Month: May 2015

Twenty Fourteen

This blog wasn’t around for PES2014. Complicated reasons, old history now.

If I had been around for PES2014, my initial reaction upon release would have been my usual puppylike enthusiasm for any new football game.

Quickly followed by baffled disbelief. This was not a good football game.

Then I would have gone quiet on PES2014 for a few months, and probably played FIFA14 on my shiny new PlayStation4, before returning to PES2014 in spring of 2014 once all major patching work had been carried out by Konami.

One year ago, after the final April patch, I did play PES2014 quite extensively, for about 6 weeks, covering a couple of Master League seasons.

And this week I powered up the PS3 once more and played a couple of short sessions. Just to see what I think now.

This time around, well, the first thing upon picking up a PS3 controller for the first time in a few months is – what the hell, these things are so light! Seriously, picking up a PS3 controller today is like picking up something filled with feathers, compared to the PS4’s controller.

Another pleasant surprise was the PS3 graphics. They’re quite good. This impression is perhaps more due to PES2015’s poor graphics on the PS4. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that playing PES2014 on PS3 wasn’t as aesthetically challenging as I’d been braced for it to be. Colours were sharp and vivid. The game moved in a very attractive manner.

With PES2014 on the PS3, you have to get used to seeing this:

PES2014 now loading

I have the PS+ digital download that was given away last April. So in theory, the loading times should be substantially shorter than the full disc version.

The old menus are strange to see now. Not just because they’re as hilariously awful as anything Konami ever came up with, but mainly because I spent so little time with the game as a whole and they’re still unfamiliar.

Yes. PES2014 is my least-played PES.

PES2014 main menu screen

Those generic faces… *shudder*.

The greatness of the PS3 versions of PES (and the PC versions, of course) is the availability of option files. I’ve got a great one installed that I nabbed from somewhere last April. I recall at the time noting that PES2014 seemed to have been abandoned by almost everyone who could usually be relied upon to keep the eternal PES flame burning, even during a poor year.

The main Master League menu is pretty much the same as PES2015’s:

PES2014 ML menu screen

Last year I played up to April 2017 in-game, the tail-end of season 3, and had time to get a few decent players. Adebayor was a great buy. I remember the first few matches with him leading the line feeling like a proper PES game again.

PES2014 squad screen

And remember the much-maligned ‘heart’ feature?

PES2014 heart

IFA there at CB would have been useless beyond belief if picked to play in a match. Heart was overpowered as a feature, and just another layer of player selection criteria that we didn’t need. The form arrows are all we ever need in PES. If you’re going to introduce another layer, at least do it right. Konami were pilloried for introducing heart in such a hamfisted way.

But all that aside, how does PES2014 play, now, in 2015? After all the trouble, after all the patches, after all the wailing and gnashing of teeth?

Even last year, post-April, I was positive about PES2014 compared to many, so it should come as little surprise that I think PES2014 plays pretty good now.

Even after so many months of PES2015 and FIFA15 goodness, PES2014 has positive qualities.

The elements that became the heart of PES2015 are all here. Some are actually better. The ball in PES2014 feels heavier and freer, more like an actual object that your players are chasing around and tussling over.

I still don’t like the shooting or the keepers. I was baffled, post-April, to see the forumz declaring that the shooting and the keepers were now fixed. My experience of PES2014 has never included good shooting at any time, and the keepers were only improved to the level of old-school PES. They still patted the ball out back into danger far too often, and were still often comically late to dive, or strangely unbeatable at other times.

I played two short sessions this week, and enjoyed both of them. Whether I would enjoy continued play across many weeks and months is open to question, of course. PES2014’s ML will always be one of the unfinished ones. Truly, the one that got away.

I never did make it out of the Sky Bet Championship:

PES2014 league table season 3

Here’s a short video showing all the goals I saved to the PS3’s hard drive for the entire duration of the game’s lifespan. Goal number 1 is from Wayne Rooney during my early Exhibition phase. Goal 2 was scored with Liverpool during a Champions League tournament. The remaining five are all from Master League.

It took ages the other night to load all those goals for the purpose of recording them…

All in all, my final take on PES2014 is that it is a good game, but was fatally wounded by being hideously unfinished on release. It damaged the cult of PES, making it more vulnerable to undermining doubts than it already was. Most of the ire directed PES2015’s way, I’m convinced, is a result of PES2014’s dire state upon release. In a similar fashion, PES2009 — a perfectly decent football game — suffered needlessly thanks to the sins of PES2008.

On release, PES2014 was a poor game, and a 4/10 score at that stage would have been generous.

By Christmas 2013, a patch or two had nudged things up slightly, but it was still only borderline playable. Just a 5/10 at that point.

Post-April 2014, with all patches done, I do believe that – setting aside the shooting and the keeping and the loading times and the generic faces – PES2014 had become a good football game.

My final score for the game on this blog, had it been going at the time, would have been something like 7/10 – seriously. No messing with 6.5/10 or anything like that. A solid, creditable 7.

Readers with continued access to PES2014 could do a lot worse than to return to the game with a more open mind.

