The good folks at Konami hosted us to have hands-on time with Pro Evolution Soccer (2020 edition). While admittedly sports games are not our forte, P.E.S. was strangely addictive. Soccer (known to true fans and anyone outside the U.S.A. as football) enjoys modest success here, but is the sport of choice for the rest of the world. Unlike distinctly American sports such as basketball and American football which are replete with near-constant satisfaction, soccer is a war of attrition. Games sometimes end in 0-0 ties and even one goal can be a desperately hard-fashioned victory. The players have to carefully position themselves and constantly weave an environment that exposes a weakness. The moment that weakness exposes itself the players must strike and strike successfully, else it might be another twenty minutes before another such opportunity will present itself again. This dilemma is exactly where Pro Evolution Soccer thrives.
Our exhibition matches were playing as legendary soccer team FC Barcelona, oddly playing against…. FC Barcelona. This was a struggle throughout but one that drew you ever closer to the screen. The game simplifies the mechanics of ball control and pass reception greatly, but what it gives you in terms of basic foundation, it takes away in terms of ease of scoring. Like real soccer players, you must intricately craft a moment of weakness where the opposing team is flanking your every move. Weakly hand off a pass and it will surely be intercepted by your rival. Kick too light, the goalie on the opposing team will easily catch it. Kick too hard when you have an opening, you’ll punt the ball into the stadium. The Goldilocks zone of “just right” is the incontrovertible sticky wicket here. In the five exhibition matches we had in our time here, three of them ended in a 0-0 tie, two of them ended with us losing 2 to 0. We got close a lot, but just couldn’t find the right opening to score.
You can easily switch between different players on the field when running defense, and there is a whole array of game-in-question strategy you can have your team deploy that we did not even get a chance to dabble with. Once figuring out how to run and dash and pass, it was off to the races and trying to secure our first victory. As a layman to soccer’s greater system of rules, it would be helpful to have certain calls spelled out in terms of what the rule broken was. “Why is it that being ahead of a certain line in the field means I lose possession of the ball? I thought I just did a good job of getting ahead of my opponent,” one who is not a true soccer fan might think. Even still though, P.E.S. succeeds right in line with what the best of video games dating back to Space Invaders have done effectively: make you want to keep coming back for more. And more. And more. Unless you absolutely hate sports, you’ll get wrapped up in the attack and defense of the sport pretty quickly and be determined to put that pesky FC Barcelona into their place.