It might have fallen from its lofty PS2-era perch, but the release of new PES preview code is always an anticipated event. Doubly so if, like this year, there's new technology powering it.
Having taken that decision to change to the FOX engine (which also powers Metal Gear Solid 5), Konami has taken some risks. Some have paid off. Others less so. PES 2014 needs more work if it is to live up to the standard of PES 2013, the first real return to form for the series since PES 6.
A lot has been made about the graphical power of FOX, and in terms of certain player licences it's valid. Germany and Real Madrid's Ozil, for example, looks eerily similar to the player himself, as does Pirlo. On the other hand, a lot of other players look like androids - the lighting effects default to a high contrast, making skin appear waxy and light appear unnatural.
It's a shame, because the power of the engine is there for all to see. PES has always had better player models than FIFA (where players are lucky if they look like potatoes with the same skin colour of the footballer they're based on), so I'd hate to see Konami sacrifice some of that fidelity in what should be the most accomplished version.
In terms of how the game plays, substantial changes have been made. The passing is still best-in-class: balls can be played into space with ease, 'snapping' to player's feet is generally not an issue, and it makes for some wonderfully free-flowing football. Intricate passing is possible in a way that feels overly difficult in FIFA, and when a one or two-touch move sees you skip through the entire midfield it's hard to wipe the grin from your face.
Once again, PES feels like a game where you have to play to the strengths of the team you've selected, and not simply hold sprint and move forward. It's more deliberate than ever before, especially in midfield (maybe too deliberate, which I'll get to later). The teams in the demo all have different attributes, naturally.
Santos' Neymar is a game-changer, but their midfield is solid as well. Bayern are pacey but can also be combative in midfield, Italy (and Pirlo) are a lovely passing team, and Germany are just unbelievably solid, capable of beating teams on every level of play. It takes a different strategy to beat them all, and makes each match you play feel unique, even if they are all broadly similar.
Shooting is also improved over PES 2013 (and FIFA), feeling weighty and natural. Better goalkeeping animations also make for more dramatic finishes. The last instalment had too few postures for the 'keepers to adopt - a traditional problem in FIFA, and one that has the effect of making the goals all feel the same after a while.
Time will tell if the animations on offer here are the only ones we'll see (and become repetitive themselves) but, as a start, they're already better than the equivalents in the last game.
PES 2013 was also guilty of a having ball physics that meant, in certain circumstances, it felt like you were kicking a balloon. Here, the ball behaves in a far more realistic manner, meaning that delicate chips and thunderbolt 30 yarders are all possible. More importantly, the way they're executed feels natural: body shape is important but visual feedback in the animation is good, and the amount of time you have to press the shoot button feels right.
Speaking of animation, it's here that PES 2014 has taken the biggest gamble, and it's one that - at the moment - isn't paying off as I would have hoped. There's no denying that the vast array of new touches, techniques, dribbles and skills are impressive. Whether it's passing the ball into a midfield playmaker and watching him shield the ball, shifting it from foot-to-foot, playing a no-look pass or flicking the ball on the outside of the boot to an overlapping full-back, it's obvious that Konami has spent a lot of time refining the way players look and behave when in motion. The problem is that now, like FIFA, it feels like the game is sometimes a slave to its animations.
Older PES games were so successful because they were fast and instinctive. There were tricks, but the game was more about using your momentum to beat players. Here, there's a lot more physicality to the game, and it's easy to get bogged down in tiresome midfield exchanges as players bundle into each other, said animations taking slightly too long to start and finish.
It stops what should be the best PES ever from achieving its potential. There's a great football game in here - one where you have to play to your team's strengths rather than charging up the field, and there's still no better goal-scoring feeling than in PES. Let's hope Konami tweak it before release.