PES 2014 is a good game. I know that's an odd way to begin a discussion about why FIFA is the far superior of the two, but it needs to be said. PES is fun, fluid and entertaining. It does not, however, in my mind qualify as a great representation of the sport of football.
A real-world match is equally dependent on events off the ball as on it. The tackle that leads to the pass that leads to the run that leads to the space that leads to the goal. All parts of this chain of events are vital for the concluding glory.
As for the much-heralded 'PES magic': a reliance on individual brilliance coupled with oftentimes poor AI is a cheap trick, not magic. Granted, these issues are harder to come by online, but we can still only influence a maximum of two players at any one time. We are all reliant on the computer-controlled players to react to play and adjust accordingly to provide us with much needed assistance. There is no ‘I’ in 'team’.
FIFA, on the other hand, requires much more work on your part to create its own moments of glory. To spot the run of an ally, to make the perfect pass and then apply the finish. You won't simply come to rely on capitalising on poor defending, a lack of movement, or a calamitous goalkeeper to create a great goal. Great goals come from great play. Equally, on the defensive side of the ball, space opens up for your opponent through your lack of discipline. Dragging defenders out of position to chase the ball-carrier or lunging into challenges is what leads to chances at the wrong end of the pitch. Composure and quality, two key components in any game of football.
For most of the last console generation, PES was the king of football. FIFA was lost in attempts to create complexity in its mechanics, proving no match for PES' beautiful simplicity. Then came a new era, and PES, sticking to its thus far winning formula, remained stagnant. FIFA went through a big change, a brand new engine and finally the ball became independent of the players (watch footage of old FIFA games, passes in particular, and you'll see what I mean).
FIFA is intelligent, players equal parts pro-active and reactive to the action. Smart runs open up the play without you having to design them in a pre-match menu. The full-back will overlap the winger because that's what happens in football, it's what creates chances. A simple press of a button will encourage the players around you to run into channels. Bringing the ball forward will encourage men in front of you to move and look for space, not stare at you brain-dead waiting for you to make the magic happen.
Javier Hernandez will look to run behind the defence to exploit his pace; Romelu Lukaku is a nightmare to knock off the ball and Arsenal attempt to make a short pass on every free-kick out of shooting range. This is the sport of football that you see every weekend on TV; it's the same sport that you play on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings. Players are alive, doing everything possible to create that one chance that will create that game-defining moment.
Every minute of a match is a carefully calculated game of risk vs reward. Do you play for possession, looking to exploit your opponent's high pressure? Do you sit back, hoping to hit a team on the break, confident in a defender's ability to halt all attacks? Every change made to a team's tactics has a tangible impact on the pitch.
We have seen a complete role-reversal between the two titles. Every year, PES adds layer-upon-layer without addressing the key flaw in AI behaviour. The constant critique that each year FIFA is only incrementally different falls immediately flat when you understand that this is because it is improving on a solid foundation.
While others revel in the great goals that PES creates, I find myself enthralled by the results I grind out against the toughest of opponents with a late strike that keeps me in the hunt for that elusive trophy. As Manchester United, against a, supposedly inferior, Southampton, I found myself on the receiving end of a thumping. Chance after chance fell to Rodriguez and Lambert, with only De Gea keeping United in the game. With around 20 minutes left, looking to consolidate the 0-0, I bring on Fellaini for Kagawa, hoping to win the midfield battle and keep possession. A late corner gives me one last throw of the dice. Floating a high ball in more hope than expectation sees Fellaini rise above all others and score the winning goal completely against the run of play. This is the real magic of football, snatching victory from the clutches of defeat, fighting when all seemed lost, to the final whistle.
The old adage is true, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it”. PES continues to try and fix its broken wings, and is definitely on the up, but FIFA, for me, understands the sport better. Watch a game on Saturday, go home and play it that evening.
Football can be beautiful, it can be hideous, whatever it takes to win. FIFA 14 will pit you against teams that park the bus, punt it forward, and play with a flair only seen in a 1970s Brazil shirt - it's up to you to adapt.
FIFA gives you the freedom to play the game of football the way you understand it. Be it Bolton's classic long-ball or Barca's tiki-taka passing, it's all there, in the one and only place you need it to be.
Don't agree? Read our rebuttal article by clicking the image below.