Season Update, is still going to be the game for you. Problem is, if you’ve already purchased last year’s release, then there really is no point in making the ‘upgrade’ – especially if you’re planning on playing this on the PS4.

While the move to a very honestly labelled and, above all else, honestly priced season update is something that I think should be applauded (it’s certainly something that EA could look to replicate), there is no getting round the fact that, while I think this will invariably be good for the series in the long run (PES really needs to hit the ground running if it’s going to make up some ground against EA and FIFA on the next generation of consoles), it does make for an invariably disappointing release in the here and now. With no major updates beyond the squads, player likenesses and kits, this really is last year’s release in just about all but name.

Look below though, and you’ll soon realise that being the same as PES 2020 is hardly the end of the world. Sure, if you’ve already purchased last year’s release and are willing to update your option file, then this 2021 update is all but pointless (it makes a tad more financial sense for the poor option file-less Xbox owners out there, but even for them, with PES’ famously limited licensing, it’s still a relatively tough sell). For newcomers though, this budget priced update could provide the perfect excuse to try what I believe to be the finest football game of the generation.

Yes, there have been some subtle updates to the gameplay since PES 2020 was originally released, but this is still fundamentally the same game it was at launch back in 2019. The menus are still terrible, the commentary is horrendous, and the licensing remains as big an issue as ever (if not bigger given the loss of the Milan teams and the iconic San Siro stadium). But despite its myriad of long established and long running faults, PES remains the finest virtual representation of the beautiful sport on the market.

With its industry leading physics, brilliantly unpredictable goal-mouth scrambles and its peerless sense of connection between player and pitch, and above all else, player and ball, PES 2021 is still leagues ahead of its great rival where it matters most – out on the pitch. Of course, if you’re obsessed with FUT, then PES, despite its efforts to replicate EA’s great cash cow, is unlikely to scratch that same itch, but if you’re looking for legitimately outstanding on the field action, PES 2021 remains the number one choice.

We won’t see the potential benefits of Konami’s decision to ostensibly take a year off until 2021 and the unveiling of its Unreal Engine developed PES 2022, but for now, we can all celebrate an admirably honest, if invariably limited update while looking forward to what the team at Konami can deliver on the back of a two-year development cycle. Could this mean a fundamental change to the way sports games are released in the future? I’m not so sure, but in the current climate, it feels like the right choice for right now.

eFootball PES 2021: Season Update arguably isn’t worth it for those who have already purchased last year’s release, but at its lower price point, it does deliver a very tempting excuse to give what remains a largely exceptional game a go for those who might have previously jumped ship to FIFA, (or for those who have simply never given the series a chance before). As for the score, well, I gave PES 2020 a 9/10 last year, and while I genuinely believe that it’s still the best football game on the market, I would be remiss if I didn’t knock it down a point for basically be the exact same game it was 12 months ago – even if the reasons for it being so are somewhat justified).

** eFootball PES 2020 Review** 

Will I ever be able to write a review for Pro Evo without constantly comparing it to its great rival? Not a chance. The two are just so intertwined – without any other notable competitors on the market for well over a decade, the choice for any fan of the beautiful game has been a simple one for quite some time – Pro Evo or FIFA. 

As always, the answer to that question depends largely on what you are looking for, but now more than ever, that choice is surprisingly easy to make. If you love the whole Ultimate Team thing, if you must have the full Premier League licence and demand a cutting-edge online interface (oh, and if you like street football I suppose), FIFA will almost certainly be the game for you. If you like playing a really…really good game of virtual football, however, you honestly need look no further than the truly exceptional Pro Evo 2020 (or, eSports Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). 

This year’s FIFA actually plays a much better game of football than the 19 vintage, and despite a general lack of innovation in its core game modes, Konami have actually closed the gap behind the scenes thanks to some smart additions to MyClub and Master League, but despite these changes, FIFA still excels where it always has, and Pro Evo still delivers the best game of football on the market. 

And man, what a game of football it is. Despite legacy issues with poor commentary (it’s still terrible), and continued licensing issues – despite improvements, (Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 is the only game in which you can play as the Serie A champions, Juventus), it’s still inevitably a long way behind FIFA – out on the field, this is without question, the best that Pro Evo has ever been. Konami has promised since day 1 that, ‘playing is believing’, and while I fear that not enough gamers will give it that chance given the market dominance of EA’s footballing juggernaut, I have to believe that, if given the opportunity, at least some will be tempted over (or back) to Konami’s less flashy but technically superior take on the beautiful game. 

