Dial R1 for Murder

In all the years I’ve been doing this blog, I don’t think I’ve posted quite as many screenshots of league tables as I have with PES2014. These league tables are always fascinating. Last season, attentive readers will recall, I became lodged in 4th place for almost the entirety of the campaign, and after a while the top 4 was so far above the 5th-placed team that we formed a mini-league all of our own, all the way to the end (which saw me finish 4th).

Well, here’s what might be shaping up this season:

PES2014 Season 11 after 16That’s an 11-point gap to 4th. There’s three of us in our own mini-league. I really think I’ll have to win every single remaining match of the season, and hope Manchester City drop points along the way.

I was sweating on qualification from the Champions League group. This is the season where I’ve ‘set my stall out’, as commentators used to say, to win something. Already eliminated from the FA Cup, it’s now the League and/or Champions League, or nothing.

I breezed past Motherwell, which left me needing to beat Juventus to progress. At least I was at home, but home advantage counts for little in PES214 when the AI is determined to make life awkward.

It was a great game, steeped in meaning and dripping with importance, as only the best games in Master League are — and as only Master League can do, in my experience. I know that FIFA and Football Manager can deliver on this front too. Also other career modes in other sports games. But only Master League has done it consistently for me. This was one of those matches where the time invested/context generated dynamic of Master League really paid off.

I picked Dzeko for this one, Torres having been iffy recently, and Di Natale purple-arrowed. Dzeko has rarely featured for me at all since his arrival, a situation with a star name that often prompts a storybook-style outcome when he eventually plays.

My plan for the game was simple. An old standby of mine. Keep a clean sheet no matter what. I always fancy myself to score at least once, and as long as I keep a clean sheet, if I score, I’ve won.

And also: lay off R1. There is a strong correlation between hectic, out-of-control matches and R1 abuse, I’ve noticed. That applies to all PES games, of course, but to PES2014 in bucketloads.

A cagey start, with Juve gaining possession and mounting a dangerous attack, which I fended off, followed by a dangerous spell of pressure, which I withstood. I swept upfield and fed the ball to Joaquin on the left (he always plays on the left for me). Holding the ball up is a skill to acquire in PES2014, and one of the most common methods of losing the ball is holding it up too long while you wait for a runner to get into prime position. So with two Juventus players bearing down on Joaquin and no outlets in any direction, I launched the ball long — really long — in the direction of Dzeko on his own up front. It was him and a defender.

Here is where one of PES2014’s signature ideas came into play. Dzeko and the defender went shoulder-to-shoulder, tussling for the ball that was bouncing and dropping in front of them. Dzeko won the battle, and emerged in the penalty area with the ball at his feet. I aimed and shot past the keeper into the far corner. 1-0.

An expected phase of Juve dominance followed. I couldn’t get the ball, or keep it when I got it. Then something happened and I discovered something about PES2014 that I didn’t yet know. I burst into the box with Moritz, aimed at the near post, and pressed shoot. Alas, I’d been squeezing R1 — Pro Evo’s Original Sin —  and it took some time for the player to respond. PES2014 will disregard inputs, or delay them massively, while you’re fondling R1. That’s just one of the rules of PES2014 and you can either like it or lump it.

Anyway, I noticed the keeper was covering the near post and there was little point shooting there. So while the shooting power bar was illuminated, and before my player struck, I changed the direction of the shot — aiming for the far post instead. The game kindly overrode my ‘banked’ instruction and the shot went in the changed direction, not the one I’d originally aimed in. Responsiveness fans would hate this moment, as they hated PES2014 in general, but I loved it. Let go of R1, people. Just let it go.

That was 2-0, and I’d have to be really careless to lose or draw the match from here. I added another midway through the second half to seal the result. 3-0. Qualified.

PES2014 Season 11 final CL qual group

Humbug incoming

Could 3rd be the new 4th? Season 11 continues. I’ve been marooned in 3rd place for a few matches now.

After spending 95% of last season in 4th, I feel a little twitchy with the game seeming to hold me in one spot as it is now.

There’s a 5-point gap opened up between me and Man Utd in 4th (thanks to a recent 5-2 spanking administered by yours truly). It’s entirely possible that the top 3 as it stands will constitute a mini-league of its own right through to the end of the season.

