Month: February 2016

Onward to a better tomorrow, citizen

xcom 2 loading screen 1

The nights starting to get lighter traditionally sees me starting to play other games, and this year is no exception. I have a new gaming passion, and there’s not a football in sight. The game in question is XCOM2. It’s shaping up to be one of the greatest strategy games I have ever played, and I’ve played a few.

The pleasure of a challenging, difficult game is what motivates my love of football gaming, and is what’s sent me to PES2014 currently. A high difficulty curve is intensely pleasurable – barely half an hour into XCOM2, a time when most strategy games are still holding your hand, my starting XCOM squad was completely wiped out. This is the pain I need in a strategy game.

The Soviet-style screenshot above is one of a collection of themed images that appear on XCOM2’s loading screens, meant to evoke the shiny dystopia of human society under the alien jackboot. It’s one example of the attention to detail and atmosphere that characterises greatness in gaming.

It feels good to have another game to play in parallel with my football gaming. It prevents the feeling of suffocation that sometimes overcomes even the most committed football gamer.

Back on the ranch, PES2014 season 8 is proceeding at a slightly slower pace, given the time I’m spending on XCOM2.

Here is the table after 12 matches:

PES2014 season 8 after 12I’ll do very, very well to mount any kind of title challenge from this far back. It looks like Season 8 will be another tussle for the top 4, which is within reach. Top-4 was my target at the start of the season. I’ll continue plugging away.

Master League famously allows chasing teams to pull close if they can string together enough results, but closing what is already a 15-point gap on the top spot against a rampant Man Utd will be a tall order.

At the time this game was published the Red Devils in real life had yet to start their current, ’80s-Liverpool-like swan-dive into relative mediocrity. So they’re tough as old boots to play against in PES2014. Not as tough as the typical XCOM2 mission, but getting there.

I’m top of my group in the Europa League after 2 matches. Tempting fate, I’ll say qualification for the Round of 32 is a formality.

Nothing’s really changed for me in gameplay terms. The overall experience is still of the most satisfying simulation-oriented PES gameplay that we’ve seen in many a year.

Fouls are here in their proper proportion. I firmly believe that we will never see AI fouls in single-player football gaming ever again, beyond the token one or two every so often. Over the last few years, EA and Konami have both clearly signalled their intentions on that front. So I’m enjoying the experience of playing a football game in which play is often broken up by free kicks. Imagine that! The game even dares to be quite dull sometimes. Imagine that!

I have tinkered with the camera in an effort to get more of a handle on the slow midfield play that sometimes bogs the game down. (What a condemnation of the direction PES has taken, that the ball often being ‘bogged down’ in midfield play is something of a novelty. Olympus truly has fallen.)

I played a few matches with the Blimp camera for the first time. It’s decent, and gives you a good sighting of all your other players, but the distance from the action overall makes things feel curiously remote. You need to be closer – I do, anyway.

So I went back to my favoured Custom Wide camera after a decent stab at Blimp and that’s the end of that story.

For the record, XCOM2 has its fair share of camera issues. The maximum zoom-out view isn’t quite far enough to get a good tactical sense of the maps, but that’s probably deliberate.

Thinking back over the past ten years of PES, when was the last time we never had to consider what the best camera view was? The PS2 years, surely. Since then, there’s never been a single camera view that’s hit the Goldilocks zone.

Europa the moon

Season 8 has got into gear properly. This is my first ‘proper’ season, as I think of it. The first season where there are no echoes of other football games running through my mind, and where my team is good enough to actually challenge for honours, instead of just treading water.

The Europa League started pretty quick after the opening of the season. This is a very Europa League-ish sort of group:

PES2014 season 8 Europa Table after 1Yes, it looks like I was taking this photo in a rainstorm. Ah, the joys of mobile phone photography. Being on the PS3 I am, of course, having to take all photos and videos manually. When PES2014 eventually winds down, however many seasons that takes — 10 seasons? 12? — I won’t miss this aspect of playing it.

I’ve scored some decent goals, but when you have to record them yourself, with your phone, the bar is set much higher. Because you have to put the controller down, pick the mobile phone up, unlock it, open the camera app, point the camera, steady your hands, press the shutter button — and then you have to get the photo or video from the phone to the computer for uploading to the blog or to YouTube. I really miss just pressing a button or two on the controller to accomplish all this.

My opening Europa League match, that I lost, was against Nordsjaelland. This might be the one and only time I ever mention the team on the blog. They’re a real team — 8th in the Danish Superliga at the time of writing. They played pretty well, shutting me out with some ease, and they snatched a goal from nothing partway through the second half. I think I’ll make it through the group, but so far so Pro Evo.

The FA Cup began with a tricky home tie against Hull City. I squeaked it 1-0.

And in the league — well, here is the table after 5 matches:

PES2014 Season 8 League table after 5I have yet to play most of the big boys. My results against them will decide what happens to me in the league this season.

My targets for this season? A top-4 finish, at the very minimum. I’d love to take a cheeky run at the title. I’d also like to win one of the FA Cup or Europa League.

The pre-match screen for Matchday 4 reveals just where my team stands in this ML world currently:

PES2014 pre-Man Utd screenThat’s a healthy overall team rating of 82, but look at the Club Ranking. I’m not sure, but I’ve never heard of a team winning the league from 119th in the ML world rankings. I have a feeling the game will be going all-out to ‘manage’ certain matches to make sure I don’t get anywhere near the title. This match didn’t feel fishy, really, but I still lost 3-1.