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This is still Pro Evo as you know it, but a host of intelligent changes combine to make this the most realistic and in-depth interpretation of the sport ever conceived. The pace has been lowered significantly compared to last year’s enjoyable but often hectic take on the sport, the animations have been significantly improved (first touch animations are a genuine game changer), the new finesse dribbling system adds an extra layer of realism and depth, and the AI, such a problem at the launch of last year’s release, appears to be much improved and far smarter this time around. Defenders still have their moments and keepers arguably remain Pro Evo’s one genuine on-the-field weak-point, but push the difficulty up towards the Superstar level and you’ll need to be pretty sharp to successfully break teams down. With its more cultured pace and improved headers (thank God), opening up the best teams feels like a very different and often much more rewarding experience than it did when playing the incredibly enjoyable but much more ‘arcadey’ Pro Evo 2019. 

As good as it is to play though, the first thing that will strike you out on the pitch is the truly exceptional match day presentation. The front end isn’t quite as slick as FIFA’s, but at the top end of the licensing spectrum (namely, when playing at one of the official stadiums with a fully licensed team – preferably one of Konami’s partner clubs), Pro Evo 2020 is often breathtaking to look at and a genuine step up from FIFA 20’s occasionally plastic looking presentation. From the level of detail to the exceptional lighting and the industry leading player recreations, Pro Evo 2020 really does belie its comparatively limited budget with some genuinely stunning visuals. With the crowd, sound effects and incidental details also seeing notable improvements this year, this is a decidedly better looking game that its already handsome predecessor. 

Once the game starts up though, it really is the animations that make all the difference. You can have the best player models in the world, but if they don’t move naturally, the façade starts to crumble the moment a game is up and running. Here, though, there are times when it doesn’t look far from the real thing. From unique player animations (something Pro Evo has always excelled at) to realistic physical interactions and subtle first-time animations, Pro Evo 2020 really is a thing of beauty when in motion. Of course, the drop off in quality when moving down the footballing ladder is stark and the lack of official licensing across most of the Premier League remains a major issue, but at its best, Pro Evo 2020 is a visual treat. 

Sadly, as great as Pro Evo is out on the pitch (and it really is great), off it, it remains a long way behind FIFA – and the rest of EA’s slick catalogue of sporting franchises. Beyond the obvious lack of street football and the disappointing omission of the women’s game, its core modes still lack the depth and presentational slickness of their FIFA equivalents. The most obvious of these disparities remains myClub. Now don’t get me wrong, judged on its own merits, myClub is a solid and ethically superior alternative to FUT, but in terms of modes, challenges, rewards and sheer depth, it’s simply not in the same league. It’s great that you can build a solid team without having to spend real world money or commit to hundreds of hours of soulless grinding, but in terms of basic content and a clear and obvious reason to keep you playing in the long run, myClub remains disappointingly undercooked. 

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Sadly, Become a Legend fares no better. Again, the mode itself is absolutely fine, but there have been no improvements of note and absolutely nothing in the way of innovation this year. You could still lose days of your life to it with a smile on your face, but if you’ve played through it across any of the last 3 or 4 iterations of the game, then there really is nothing new to see here. 

Luckily, Master League, the much loved, and for my money, genre leading single player mode, is better than ever. It’s not quite the overhaul I was hoping for, but by finally improving transfers and bringing them more in line with the reality of the market, the whole experience immediately feels more realistic and much more challenging. Sure, you can still tear through a few seasons as one of the world’s best teams, but if you’re willing to start out in one of the newly licensed second-tier leagues, the journey to the top will prove far more challenging and hugely rewarding. Much has been made of the new interactive cutscenes, but honestly, beyond looking kind of cool and helping to build a bit of narrative progression, they actually add very little to the experience and ultimately have no effect on your overall journey. 

Despite improvements to the menus (the soundtrack is especially ace this year), and a host of much needed refinement to both myClub and Master League, Pro Evo (or eSports Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 if you want to be a stickler) remains a long way behind FIFA in its off the field options. On it though, Konami’s long running, soccer series has never been better. Some will speak to the rose-tinted excellence of Pro Evo’s early 2000s heyday, but make no mistake, this really is the best it has ever been. Visually, the game is exceptional; the new animations make a huge difference to gameplay, while the slower, more conservative pace makes this a true simulation of the sport. The commentary is still mind bogglingly bad and the keepers remain a tad iffy, but in terms of its core gameplay, Pro Evo 2020 really is leagues ahead of the competition. It still lacks the kind of long-term depth that could potentially make it a genuine competitor to the current genre king, but for fans of the series, that incomparable gameplay and the promise of next year’s fully licensed (and free) Euro 2020 DLC should keep them happy for months to come. 

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to press@4gn.co.uk.

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eFootball PES 2021 Season Update Review
  • Gameplay - 8/10
  • Graphics - 8/10
  • Sound - 8/10
  • Replay Value - 8/10
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Pro Evo 2020 really is leagues ahead of the competition.

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