PES2014 Season 11 after 14To get anywhere near the title, I’ll have to keep winning, obviously. I’ll also probably have to beat Manchester City in our return fixture later this season. And they’ll have to drop points. A tall order playing this game in this league against this AI.

I’ve noticed something about how I play PES2014. Despite knowing in my bones that it’s not possible to ping a few passes from defence into attack and fashion a chance ‘just like that’, I still try it.

I still get the ball in midfield, and play a one-two, and expect the move to almost automatically come off. I know that I have to use a bit more craft and guile, most of the time, but I always tend to go for the easier, quicker way, and usually fail.

Things are tricky in the Champions League, where I followed up my opening loss and draw with another dismal defeat against Malaga. But then I beat them in fixture 4, completed just before the time of writing, leaving the table looking very interesting:

PES2014 Season 11 CL group after 4

Excuse blurriness. Phone camera. Sunny day.

If I beat Motherwell in our return fixture, coming up next, and then beat Juve in the final fixture, I’ll qualify. I really want silverware this season, so these are two massive games coming up. That’s what Master League does: it creates situations and contexts that magnify the value of the time spent playing it. And now it’s time for me to get curmudgeonly.

Earlier this week I spotted the announcement that there is definitely going to be a PES2017. No release date yet – which is disappointing for those of us who like to book time off work, and have to do so as far in advance as possible.

The talk of reworked referees is slightly encouraging. But I simply don’t anticipate that fouls and free kicks are coming back to PES. The reason is plain. Konami’s PR flannel says something about the guiding concept for PES2017 being the ‘thrill of playing against another player’. Ouch.

PES2017 will not feature more than a token one or two fouls per match, if we’re lucky. Guaranteed. Online players have got used to squeezing all the buttons, all the time. They’ve got used to slide-tackling from all angles without any consequence whatsoever (or so little consequence, and so rarely, that it makes it worthwhile for them to play kung-fu football all the time).

Whatever noises are made by Konami now, there will be just as many fouls in PES2017 as there are in PES2016. I.e., pretty much none at all. An alarming amount of my PES2016 matches ended with no fouls of any kind, no matter how violent things got. PES2017 will have to handle much the same way, or the online crew will raise hell, and Konami cannot have that.

In the meantime I’ll continue playing my ‘old-fashioned’ PES with a great AI, proper physicality, and a satisfactory amount of fouls and free kicks. PES2014 might well have been the last proper PES ever made before the multiplayer vision thing properly kicked in.

I’ll still get PES2017. I’ll still take the week off work and get all excited about it. But PES is self-evidently no longer a game that’s made with the single-player uppermost in mind.

Four-Four-Four

Nine matches into Season 11 of my Master League exploits on PES2014, and the table has a disturbingly familiar look to it:

PES2014 Season 11 after 9

I’m fourth, as I was for most of last season. The teams above me are the same teams that were above me for most of last season. Uh-oh, I’m thinking.

I’ve already lost 3 matches. I would say it was careless of me, but in truth, I wasn’t even at the races in any of the 3. The first team that did me was Manchester City, who pummelled me the whole way through. I can’t remember the last time a Pro Evo genuinely made me fear playing the big boys. This one does.

I hardly got a shot on goal. They won 3-0, with this as their third and game-killing goal:

Aguero with the scissors kick at the end there. I filmed it that way because it was more dynamic or something. Truth be told, filming things on my phone and then uploading them to YouTube is still a pain. It takes something noteworthy to prompt me to do it. Whenever I return to the PS4, I will not miss this aspect of retro footy gaming at all.

I’ve posted the above AI goal to show non-players of PES2014 (and there are plenty of them among the PES community) just what I’m up against with this PES2014 AI. One moment it’s doing things like the above, crafting stunning volleys. The next it’s stifling all my attempts to make chances. The next it’s pulling off wonder-saves with the GK. The next it’s doing something baffling that almost lets me walk the ball into the net.

