Each year, virtual-soccer giants FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) go head-to-head on the pixelated pitch for the honor of being the fittest footballing simulation. Both started their seasons only a few weeks ago on PlayStation 3 (played here) and Xbox 360, so fans are still getting to know the latest versions of the franchises they support with so much fervor.
Konami’s PES 2014 incorporates the high-tech Fox Engine, bringing new visuals and physics to the classico. EA Sports’ FIFA 14 fields a strong lineup of features as always, with revamped shooting mechanics leading the way.
We’re here to cover the big showdown and compare the two sides, so we can determine which soccer sim deserves to lift the cup.
Like a prized new signing, the Fox Engine brings a lot of flash to PES 2014’s on-field product. The series has never looked better. Superstars like Barcelona’s Neymar have painstakingly detailed models while stadiums boast a new level of polish — complete with colorful mosaics in the stands. Animations are better, too, giving PES’s matches a more realistic appearance than before. The new visuals aren’t perfect, however. Whenever the camera zooms in to show a player, referee, goal celebration, what have you … the framerate chugs badly. Less-notable athletes look strange, with beady eyes and facial constructions straight out of a Beverly Hills plastic-surgery center.
FIFA 14 didn’t really do much with its already solid aesthetic, taking a conservative approach. The framerate is a lot more consistent than PES, as are the visuals overall. While the most popular footballers look slightly more lifelike through the Fox Engine’s shiny new lens, FIFA re-creates its entire roster of players more accurately. Regardless, FIFA needs to take note of PES’s glitzy makeover because Konami’s game is now just as pretty.
Result: PES 2014 takes a cracking shot from outside the box. The ball hits the post, almost putting the Japanese side ahead.
Years ago, Pro Evo was undoubtedly the champion when it came to gameplay. Instead of pushing forward, the PES team decided to hold back and sit on its lead. As a result, FIFA implemented more advancements and took charge.
PES made strides in the last couple of years, however, and 2014 is the series’ best-playing entry since its dominant days. In fact, many footie diehards will appreciate the vast amount of options that they can tinker with to create goals. You can pull up a command list that could have come straight out of a fighting game, showing you a plethora of nutmegs and feints to pull off. And I enjoyed the one-two interactions with my A.I. teammates that ended in plenty of scoring chances. PES 2014 can get pretty hardcore, which will attract some and repel others, so keep that in mind. A few of the more advanced skills are pretty challenging but incredibly effective — and satisfying.
Player movement does take some getting used to. The virtual athletes have a lot of weight thanks to Fox Engine’s physics, adding an intriguing new dynamic, but in some cases, I felt like I was skating on ice while directing my team. Shooting is even more awkward. It’s downright laggy and floaty, really. The defense thwarted a lot of my runs because my player would take too long to shoot after I pressed the corresponding button. A lot of this comes from the aforementioned physics, but it just feels weird. And many of my shots ended up rolling on the grass when I wanted them to go high.
Speaking of shooting, FIFA 14 is all about its new Pure Shot feature. While I didn’t sense a huge difference in my players’ goal-scoring prowess, I felt EA Sports’ effort showcased a smoother game of football. Everything is snappier, which doesn’t necessarily mean the action is more arcade like. The difficulty is as high as ever, and I found myself approaching the opposing team’s end a lot less frequently this time around. So, setting up plays is as important as ever.
Again, EA chose not to do too much to a winning formula. And I can’t really blame them here.
Result: A FIFA forward manages to get a shot on target. The ball deflects off a PES defender and into the net: 1-0 to the North Americans.
FIFA 14 and PES 2014 include the modes you would expect from each franchise. On the FIFA side, you’ll enjoy Be a Pro (player and manager) career mode and the ever-evolving Ultimate Team, in which you build a lineup through a collectible-card system that provides athletes, stat boosts, and other important foundation elements. The game also brings back its EA Football Club that gives you experience points for your favorite squad. And another nice returning feature takes teams’ real-life form into account, adjusting roster stats to reflect their winning, or losing, ways.