But is it worth getting now, anew, just to experience it? Only if you’re a PES completist, as I am. Only if you’re curious. Otherwise… nah. In the league table of great football games, PES2014 wouldn’t trouble the top half. But it’s not the automatic relegation fodder that many suppose.

Match of the Groundhog Day

Something slightly different for this week’s two posts.

On Friday I’ll be taking my long-promised retrospective glance at PES2014. I wasn’t blogging for that game’s entire lifespan. I want to devote a special post to it now.

Today, a sidelight on PES2015, and an exploration of the perennial PES topic of scripting. I’m putting my Season 10 progress on hold to look at just one particular match that I played again and again to see if it was or wasn’t scripted.

(Spoiler alert: it was scripted.)

My FA Cup Quarter Final was away at Derby County. Or, as I affectionately came to call them, Derby Cunty.

I played this fixture, over and over, a total of 8 times, and lost every time. I didn’t even score a goal until the 8th and final attempt.

The first time around, unknowing of the epic to come, I lost 2-0.

Something about the match troubled me. No matter what I did, nothing at all seemed to work. I can usually make at least a couple of good scoring chances, even if I’m not ‘allowed’ to score them. On this occasion, in this match, I didn’t create a chance. Not one.

Normally I just shrug and sigh and move on. Strange matches that you strangely cannot win are a staple of PES and Master League. It’s probably best not to look too closely.

But every now and then, at least once per PES year, I like to look too closely…

Prior to this match, I’d backed up my ML progress to another file, and uploaded that file to online storage. So I had another copy of my ‘real’ ML, and I could experiment with replaying this strange fixture as many times as I wanted without compromising my no-reloading policy. (Once the experiment was over, I indeed resumed season 10 in the original timeline where I’d lost 2-0.)

I devoted an entire session to trying to beat Derby Cunty.

Match #1: lost 1-0. Match #2: lost 3-0. Match #3: lost 2-0. By this stage I felt unusually committed to the cause of beating Derby — or at least, for the love of God, scoring a goal

I played it again, and again, and again. #4, #5, #6. All straight defeats. No goals scored by me in any of them.

I had at least started to make chances. They went wide, or hit the post/crossbar, or were saved by the keeper.

I tried different formations. I tried different personnel. Each time I loaded up the parallel world, it had different squad members on blue and purple arrows, so I was forced to use different players. At some point of this process, my entire squad got a game against Derby Cunty.

The Impossible Match

Match #6 was interesting: with heroic defending I held it to 0-0 and took it to extra time. It looked like penalties until I inexplicably lost all control of my CBs, allowing a Derby player — let’s pretend it was dear old Paulo Wanchope — to waltz through in long-legged, languid style, and tuck away the winner.

Incredible. 6 matches (7 if you include the original), all of them defeats in which I had not scored a single goal.

I switched off the PS4 and returned the next day for a new session. And decided to have one more try at beating Derby.

Interestingly, the general feel of the match at once felt different, which supports what we all already know: that PES is different from day to day.

I managed to score a goal in the first half, my first in all these attempts, and held Derby off until the second half, at which point they jammied two goals from nothing. They held on to the final whistle. I wasn’t interested in prolonging the experiment. I’d proven what I already knew, that large chunks of my experience in ML are blatantly scripted.

But so what?

Back to my ML I went, hungry for more.

This experience is a handy reminder that we are always in the hands of a script, even when we believe we’re not. Freedom in football gaming is a carefully crafted illusion. And more power to it: illusion is the basis of all enjoyment. In PES2015, that’s truer than it’s ever been.

Four Five One

PES2015 Forlan takes it down

A couple of long sessions have carried me well past the halfway stage of Season 10 — and taken me past an important point. Results have picked up quite remarkably. From about 12 matches, I lost maybe once, drew three or four times, and won all the other times. One was a glorious 4-0 demolition job, my clearest victory yet on Superstar.

PES2015 still has not cracked, and may never fully do so, but I’m starting to build something at least.

You have to defend like the devil in this game. You have to be ruthless and dirty when required, taking the yellow (or even red) card for the sake of the team. I finished one match with 8 players, but still won 1-0, and so it was worth it.

The double-tap stab tackle is very important in PES2015. Getting it right and getting it wrong is the difference between success and failure. It’s impossible to defend effectively in PES2015 without getting that right.

I’m getting it right a lot more than I am wrong. The table after 22 matches:

PES2015 Season 10 after 22

My target for this season was to finish in the top 4. With over a third of the season remaining, and with this game’s mysteriously heightened difficulty at random times, anything can still happen.

But I start to believe, cautiously, that the tanker is starting to turn. I’m snatching lots of wins and draws now, whereas before I was only snatching draws while suffering too many defeats.

The switch to 4-5-1, I will grudgingly admit, is the likely root cause of this turnaround. It was the last attempt of many formations and the only one that works.

As every real-life football-watcher knows all too well, 4-5-1 is the new common sense, and in my view has contributed more to the decline of football as a spectacle than any other factor.

The last repository of authenticity in football resides in PES, in FIFA, in Football Manager, and in any other virtual contenders that happen along. The fake is more authentic than the original.