I say these things not to damn the PES2014 AI but to praise it — highly praise it. PES2014’s AI is one of the most interesting AIs I’ve ever played against in any football game. Its frequent forays into ridiculousness (the rebound goal crops up just too often) are more than forgivable. This AI is unpredictable and often lethal, and that’s just how I like it.

The other teams to beat me were Blackpool (3-1) and Tottenham (2-1). I beat Chelsea when I met them. But will the other teams drop points as the season goes by? It’s one of those situations where every single league game will be of maximum importance. I feel that I cannot drop any more points..

And I’m out of the FA Cup already. I know, careless of me, but the team that knocked me out was…. Manchester City. In this game they’re proper, 2013-14, vintage Manchester City and they come pre-programmed with an appropriate degree of toughness.

I feel I must win something this season. All I have left now is the League and the Champions League.

And the Champions League is not going great. Motherwell thumped me 3-0 in the opening fixture. I snatched a draw in the next against Juventus.

The table after two matches:

PES2014 season 11 CL Table after 2

Hopefully I’ll be OK here. But what happens when I get out of the group and encounter a big AI team in the right mood to dish out a lightning 3-0 thrashing? What then?

‘Don’t let that happen’ seems to be the way to go. I’ll deal with it when the situation arises.

At the start of this season nearly all of my players were reset to basic plain-green levels of Heart. It’s taken me until now to coax them back to yellow-orange levels, and the results have finally started coming back. Heart is a big factor in PES2014.

The good goals are still flying in — here’s Deco scoring a semi-daisycutter type of goal, from distance, that isn’t that notable in most editions of PES, but still an occasion for celebration in PES2014:

The wacky world of PES2014

PES2014 Season 11 Away Kit

Subotic in Season 11 Home kit

Season 11 of Master League in PES2014. New Away kit above. New Home kit to the right here.

If, back in December 2013, you had told me that I would end up playing 11 seasons (and probably one or two more to come) of ML on PES2014, I would have… I would have… hmmm, what’re the kinds of things people say they’d do in constructions like this one? Called you mad? Laughed in your face? Decapitated you with a blow of my Cloud-from-FFVII sword? One of those things.

But here we are, and this is happening. PES2014 is a viable football game. Its Master League is very playable, despite being desperately poor in terms of features — as nearly every Master League always has been, it should be noted. I can only think of two editions of Master League (PES2010 and PES2011) that could reasonably be called feature-rich.

Season 11 must bring silverware. Either one of League, FA Cup, or Champions League will do. I cannot bring myself to think of another season of failure. I’ve probably got as good a team as I’m ever going to have in PES2014. The time is now.

Transfers. An interesting pre-season in many aspects. Here’s the Starting XI and Squad I’ve ended up with:

PES2014 Season 11 starting XI and squadI picked up two oldies, breaking my usual policy of building for the future. I wanted a top-rated keeper, and got the 39-year-old Shay Given on a free. It’s his last season before retirement. He’s the highest-rated keeper I could find who was willing to come to me. In any other PES I wouldn’t touch a 39-year-old player. But this is PES2014. We’ll see how he performs and whether he makes a difference.

Also there among the oldies is Subotic, a 33-year-old CB whom I picked up for a nominal fee. Again, not my usual policy, but again, this is PES2014 and we will see what happens. He played brilliantly in my opening game. A big, lumbering centre-half. The proper PES individuality is there with this one.

I also picked up another of the young guns — Stefan Kiessling. (The B-like letter in his name is a feature of German-language orthography that I will be rendering as double-s on the blog, because the Internet tells me I can. I might go in and edit his name if I remember, or I might just leave it like that. Somehow, having a player with a non-standard letter in his name is just part of the wonderful wacky world of PES2014.)

I thumped QPR 6-1 in my opening match. Robbie Keane hat-trick. The table after 1 match:

PES2014 Season 11 after 1

Needless to say, that’s how I’d like the table to be at the end.

I’ve played on far enough to see my Champions League qualifying group. Which is:

JUVENTUS

MALAGA

MOTHERWELL

COVENTRY CITY

There are no certainties in this game, I have learned. 92 points last season only got me 4th place. But with the squad and experience I’ve got I should emerge from this group.

Silverware. That’s the target. But will PES2014 allow it?

© 2015 PES Chronicles Frontier Theme