Don’t Get Me Shane Long

A superb hat-trick from Regen van Persie – away to AC Milan! – helped to see me safely through the first knock-out round of the Europa League.

I’d lost the first leg 0-2 at home. Naturally I thought I was out. Superstar is a beast this year. I would need to score two goals without reply, away, just to take it to extra time.

I went ahead relatively early (the best goal of RVP’s three), but didn’t get the second until the last second of the 93rd minute. And then van Persie scored twice in extra time. A great match.

I don’t recall ever scoring four goals on Superstar before this. And I certainly haven’t done so since.

Here are RVP’s three:

Next up in the Europa League, I face Esbjerg – a Danish port town that I weirdly once visited as part of a works ‘mini-cruise’ jolly back in 1988. I had a good time there. With Esbjerg being one of my memorable places, it feels a bit like playing Skegness, or West Midlands Safari Park.

I’d got through the January window only doing one main piece of business. I shipped out my first-choice GK, Beto, who had been decent enough. But I could do better.

I decided a 20-year-old Casillas was the man, and was pleased to get him for £38m. I turned down another £147m offer for Lobato. I cashed in on the long-faded Lincoln and sold him for £30m.

And I picked up Felipe Melo from my Youths as cover for the DMF position in the final hour of deadline day.

I’ve been playing a bit of Football Manager recently, and one of the great features they have there is being able to let your Director of Football handle all transfers and find players. So part of the fun is making do with the players that he sends your way, some of them good, some of them bad, and some hilariously terrible. I don’t think this would really work in PES, as there’s no way it’d be programmed correctly. Imagine the players the game would give you.

My squad for the second half of the 7th season:

This year’s Vardy handles like the best Vardy, for me, in a few years of PES. I’ve had him every year recently, and this is the only year where I think I’ll keep him.I’m not going to do anything with that goal-scoring, am I? 26 goals in 30 matches might be my worst-ever return at this stage of a season and this stage of an ML.

The eternal question – whither PES2020? What kind of PES am I finding it to be? Is it living up to the promise of its first few days and weeks? How does it compare to the other editions of the PS4 era – to nuPES, as I pejoratively call it – and in particular to the best PES of this era so far, PES2019?

At this stage of Season 7, I have to say that I don’t like PES2020 nearly as much as I liked PES2019 at this stage. Looking back a year, I see myself saying things like this of PES2019:

At least once per session there’ll be a match that I can honestly say has the true taste of classic PES. This is not something I’ve seen in PES for a few years.

It’s a magic spell that I don’t want to break.

That magic spell held strong for pretty much all of PES2019. I could not say the same of PES2020. The magic spell is a much-flickering flame. Maybe once per real-time week, yes, there’s a great match, but even then they’re only great relative to the low standard that PES2020 has set for itself.

A huge part of why PES2020 feels like a step too far towards the multiplayer-balancing side of the scale, is its sheer lack of great goals. Balancing, dear boy, balancing!

In PES2019, this time last year, I was scoring goals like this more or less for fun:

Those three came along in just one session on PES2019. And those are the goals that thrill me and please me. I am always trying to score them.

If three goals like that came along in one session on PES2020, I believe I would genuinely faint from shock.

There are good goals in PES2020, but a good goal on PES2020 tends to be one that’s contextually important. They’re the goals that continue a player’s story, or the goal that wins a tight match. Goals that make you yell out loud because of the sheer visual outrageousness of them – are absent from PES2020. I’ve scored a few, of course I have, but they’re so painfully few…

I like PES2020 – ‘don’t get me wrong’, as Americans online are fond of saying.

But it’s high time to say I don’t love it.

My old Forlan, said follow that van Persie, and don’t Dele Alli on the way

A Superstar long-ranger on PES2020!

For context and full appreciation of my reaction when this went in, look at the time on the clock, the opposition team, and the 0-0 scoreline. This goal was the winning goal.

Great scenes.

I know – it’s only just a long-ranger. I’ve scored hundreds that are ‘better’ and from farther out. But everything is about context and this is the goal of PES2020 so far for me.