The average length of a highlights package on Match of the Day right now is, I believe, around 6 minutes. Some go as low as 4 minutes. I used to wonder how they could condense 90 minutes of action down to a few minutes. I no longer wonder. Getting a few minutes of interesting action from a real-life professional game is often as good as it gets.

Liverpool’s tilt at the Premier League title last year was interesting. Newcastle’s slow-motion, car-crash descent this year is also interesting. But these are exceptions. When you consider the amount of sheer product that the modern football machine pumps out, there’s too little return-on-investment.

When the football season ends next week (or the week after, or whenever it is), I won’t miss it. I’m glad there’s no International tournament this year.

The only football I’m interested in and passionate about anymore is the fake football of my Master League.

I’m also interested in the prospect of meeting the excellent FIFA15 again later in the year (PES Treble willing).

And I’m also interested in the ongoing Football Manager careers that I have going, and still return to from time to time.

A good football computer game distils the essence of what makes football great (or used to be great) for you to inject into your veins whenever you like.

A controversial view, and not one that many are likely to take on board anytime soon. The concept of oneself as a football fan — that whole conscious layer of social identity — is far too deeply rooted. The machine will grind on and nothing will ever stop it. I don’t hope to stop it. I don’t want to stop it. Association Football gave birth to PES and the rest of them. Job done.

Next time on PES Chronicles: how I shot Bambi; and why Santa Claus does not — and never could — exist.

Pro Evolution Souls

Altintop in PES2015

PES2015 on Superstar difficulty is the hardest football game I have ever played. I’ve tried moving up to Superstar several times before with disastrous results. Season 10 is about a quarter of the way in. I’ve played in all competitions, including the Europa League, and it’s been another disaster so far.

The current league table is a representative sample of how the season’s going:

PES2015 Season 10 after 13

In the Europa I’ve played 3, lost 2, drawn 1. The screenshot at the top is from my second group match, against the celebrated Willem II (it was really nothing). I grabbed that screenshot mainly to memorialise the appearance of an old PES friend, one Altintop.

I lost that game 0-2 and hardly got a kick.

I’ve tried a few different versions of a 4-5-1 formation – a formation I absolutely loathe in real-life football, and hold largely responsible for the glacial sterility of the modern game. But PES is its own world, a better world, and nothing is forbidden. So I tried this 4-5-1:

PES2015 4-5-1-I

But that was a bit too much like a 4-3-3. I didn’t really feel the intended benefit of packing out midfield. This was the post-match stats card after that particular experiment:

Superstar Tale of the Tape

Ouch. So I switched to this variant on the 4-5-1 theme:

PES2015 4-5-1-II

I’ve played a good chunk of matches with the above formation and am satisfied with it for now. Results have picked up slightly – enough for me to persevere.

The main drawback of this 4-5-1 is that Crouch, by far the player of PES2015 so far, seems ineffectual as a lone striker. Therefore I tend to play Robben in that role, not his natural one, but with that blistering pace and close control he’s damn effective at it.

So things are slightly better with this 4-5-1.

But it’s still the hardest football gaming experience I have ever known.

Creating a chance is the rarest thing. Losing the ball is a nightmare, because the insane possession script enjoyed by the AI is… simply insane.

Every AI possession seems hard-coded to give them a chance on goal. The AI has the capacity to play one- and two-touch football that makes Barcelona look like 3rd Division lumpers. Defending against that is enough to make any hair I had left turn grey.

Even with the relative luxury of 2-bar passing assistance, PES2015 will not crack for me in the way that every single PES before it has eventually cracked.

It’s rather bewildering on one level — but on another level, rather nice.

Previous PESes were predictable. After a certain stage, they cracked wide open. Continuous success was more or less guaranteed.

Well, PES2015 bucks the trend. Usually in Master League, it’s just a case of waiting until you get better players. But I passed that stage long ago. I can’t see myself getting many more players better than the ones I have right now, and the game just will not yield.

The last football game I remember being this stubbornly unyielding was FIFA08(PS3).

I remember a print magazine at the time—the illustrious OPMS2, I believe—remarking that FIFA08 on higher levels was so difficult, it was destined to remain a cult memory long after its time was up.

That was true. I still remember FIFA08 (just the PS3/360 version, mind) with great affection.

I’ve always wondered why neither Konami nor EA ever ‘went there’ again and deliberately crafted a football game with such a degree of uber-difficulty.

Well, they have now in the form of PES2015.

This experience is my experience and nothing to do with anybody else’s. It’s no good anybody telling me that they were winning 6-0 on Superstar within a few hours of cracking open the case back in November, and that online is where the real football gaming is these days, and so on. I don’t play football games for anyone else. It’s my own world, and this is what’s currently happening there.

And I’m not even complaining. This is a wonderful turn-up for the books. I’m enjoying it, if that’s not absolutely clear.

In searching for a difficult game to compare PES2015 to, I’m tempted to describe PES2015 as the Dwarf Fortress of football games, but that’d be something of a misnomer. Dwarf Fortress isn’t a hard game, as such — just a notoriously hard interface to learn.

I’ll settle for saying that PES2015 is the Dark Souls of football games. For me. Other experiences are available.

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