PES offers the aging, yet still addictive, Master League, along with its own take on a create-a-player career mode. I liked putting together a competitive group in Master League, especially finding affordable gems on the transfer market, but Konami needs to freshen up the experience. The career mode is significantly worse than Be a Pro, giving you fewer options and more frustration. I didn’t even get to play on my team for a large portion of the matches during my first season. Basically, I ended up going from menu to menu, simulating weeks and losing my patience.
Result: The EA Sports lads go up 2-0 after an effective midfield buildup, resulting in a clever through ball to a wide-open attacker, who effectively placed the ball in the corner of the net.
In this category, it’s not even close. FIFA 14 has the best commentary in all of sports gaming, and it features an eclectic licensed soundtrack as well. The English-announcing duos have plenty of anecdotes to share while calling the action on the field with a television-style cadence. FIFA’s music covers a wide spectrum of genres and artists, including Bloc Party, Nine Inch Nails, and Brazilian rapper Marcelo D2.
Crowd chants are authentic as well, adding to the live-broadcast feel. I never got tired of hearing Arsenal fans sing about how their team is the greatest one the world has ever seen (outside of Rio de Janeiro’s Vasco da Gama, of course).
PES’ play-by-play is less natural and more limited. It’s serviceable but far from top of the class. Even worse, the game’s soundtrack is small and embarrassingly generic. Outside of some nice orchestral pieces, you’re left with stock-music sounding renditions of songs like “Guantanamera,” which I ended up hearing an ear-numbing number of times because of the annoyingly meager musical variety. Chants are OK, but with the game’s lack of licensed clubs, the crowd noises are more basic.
Result: FIFA scores off a cracking volley, giving it a comfortable 3-0 cushion over its rival.
Again, this is where FIFA really separates itself from its veteran adversary. FIFA 14 has completely new menus, which reflect the look of EA Sports’ broader catalog. The tile-based layout is reminiscent of the Xbox 360 dashboard, and it’s a significant improvement over previous years.
Pro Evolution has an archaic, utilitarian menu system that is equal parts ugly and uninspired. I got lost in a sea of screens on more than one occasion, and the old-school cursor that you use to select items gave me flashbacks of PlayStation 2-era UI. It’s 2013. This is inexcusable.
Unfortunately, the navigation isn’t the biggest problem for the Konami offering. PES continues to suffer from a crippling lack of licenses. Yeah, it has the UEFA Champions League and Conmebol Copa Libertadores, which represent two of the biggest club-football competitions. But, a slew of players and teams are straight-up fictional or completely absent. Want to play as the aforementioned Arsenal side? You’ll have to settle for “North London.” What about running and gunning with 2010 World Cup finalists Holland? You can do that — as long as you’re cool with having fake uniforms and players. Brazil plays with green uniforms … green uniforms. Come on!
FIFA, on the other hand, has a comprehensive list of licensed teams and leagues. It’d be nice to have the Champions League and Libertadores, but I’d much rather have my beloved Seleção playing with its famous canary-yellow jersey.
Result: After a promising start, PES is starting to crumble. FIFA goes up 4-0 after a deadly counterattack.
Pro Evo has been trailing its blockbuster competitors for a while now, and it has been in need of a revamp for a long time. While the last couple of releases have pushed the series in the right direction, PES 2014 is a watershed release for the franchise — one that should give its fans a lot of hope. Fox Engine is a true innovation, bringing exciting gameplay and graphical possibilities that will only improve with the next generation.
Now, Konami just needs to polish up the rest of the game and shell out some cash for a few more licenses.
In many ways, FIFA is behaving very much like Pro Evolution did when it was on top, choosing a safe, iterative strategy for its golden-booted goose. FIFA 14 is a great game because FIFA 13 was a great game and so forth. That doesn’t condemn EA’s effort. In my opinion, it still has the better soccer title, but PES’ advancements should inspire the publisher to push its million seller.
Result: PES 2014 gets an honorable goal at the end, putting an end to FIFA’s clean sheet.
Even though the scoreboard has FIFA 14 winning 4-1, the match was a lot closer than that. PES 2014 came with new weapons and showed a lot of heart and determination, but EA Sports still has the best overall lineup. I can’t wait for next year’s faceoff.
Whether you’re a FIFA or Pro Evo supporter, this is a great time for soccer-game fans.