Sometimes less is more.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is a simplified game. It doesn't need the glam and glitz that the FIFA series contains, rather it focuses solely on everything a soccer purist wants; and that's never a bad thing.
When you first load the game, you're sent into the main menu, which consists of Match, Football Life, Competition, Training and Edit. Match is your quick match option to get into a game immediately. Under that category you have the option to play an exhibition match, ranking match, friendly match lobby (are there really any friendly match games?) or watch an exhibition match (no, seriously -- you watch two computer controlled teams go at it). It's the simplest way to get started in PES 2014 and just gets you right to the action.
As for Football Life, it's like the career mode in FIFA. You have a 'masters league' option within this category that allows you to take control of a club and make on and off field decisions to become hopefully successful. The closest comparison I can think of is somewhere around 'franchise' mode in Madden. You are pretty much in control of every aspect of your club. It's neat and probably is somewhere around the mathematical complication of a football manager game. There is also an option to focus completely on a player's career (Become a Legend) and you have the option of taking your master league online to compete against other folks around the world (not even going to try to compete against the professionals outside of America). Overall, this is a major component in this year's PES game and it works well.
Other modes in the game include Competition, which is various amounts of quick ways to get right into the grit of different competitions. The other game mode is the training mode, which is what you would expect in a game like this, and you will need this mode. This is what makes up the main menu outside of 'Edit', which really isn't a mode as much as it is an option. And let me just add, a very impressive and detailed option. I've never made characters so damn detailed in my entire life. At the end of the day, my man Stan "Wicked Tit" Stanleston looked like a Harry Potter reject. I didn't get the eye shaping just right for some reason (totally my fault -- yes, I said 'eye shaping', it's just that detailed).
While some might complain that there aren't really that many options in the game in comparison to FIFA 2014, let me just say that sometimes less is far better than more. While I am saddened by the loss of licenses in some areas, I'm impressed that PES 2014 gives you what you want and will be interested in without the needless crap around it. The game's simplistic nature hides a more sinister, yet wonderful amount of complication to it, which is what all Pro Evolution Soccer games are known to contain. Planning strategies inside the game, preparing your team for a good battle is something that you don't see in FIFA. Sure you get 'Ultimate Team' with FIFA, and it works sorta like PES in that respect, but it doesn't give you a lot of pure managerial control over your players. That type of gameplay is what makes PES 2014 a cut above FIFA, and a reason why people around the world look at PES and think 'pure soccer/football'.
Having said that, lets get right into how the gameplay feels this year.
The controls are pretty darn seamless in this game. Your dribbling is controlled by the left thumbstick, which is just another great example of simplicity. The dribbling seems a bit more stable this time out, as you don't feel out of touch or control of the ball in front of you. That's a big deal when you're trying to make drive to the goal. Combining the left thumbstick with the likes of the 'R' buttons, produces a different dribbling solutions, such as the Deft Touch Dribble or the Dash Dribble. It's easy to pull these things off, which means it's easier to control the players, which (if you can't guess it) means there is less thinking and more muscle memory to this game. Whenever you don't have to think about the controls, it's a good day in the gaming sports world.
The flip side to that coin is the defense, which tends to fall behind the curve a bit. Applying pressure to opponents is done by simply getting near them and pressing the 'X' button. This is supposed to make the opponent frazzled, but is far too simplified to be useful during quick matches. I'm not entirely sure what the problem is (and it might be the reviewer), but it doesn't tend to work well. I like the idea that they're trying to simply it all, but sometimes you just don't need somethings simplified. This might be one of those times. It's not terrible overall, but it can get frustrating when your opponent blows by you without much 'frazzling' effect. Again, it might be me (maybe I haven't got that FIFA out of my system yet).
As for the presentation, I'm completely split in the middle with it. The stadiums and the in-game models/animation look absolutely fantastic. The animated players are a bit smoother than what you would find in FIFA 2014, which is a huge compliment, and work and move like you would expect a soccer player to do so on field. With the simplified control scheme, how the players control and navigate the ball around the field absolutely makes sense visually. It definitely excels in this department over EA's FIFA game this year.
The stadiums are incredibly detailed (the ones that Konami owns the license for), as you get plenty of depth and girth to the game environment. The stadiums actually feel like stadiums you would attend to watch a match, which is a huge plus. When you want to feel engulfed by ravaging fans and intense gameplay, the stadium models fit the mold perfectly. And while some sports games consider this sort of thing not as important, environment is everything when you want your gamer to get into the match.
Now, there are a few caveats in the presentation category. First off, the crowd animation is cute, but ultimately it's a repeating pattern that is pretty obvious. As I'm typing this, I'm playing a match in Konami Stadium (love it) and every woman wearing a blue shirt in the intro video has a camera and is taking pictures in the same physical manner. While I understand there is a remote possibility that this could happen in a real soccer match, I doubt it ever does. It's a bit rushed and is certainly noticeably ugly. The crowd definitely seems like an afterthought. 2K and EA do the same thing, so I'm not shocked, but I wish developers would put a bit more effort into the crowd around them. Maybe this next generation? MAYBE?
Related to that ugliness is the cutscenes and the opening. I'm not sure what frame rate the scenes are coming to you in, but this PSN downloadable has to be around 15 frames per second. You can visibly see the awful jumps between the animation frames of the cutscenes. It's almost unwatchable. Again, this is the ugly wrapper around spectacular looking in-game animation, but nonetheless it is something you literally want to turn away from or skip. Believe me, I'm not harsh on such things unless they are just awful, and this is just awful.
With that said, the replays are just a cut above the cutscenes (no pun intended). They have a bit more frame rate to them, but they still look choppy. The bigger problem with the replays is that there is actually loading time between game and replay. The loading time lasts about 2-3 seconds, which may not be a knock if you think about it while reading this, but seeing it in action over and over again, it becomes apparent that it's a bit disruptive. Is it terrible? No, but it is there and it slows down the action of the game. A lot of NBA titles in the past had this sort of issue and the solution was always to turn off the replays. As of right now in this review, I can't find a way to turn the replays off.
Shifting gears just slightly, is this game fun? Well, you're not going to find that arcade feeling that FIFA 2014 gives off, but what you will find is a game that was put together for serious soccer fanatics. Comparing FIFA 2014 and PES 2014 is like saying Call of Duty is better than Battlefield, when in fact both games represent a completely different fan base. Call of Duty was built for the 'lets-get-a-gun-and-go' type of first-person shooter fan, while Battlefield is a methodical military-esque experience that hardcore first-person shooter fans tend to lean towards. Both games are wonderful, but both games speak to different audiences. Just like FIFA and PES; FIFA is made to give you the quick, arcade experience, while PES is for a more football/soccer technical type of fan. With that said, you'll find plenty of reasons to fall in love with PES 2014 this year, as it does give you a boatload of ways to dig deep into the technical aspect of the football/soccer world. You're able to put together game plans, develop on field strategies and even methodically manage your team to the point where you're going to be yelling at the screen at your players. There's a lot of stuff in this game, even if it is presented in the simplest of manners.