PES2014: Season 8 gets underway

welcome wunderkind RobbieSeason 8 has begun on PES2014, and with it the serious business of trying to actually win things. Until now I’ve just been squad-building and finding my feet in this new-old game. I’ve even recently had my first wobbly session, in which the game seemed like more work than pleasure.

That ‘wobble factor’ is an intrinsic part of football gaming when you indulge in the pastime as much as I do. There’ll always be stretches when you’re just not that into it. I always remember the late Terry Wogan saying his then thrice-weekly chat show had to be bland and routine sometimes, because that’s how things become beloved.

I play nearly every day and that kind of routine has to generate a wobbly session or two. Time passes and a football game matures in your hands. It’s unavoidable.

The more wobbly footy games show themselves through a sustained kind of dispirited disinterest that the Internet age renders as ‘meh’. So far that has not been the fate of PES2014. I’ll make a bold prediction that it won’t happen to PES2014 at any stage.

Looking back, the ‘meh’ factor has arguably never happened to any PES game until long past the stage of ‘completion’, when I might have played for a season or two too long. It tends to be the FIFA games that get the ‘meh’ treatment. But I have digressed.

PES2014 season 8 new Home kit

A new Home kit for Season 8, and a chance to try out one of my favourite homebrew types of kits: the chequerboard pattern. (Or the Croatia-style as I still think of it, thanks to those classic early 2000s strips.)

Those shorts and socks are not black, but very dark blue.

I left the Away kit alone. It’s a rare match when I get to play in my black-and-orange kit, and it’ll take another few seasons for it to start to seem old.

Onto the transfer market, and I had a pleasant surprise,. After 7 seasons of scrapping for journeymen, I was pleased to see that some useful players want to play for me now. My 5th-place finish and Europa League qualification obviously counts for something.

I treated myself to one of PES2014’s Regen wunderkinder. I could have had a few more of them, but I don’t want to give my team – and this PES – an artificial feel. You know, no more of an artificial feel than something made of pixels, plastic and imagination could possess, anyway.

Robbie Keane was the wunderkind. A former real-life Coventry City player, of course. Our record signing at the time. I wasn’t actually there at Highfield Road in 1999 when the stadium announcer proudly introduced him as ‘…Roy Keane!!!’, but I wish I had been. Wonderful days.

My List of Targets was suddenly populated with great players. Loads of players rated 85 and above with a better-than-80% chance of signing. I rubbed my hands with something like glee and got down to business.

I didn’t go crazy. I have team spirit and Heart and all that stuff to consider. And I wanted to save some cash for mid-season. I might get there and need another top striker urgently. I settled for a couple of established 25-year-olds, Bianchi at AMF and Ceballos at CB. Plenty of cash in the bank for a mid-season transfer raid if needed.

Here’s my full Season 8 Squad and preferred First XI:

PES2014 Season 8 squad and First XIThis lot have got to be good for a Champions League finish, and good progress in the Europa League, I’m thinking. Famous last words…

Over the Honeymoon

Season 7 of my PES2014 ML adventure has finished, and I’ll get to that. The final table, my aims for Season 8 and all that, oh yes.

Perhaps the more important news is that the honeymoon seems to be over with PES2014.

For the past several weeks I’ve been all ‘tee-hee, look at me playing the PES that nobody liked, myself included! Isn’t this so cool!’

That stage is now past. With over a full season under my belt since my full-time resumption of the game, the novelty of spending time with Pro Evo’s Most Hated has worn off. What’s left is a football game that must earn its own merits, and take whatever brickbats come its way.

And it’s about time. PES2014 couldn’t ride the contrails of its own notoriety forever. PES2014 must now stand or fall as a football game in its own right. The magic spell has worn off.

So, what’s caused this first wobble? Nothing much in particular, not yet, but I have got the general feeling over the past week that the game asks for a lot of work, and rewards with relatively little. A refreshing change after the arcade game that is PES2016, of course, but like I’ve already said, the honeymoon is over now. Now PES2014 has to earn its keep in its own right, not by comparison.

Recently I’ve been jeering that PES buzzword du jour, ‘responsive’. I believe that a managed unresponsiveness — contextual and consistent — is what distinguishes the good football games from the bad. PES2014 is a game that takes this kind of unresponsiveness probably as far as it can possibly go without becoming obnoxious.

I have indeed had those moments of wanting to take a first-time shot, only to see my player take one or even two touches first. Yes, I have been squeezing R1 in an illicit fashion, so it’s my fault. (Hoist by my own petard or what?) But still — it’s worth reporting the fact that I’m starting to feel slightly niggled by the thing that most PES2014-haters and dislikers would finger (pardon me) as its principal shortcoming.

And I could do with there being more long-range shooting. The vanilla version of PES2014 had no long-range shooting at all, so the current patched state of play is a marked improvement. But still, a long-range goal seems to be a one-in-20 matches affair now. That doesn’t sit particularly well with me.

So a good dose of reality has settled in. I still plan to play a full ML career in this game. I have to acknowledge that it won’t be all plain sailing, though. This PES will be afflicted by the same ups and downs as every other PES I’ve ever played.

The final Season 7 table:

PES2014 season 7 final tableI lost my chance of a Champions League qualifying finish thanks to a run of terrible results against the big boys. Notably Arsenal, who carved me to pieces 3-0 in the six-pointer between us.

Note as well that gulf between the top 4 and all the teams chasing them. Between Arsenal in 4th and my own team in 5th there are over 20 goals scored, with an appropriately inflated Goal Difference by comparison.

Here’s one satisfying medium-range goal I scored in the last couple of sessions that pleased me. PES2014 lacks goals like this one — a very good thing when compared to PES2016 and other thrill-heavy PES editions. But, sometimes, all you want to do is rip one into the net: