PES 2020 wants you to feel like its cover star. Yes, the very guy in the above photo. And in a bid to achieve that, Konami sat down with Lionel Messi’s former teammate Andrés Iniesta to consult on a new mechanic: finesse dribble. (We’re guessing Messi himself wasn’t available, but who better than the most decorated Spanish footballer of all time? More importantly, Iniesta is renowned for his dribbling, but we don’t need to tell you that if you’re reading this.) Now with a push of the right-stick, you can dodge left and right to try to sneak past defenders who have the advantage of PES’ fast-paced play, lack of space, and homing-missile tackling.
Thanks to the PES 2020 demo — released Tuesday on PC, PS4, and Xbox One — we were able to try out finesse dribble for ourselves with the Barça superstar. And well, it works. If you know what you’re doing, naturally. We’ve only had a few hours with it, but on certain occasions as Messi, we managed to slip past a top defender or two — either from Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United, or Arsenal, the four other big teams available in the demo — before driving a curling shot to the far corner. It even went in once. For a game that regularly features goalless draws, that’s good news.
(Sidenote: the PES AI makes tactical changes if you use a particular player too much. As we tried to practice finesse dribble with Messi in a match, the CPU AI eventually triggered ‘Tight Marking’ for the Argentinian. On-the-go tactical instructions aren’t new to PES, but they do act as a deterrent to finesse dribble — amongst other things.)
Better yet, that’s not the only new mechanic that’s coming to PES 2020. Konami is offering ‘No Touch Control’ that allows you to “run beside an incoming ball without making contact”. We’d trouble pulling it off in the demo, but hopefully that’s just a lack-of-practice issue. And then there are more ways to pull off quick stops, traps, and feints, with the latter requiring you to re-learn some skills such as the step-over, a variety of scissors, and ‘Gambetta’, made famous by Diego Maradona. Those mechanics gain more importance given context is more important to shots in PES 2020, with players liable to slip as they take the shot if they’re running too fast and / or under pressure.
Additionally, there’s even a new mechanic for dropping the ball as the goalkeeper, with a double tap of RT (XB1) / R2 (PS4). Defenders are getting a new mechanic in PES 2020 as well, with the option to intentionally foul an opponent — with a double tap of the pressure button, A (XB1) / X (PS4) — if you’re out of all other options. It’s not a power-up panacea, though. You still have to be close to the attacker to pull it off. Otherwise, your defender will be tackling grass and nothing more. And of course, even when it works, you’ll (most likely) get a card for obvious reasons.
In PES 2020, all the primary controls are the same as previous PES games, and like always, you can customise and remap them, however you please.
From our time with the PES 2020 demo, we felt that Konami is trying to make defending a little tougher as well. Aggressive jostling — especially with a non-defender — now results in a foul, as opposed to the earlier state where players would essentially attach themselves to those on the ball, run circles around them until they could put a foot in, and then poke the ball to (potentially) win possession. That said, we were still able to tackle defenders with attackers on the middle difficulty level — a problem present in earlier PES games — though it wasn’t an issue on the higher difficulty levels.
But the most egregious defensive flaw in the PES 2020 demo was when we earned a red card for no apparent reason. We’ve got proof from multiple angles, hear us out. As you can see in the GIF below, there’s virtually no contact between Juventus’ Rodrigo Bentancur and Barça’s Ivan Rakitić, but the Croatian was still sent off. (We checked to see if Rakitić’s left arm brushed Bentancur’s left leg, and it didn’t.) Yes, we did intend to foul the Uruguayan but failed to even graze him. That says a lot about our slide-tackle ability, but it says even more so of the PES 2020 demo. Hopefully, it’s just a demo bug.
Beyond the new mechanics, PES 2020 demo is also the first showcase for Konami’s improved player models, and enhanced lighting engine and turf rendering. We’re happy to report that there is a visual upgrade in store, be it players’ faces, a more realistic environment and a better-looking turf. Konami claims that the lighting on the pitch will change as time elapses during the match, but we couldn’t test that out in the demo properly since matches are limited to 5 minutes. The attention to visuals continues off the pitch as well, with the menus being a lot more appealing. Better late than never, we suppose.
Speaking of tiny new additions to PES 2020, the game now offers explanations for your errors, in a bid to help you improve. At times with a pop-up dialog, it will provide reasons for what just occurred — such as a mishit — and how that might impact your gameplay. And in the match settings menu, there’s now a new substitution option, 3+1 for extra time, which is pretty self-explanatory and brings PES 2020 in line with some real-world global tournaments. Naturally, you can’t see it in action in the demo because there’s no extra time option, but hey, it’ll be available in the full game if you decide to buy it.
As for what you do get in the PES 2020 demo, there are three game modes are available in Quick Match (online), Exhibition, and Co-op (both local). Online is now called “eFootball”, to go with the inelegant renaming of the game itself. (It’s now officially called ‘eFootball PES’ rather than just ‘PES’, which Konami claims represents its focus on e-sports.) We failed to find a match despite waiting for about 10 minutes late on Tuesday after the demo launch. But it’s unclear if it’s because no one was playing or if it’s the match-making net code, since Konami still won’t tell you how many players are online at any given time.
Restricted to offline action against the CPU, we realised that the gameplay in PES 2020 demo is largely reflective of our experience with PES 2019. AI teammates still don’t know how to provide support, especially in midfield. Just when you expect them to move forward with pace, they will decide to hang back, in turn making you lose possession. And in combination with easy defensive pressing, lack of a driven short pass, and limited gametime in demo, most matches ended nil-nil.
Most of our goals in fact came from the CPU AI’s defensive mistakes, which were variants of being caught in possession. (There’s a bit of real-world football truism to it, if you think about it.) A select few were the result of flair in goal-making — brilliant air through balls, good first touch, and then a sumptuous finish — with PES 2020 demo otherwise continuing down the path of realism with mishit passes, and individual errors in front of goal.
While the introduction of finesse dribbling is a good first step in countering the downsides of quick gameplay, Konami can do a lot more to make PES more tactical. The inability to change pass direction before the ball is struck is a good place to start. The fact that EA Sports is bringing even more customisation to this very mechanic in FIFA 20 means it’ll be an even harder miss when both games are out for good.
As has been the case for the past few years, PES 2020 will release on September 10, ahead of FIFA 20. There’s going to be a lot more to test in the final version — which boasts of a new “Matchday” experience, a revamped manager mode, and everything else that wasn’t in the demo — and we’ll be looking at it in detail.