PES 2020 preview: can it knock FIFA off its pedestal?

We spent some time with the demo for PES 2020, and this is how we got on...

Konami has released the demo for eFootball: Pro Evolution Soccer 2020, aka PES 2020, so Den Of Geek spent a couple of hours with it on PS4 in order to bring you some first impressions. The demo allows you to play exhibition matches either locally or online, choosing from a roster of 13 teams that includes such big names as Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United, Arsenal and Bayern Munich.

That list alone is enough to make it clear that Konami is taking licenses and rights very seriously this time around. Gone are the days when you’d only get one or two fully licenced teams, and the deal with Juventus is an unprecedently exclusive one – the Italian icons will not feature in FIFA 20 as a result. But despite this impressive roster, as we load up the demo for PES 2020, we can’t help but wonder if there will be enough noticeable greatness here to lure fans over from the FIFA franchise.

We were playing locally with a mate, having just spent a bit of time on FIFA 19 while the PES 2020 demo downloaded. EA’s previous juggernaut was very fresh in our minds as we loaded up the latest contender from Konami, and we were both keen to see whether this new offering was worth spending time with.

Despite me being a Spurs fan and the aforementioned mate being a Chelsea fan (or North East London and London FC in PES-speak), we put our prejudices aside to play some Manchester United against Arsenal exhibition matches. Taking control of Man Utd meant that I had the honour of controlling the PES 2020 cover star Scott McTominay, but sadly the Scottish midfielder failed to make much of an impact.

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One thing that did make an impact, though, is the default camera angle in the game: the demo automatically puts you in the ‘Stadium’ mode, which gives you a view of the pitch that feels like you’re sat in a decent seat halfway up a big stand. If you punt the ball upfield, the camera will pan in that direction at a reasonable pace. This is a neat alternative to the standard way of viewing a game of ‘eFootball’, but it does sometimes result in situations where the camera can’t quite keep up with a sudden change in direction and you end up sprinting into a defender that you didn’t realise was there. Likewise, if you’re the one defending, you might not realise where your defenders are until the opposition is running full-tilt in their direction. Although it takes a bit of getting used to, this viewpoint feels like a nicely realistic rendering of a punter’s typical perspective, albeit with one exception: when you put a ball into the box, the camera zooms and tilts slightly to give you a closer look at what’s going on. If only our eyeballs could actually do that!

In terms of gameplay, there is one thing that really stands out. As the game warns you on its loading screens, making first-time passes or shots is a bit of a risk, especially with not-particularly-skilled teams: if you don’t have the ball under control, or if it’s coming at you from an odd angle, there’s a decent likelihood that your first-time pass or strike won’t find its intended target. Unless you know you’re playing the ball into someone who is good enough to take a first-time punt, you’ll find yourself taking that extra touch instead of swinging straight into action.

Once you get used to the camera angle and first-touch dynamic, PES 2020 feels very playable. It’s an easy time-sink, and there are a few little features that make it feel fresh from a FIFA-player’s perspective. Seeing the power bar just below your player for all of your passes and shots comes in handy, for instance, and standing tackles feel refreshingly simple to pull off.

When it comes to sliding tackles, though, the referees felt pretty harsh during our time with the PES 2020 demo. It might’ve been partially our fault – we’d recently played some ‘no rules’ matches on FIFA 19 – but it didn’t feel like we were being particularly outrageous. Either way, there were numerous sendings off in our first few games, and this could well be something that players need to get used to. You might find yourself doing more standing tackles than you normally would.

It’s also worth mentioning that the graphics look really high-end, to the extent that you can’t call PES 2020 a cheap-looking game. However, although you can always recognise a player by looking at their face, you could argue that maybe their discernible differences in terms of skill and pace are a little bit harder to spot (except when you’re taking a first touch). It seems like anyone can make a decent pass, shot or cross, and nobody we played with felt particularly skilful. After Man Utd versus Arsenal, we played Juventus versus Barcelona, and even Ronaldo and Messi felt basically the same as everyone else. This is a demo build, though, so hopefully there is still time for some more personality to be injected.

All in all, this feels like a solid-enough game. Although the experience of playing the demo feels a bit odd – there’s no commentary track, and you’re still getting used to all the subtle differences between this and your last footy sim of choice – it’s clear that the ball hasn’t been dropped here. However, unless EA makes some major mistakes with FIFA 20, we can’t see PES 2020 knocking its rival off that pedestal altogether. It’ll be a decent alternative, though, and the presence of Maradona as a playable manager in Master League is enough to make us want to pick up the full game. 

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eFootball: Pro Evolution Soccer 2020 launches on 10 September for PS4, Xbox One and PC. You can read more about the game in our news article about its box art.