There’s plenty of gags thrown around from gamers who don’t play football games, one of them being “why bother when it’s the same game every year just with new kits and line-ups?”. Well, Konami have actually gone and done that for this year’s annual release of PES. So, the only question remains: should you bother then this year? Well, it depends.
Due to the imminent arrival of next-gen consoles just around the corner and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Konami have decided to scale back this year’s release of PES. There’s no new technical leaps and bounds made as with most PES releases. There’s no new modes, or skills or anything to truly differentiate it from last year’s offering. They literally have just updated the kits and line-ups (ish. We’ll come back to that). There’s a new soundtrack, though!
On paper, not a good start. However, let’s focus on some of the good points. The tweaks, slight as they are, are impressive. Graphically, this is yet again one of the best-looking versions of the beautiful game out there. Players look absolutely spot on to their real-life counterparts. Stadiums still look and feel like the faithful recreations they should be. Scoring in front of the Stretford End still gives me a buzz with the roar of the crowd (remember them?) every time. Truthfully, that’s what a good football game has always been about, surely – the feeling of playing like a professional footballer.
Feeling is again imbued in all the top players of the game. Ronaldo feels like Ronaldo:Cocksure, solidly-paced, and lethal with either foot. Messi (who for the first time ever, joins Ronaldo on the cover of a football game) runs and shoots and is as stupidly good as he is in real-life. Newer players have also been given these extra-realistic touches. Bruno Fernandes flicks the ball effortlessly with a great range of passing and accuracy. Erling Haland is fast as and will score one on one almost every time. If you’re aware of the player in real-life, you’ll know how to play as them and effectively use them in every game on PES 2021. This has always been one of PES’s strongest aspects and continues to be so here.
The game modes are as good as ever, though. Nothing has changed from last year. Leagues, cups, Master League and Become a Legend are all still here. MyClub, PES’s answer to FIFA’s Ultimate Team, is where the bulk of the “new” material comes in. Essentially, if you purchase one of the “Club Editions” of the game, you get an “Iconic Moment” player thrown in, as well as a few digital bonuses for the respective club you’ve bought for. You’ll also get a “Veterans Bonus” if you played MyClub on PES 2020, and how big it is will be decided by how many milestones you hit on last year’s game. Microtransactions are everywhere throughout this mode so make of that what you will.
The nagging thought of “I did this on 2020” undercuts every single aspect of PES 2021, unfortunately. To be fair to Konami, they’ve not claimed PES 2021 is anything that it’s not as it’s an update, nothing more. They’ve set their stall out from the off and have been completely honest with what you’ll get for your purchase. They’ve said that COVID and the arrival of next-gen consoles means they might as well have a year off and focus on making the best football game they can for their inaugural bows on the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
This is where the water gets a little muddier, though. An update on its own is fine, but I need the teams to be updated then. As of day 1 release, certain line-ups and squads still aren’t correct. Manchester United are still missing Donny van De Beek. Everton don’t have James Rodriguez. This wouldn’t be so bad except that Konami have previously said that there would be a day 1 patch that would update some line-ups. To compound this, the next update isn’t scheduled until the end of October, where I presume all squads will be correct.
This post-launch patch is standard for PES, and the wait is normally forgiven due to the great new game you usually get to play in the meantime. But when your entire release is literally an update and no new game, then surely you should expect an updated game at the least.
The licensing as well is also a bit problematic, as licenses for certain teams expire during the release process so have been excluded from this game, AC and Inter Milan to name just two. This isn’t so much a problem, what with PES’s fantastic edit mode and ability to import teams created elsewhere. Like last year, you’re positively encouraged to do this when you go into the edit mode with a tutorial to boot. This begs the question, however – if you’re already having to go through all the hoops of editing the teams and unlicensed kits anyway, why bother buying this “season update” when you could just find a relevant edit file from the internet and update your PES 2020 squads and kits to this seasons’?
And therein lies the problem with PES 2021 Season Update. It’s essentially pointless for a returning player if you think too long about it. In defence of Konami, though, they aren’t selling this for full price (£25 standard/£30 Club Edition in the UK), but it’s still too expensive for what it is if you own PES 2020 already. However, it’s not too bad a price if you’re new to the series and I would highly recommend this if this is your first foray into football games. £25 for a football game is very good (if it’s new to you).
A PS4 code for eFootball PES 2021 was provided for the purposes of this review by Konami.
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PES 2021: Season Update is a great football game if you’re new to the series, but veterans should just update their existing copies of PES 2020 with this season’s squads and kits. Mid-table finish for me, Clive.
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