If anything over 25 yards is to be counted as a long-ranger (and I think 25 yards is a reasonable marker), then this one clearly does count. It’s 27 yards as the crow flies. The turf lines confirm 27 yards at least (6, 12, 18, 24, plus 3 yards):I judge the overall range of the long-ranger to be just about 28 yards, taking the diagonal direction of travel into account.

The scorer was Robin van Persie – ‘the new Forlan’, as the voices in my head are calling him – in the last minute of normal time, away to Man City, on Superstar. Playing on Superstar, as I now am for keeps (see below), has impacted van Persie’s goal-scoring prowess. He hasn’t had many recently.

The long-ranger came while wearing the latest version of the lucky brown kit. Great things happen in the brown kit. This was a great thing.So why am I still on Superstar after my grumbles last time?

Simply put, because Top Player is just too easy for me. I would honestly rather sweat and suffer and rage on Superstar – with occasional flashes of light, as above – than routinely romp to victory in every match on Top Player.

It had got to the point on Top Player where I was barely conceding a shot on target to the AI, never mind conceding any goals, and I was scoring for fun myself.

So I had two choices. Either revive my enthusiasm for PA0 and stay on Top Player (or more likely drop down to Professional, to offset the heightened struggle on PA0).

Or stay on Superstar with PA1 and ‘suck it up’, as I believe the kids would put it.

I have chosen option 2 – for now – and so far, so good. A slight change of attitude helps. I accept. I am calm. This is the game. It is up to me to adapt

There is also the knowledge that there is no way back on PA1 to a lower difficulty level. It’s Superstar or bust.

What I’ve done is slowed my game right down. Conservation of possession. A fast direct attacking style that works on lower levels is only used occasionally, rather than it being the first instinct.

Also I’ve lengthened my match times to 11 minutes, and I’m considering going to 12 minutes.

One of the problems with my preferred 10-minute matches on Superstar is a lack of time to respond to the AI if it scores in, say, the 60th minute and goes 1-0 up. You then have to score twice to win, obvs, and on Superstar it’s a struggle just to score once. 11-minute matches (and maybe 12-minute ones) offset this factor a touch.

Matches are pretty good. Cheaty as hell, and good grief what a dark day it was for the PES series about 6 years ago when the PES Productions meeting room discussed the item ‘Shall we just mostly ignore fouls like FIFA is doing?’, and everyone agreed. If I ever get a time machine, I’m heading to Tokyo circa 2012-2013. I am going to put on a set of grey Acme Cleaning Company overalls, and Solid Snake my way into that meeting. I haven’t really thought about it any further. I suppose I’ll make a passionate speech or something.

So yes, one of the elements that makes Superstar in PES2020 so obnoxious is the way 9 out of 10 clear fouls against you aren’t given. Which is bad enough on Top Player and below, but at least there you aren’t struggling to get any kind of purchase on most games. All the barges and nudges and little taps that knock you off the ball are proportionally so much more aggravating and anti-PES on a difficulty level where it’s hard enough to get and keep the ball, never mind do meaningful things with it. I know there are readers who wish I would stop talking about this. No. I will never stop talking about this. I’ll always talk about this. I’m genuinely amazed that every PES fan isn’t constantly talking about this.

The season is already pretty much a write-off in the league, so the Superstar experiment won’t cost me much there. The table in mid-January, after 20 matches – I’ve got a top-4 finish to play for:I’m out of the FA Cup. My first knockout Europa League match is looming. I might play 15-minute matches for that competition.

No new players coming in. I’m serious about ‘completing’ this ML, in whatever form that completion takes, with my ragtag bunch. Who aren’t all that ‘ragtag’ anymore, actually. I’ve got quite a few players whose OPR is over 80 now. They will become a squad of galacticos in their own right. I have had a quick look at the available players, out of curiosity. I could break the bank and bring in a mature Dele Alli or any number of big-name Regen Youths, but no. I’ve got what I’ve got and will work with them.

We need a single-player PESxit

I think PES2020 might be the first one ever where I stay on Top Player all the way to its conclusion. On the PS2 I always went up to 5* difficulty eventually, and then to 6* when that was introduced. And in more recent time I’ve always gone up to Superstar once I have learned the ropes. This year, I doubt that will happen.

