So as July becomes August, I embark upon a new venture. Exploring a strange, undiscovered country, populated by natives with one thing and one thing only on their minds: running in almost-straight lines and scoring goals that they give every indication of not really caring about. More on that later.
Earlier this week I wrapped up Master League for another year. Most years I then give FIFA a desultory try that fizzles out after a week or so, my juice having been all used up by PES.
Every year, at some point, I do play PES and/or FIFA online, even if it’s just a couple of matches in one single session on one single day.
This year so far, I hadn’t done so. Before I removed the PES2015 disc from my PS4 for good, I decided to rectify that. I played a couple of Online Seasons matches, which weren’t bad at all. The opponents were the familiar exhausting all-action types that you only ever meet online, but it was a novel experience. I was trounced in all 3 matches but I enjoyed myself. Crafty, determined human opponents are something fresh.
And so for my next trick…
MyClub. The team name is: CHRONICA. I was going to name it after the blog, but decided that was too cheesy, so this version of it will do. (Unless anyone has any better suggestions? In MyClub you can change your team name as often as you like.)
Way back in November I actually set this mode up, created a team, and played one single match against the AI. And then promptly forgot all about it – something that would benefit me hugely in the form of a bounty of GP (the mode’s currency) that was waiting for me when I logged in this week:
Take a look at the scrollbar on the right of the above screenie. All the messages in this Inbox were delivering a bounty of GP.
At the time this screenshot on the left was taken I’d already spent about 60,000 on players, including DIDA and XAVI. So my starting bounty was something close to 200,000 GP.
For reference purposes, the cost of a top player is 10,000 GP. I believe it takes some time to accumulate that amount of GP in the normal course of things.
So I had money to spend and a team to set up. At first you get a squad of no-name, low-rated players who would make the ML Defaults blush. But in ML, the Defaults were at least decent and capable. The MyClub defaults are terrible in MyClub.
After a few matches and cashing in some of that lovely GP, I had XAVI and a couple of decent strikers. I went with 4-2-2-2, for which I needed the relevant manager:
That Ultimate Team-like display does little for me. Much better understood in the traditional view:
Unlike other online modes, you can’t set up extravagant formations in MyClub. The mode simply won’t let you. It’s a deliberate corrective to the tendency for 1-1-8 formations and other lunacies. You have to stick to orthodox formations with very little room to move players around. You can still set up a swashbuckling 3-4-3 or 4-2-4, but you need the relevant manager.
There’s a whole other range of factors involved, of which Team Spirit is the most important. This is not a potted overview of MyClub – I doubt I’ll be playing it much at all beyond the next week or so.
The main thing is, as ever, the playing of the matches – and it’s here that online football gaming falls down flatly on its arse.
The game online bears little resemblance to the single-player game I love. ISS and PES as I have played them for almost 20 years are one thing. PES online as it has evolved over the past 10 years is a completely other thing. The latter is barely football at all. Competitive controller-squeezing would be a more accurate description.
There are points of similarity between offline and online football gaming, but in essence they are wholly separate entities.
The human players simply don’t play football. It’s a soulless, abstract exercise in the manipulation of pixels on a screen, with the desired result of occupying higher positions on some leaderboard somewhere. There’s nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, but it’s not what floats my boat.
“The AI only plays one way!” is one of those ‘what everyone says’ things, and a traditional cry heard from the online lobbyists at the start of every PES year.
One glimpse of how most online players play shows the strange truth that is the opposite of ‘what everyone says’. Online players only play one way.
Even the poorest performance from the PES AI has more variety, subtlety, and football to it than any online player I’ve ever come cross.
It’s human players who only play one way. Without exception they favour a central dribbling style that favours one or two star players. Minimal deviation from a straight line to goal. Maybe a couple of one-twos, maybe a floated through-ball to the fast star man, and bang – it’s a goal, always scored from about the same spot inside the penalty box.
The opponent above actually played a lot out on the wing – he had Ronaldo (everybody’s got Ronaldo) and liked to score thumping headers. A hat-trick of them in this case.
All 14 of the others played the straight-down-the-middle sprinting style that I call ‘run and gun’.
In 15 games played online at the time of writing, I have never seen any opponent attempt a shot from outside the box.
In 15 matches, I must have conceded 40-45 goals (averaging 2-3 conceded per match), and not even once has any opponent showed any sign of wanting to watch the replay.
Perhaps that’s the strangest thing of all for me, coming from a single-player background.
In a typical session of Master League, I’ll score at least 1 goal (usually 2 or 3) that makes me pay attention to the replay. Such behaviour is Forbidden online.
Yes, yes, I accept that this skipping-replays thing is an evolved custom. The players are trying to be polite to each other by skipping their replays. I know that. That skipping-replays custom started up in the days of PES5 online, and I was there to see it.
But there was also the custom of, every now and then, being allowed to sit back and watch a replay of something special.
About 10 of the 45-ish goals I’ve conceded looked special to me. Not one of my opponents wanted to watch them. I’ve often wished I could communicate with my opponents in some meaningful way and ask them: “Are you actually enjoying this? Do you enjoy this game? Do you like scoring these goals? What’s the point of this, for you? What are you getting out of this?”
The experiment goes on. MyClub is a swish mode, an enticing take on Master League. I want to explore more of it. I want to actually win a match. I want to see what the matches handle like with top players in every position in my team. Maybe my experience so far is just what happens to a new player turning up with a poor squad. We shall see.
Half an hour after putting this post to bed, tucking it up, and bestowing a creepy kiss upon its imaginary forehead, I won my first online match.