I’ve had a session of experiment on Superstar and the results were not good. I didn’t lose any crucial games… but the quality of gameplay did not please me. What’s different about PES2020’s version of Superstar is that the AI is allowed to barge and clatter your players without consequence. This makes for objectively poor gameplay. Physicality in football must have constraints and consequences, or the game suffers massively. But the online players of today have to be spoon-fed the shitty Rocketball gameplay that they demand. So we have to suffer.

Which isn’t a new development. This has been the direction of travel for years. But we’ve lived in a semi-protective bubble in single-player. Offline, the Rocketball dimension of nuPES has always been in a reasonable proportion on Superstar. Until this year.

And so it seems I might ‘complete’ PES2020 on the PS4 on Top Player. Which is not ideal. It’s not what I really want. Top Player is a little easy. It would not take too much of an effort to win the League on Top Player, and perhaps a pretty straightforward Treble too.

Goal-scoring isn’t a great feature of PES2020. Once again today I haven’t got a single goal replay that’s worth showing off.

Goals do mean something in context – yes, fine, no worries there. A rifled shot from the edge of the box might be just a bog-standard goal in visual terms – but if the scorer is Regen van Persie adding another layer to his developing ML story, then yes, that goal is pretty great. It’s a good and memorable goal. Ditto if the likes of Jarvis is the scorer. And Castledine has this knack of coming up with the occasional 20-yard screamer.

But overall, as things-in-themselves, I think it’s safe to say that the goals of PES2020 are the least remarkable and the least satisfying PES goals since PES2014.

Here is the league table after 16 matches. This was after a session on Superstar in which I scored 0 goals and racked up 1 point. Before that session I was 2nd and only 5 points behind Liverpool.I made it through to the knockout stages of the Europa League in fine style, and would have finished top of the group if I hadn’t tried out Superstar for the last match away to Dortmund that I lost 2-0. I knew I was already through and was willing to make the experiment.I remain strangely ambivalent toward PES2020. There are matches where I think it’s easily the best football game ever created. So many breathtaking moments and evidence of sheer craft from the developer. But there is this uneasy feeling overall of it being a multiplayer game that we’re being allowed to play (for now).

I know that I thought more highly of PES2019 at this stage last December, than I do of PES2020 this December. The different isn’t vast, but it’s real. This time last year I would have unhesitatingly said of PES2019: ‘9 out of 10!’ This year, at this beginning of December (roll on January 2nd), I would say quietly of PES2020: ‘8 out of 10’…. Which still isn’t terrible. As Meat Loaf nearly said, 8 out of 10 ain’t bad. And there’s 8 months of the footy game year remaining.

The man Persie

One of my shortest posts ever today, not because I’m not playing PES2020 on PS4 (i most certainly am), and not because I’m not immersed in the ML that I have going on it (ditto). A few real-world things mean I’m stitting down to write this post from scratch at 11.44.

16 minutes to post time. No pressure.

Something about the colours of Borussia Dortmund just say ‘football’ to me. And European football in particular.For this Season 7 I’m highly prioritising the Europa League. I don’t know if or when I will get to compete in tjhe competition again.

Currently top of my Europa League group with 10 points after 4 matches. I have played and beaten Borussia Dortmund. Yes, this is still ‘only’ on Top Player, but this level can be plenty tough when it wants to be tough, believe me. I’ll probably go up to Superstar for Season 8 now.PES2020 still isn’t a PES of great goals – they’re all much the same, really, with only the odd goal standing out – but it is a PES of great goal-scorers.

This is a box-finisher’s PES and so the likes of Default Jarvis is a treasure – as is my 18-year-old Regen van Persie.

Goals from all my box-finishers and others have fired us to 2nd in the table.And look at whose name is 2nd in the goal-scorers’ table.That’s not too bad at all after 9 matches. He is still only 18, remember. A few seasons yet before he hits his stride properly. This kind of developing story is what PES and Master League are all about.

And finally today – yes, I said it would be a short one – here are 3 moments of interest from my most recent session.

First up is a team move that ends in a nice headed goal from Lobato. Then a free kick from Castledine that felt too far out for a shot, but I thought I’d try it. And finally a 29-yarder from Castledine that still doesn’t satisfy my stringent requirements for a satisfying long-ranger… because it’s more of a ‘dodgy keeper’ moment than a true long-ranger.