Its a game of two franchises, with a few twists and turns along the way – but which one takes the title as the best football game of 2020-2021?
Not long after the new European seasons start comes one of the other biggest events in the football calendar. We’ve got the bug and want to get stuck in to the beautiful games ourselves. We want to play. If you aren’t lucky enough to have mates around the corner who are out every day, or like me the knees can’t take it anymore, then you play a video game. You play FIFA or PES.
But which one? Here we put FIFA 21 head to head with eFootball PES 2021 (Season Update) (PES) in the champions league final of football sims to see who will be crowned the best sim to play for the next year.
Now it has to be said, technically PES 2021 is an update, meaning aside from squads and kits, it is more or less the same game as 2020. That may not be a bad thing though. All in all PES 2020 played its EA rival off the park, as we talked about in our review last year.
Graphics and Aesthetics
There is no denying both games look great, as they should in 2020. Once upon a time, as video games were making generational leaps in graphics engines and power you could see the marked difference in one generation from another. Over the past few years, whilst improvements have been made the difference is much less noticeable. Every year more detail is put into stadiums, crowds animations and player models which enhance rather than revolutionise the visual experience. There are talks of changes of engine for both titles next year, but for the time being we will have to wait and see.
FIFA typically dominates here, maintaining its superior polish, but PES has caught up a lot since 2018. In PES 2021, during a game the mixture of more varied player models and far more realistic animations make for a football experience closer to one you are likely to see on television. Compare that with FIFA and though animations are better in 21, it looks a bit less inherently natural, and more gamey.
Even with this in mind though, you can’t ignore the pure prettiness of FIFA 21. From slick menus to hyper realistic faces on players (even the generic players look better than before), there is rarely a time where the visuals of FIFA pull you out of the football experience.
Winner – FIFA 21 – 9/10
PES 2021 – 7/10
Arguably the most important feature of a football game is well, the football. PES 2020 was miles ahead of its counterpart on the pitch, producing a truly incredible playing experience. The ball felt weighty, the animations and movement of the players were methodically lifelike and the challenge was real. Often you find yourself thinking tactically, about how to break an opponent down, work space and find the killer pass, and its no different with this years iteration.
Last year FIFA’s gameplay was frankly, poor. One dimensional, cartoonish and at times played more like ping pong than football. It was an area that needed to be addressed, and in fairness it has improved. The changes in attacking runs, dribbling, and the opposition naturally holding a defensive shape has added a tactical element that presents a challenge against the AI. The speed has also been decreased somewhat, even if its a bit too fast for my liking, and the games are very attacking. Even on ultimate difficulty, a 6-2 or 4-1 scoreline is common.
There has been little change to PES 2021 over its predecessor, but the few tweaks they provided in the update have generally improved the experience. Dribbling and skill moves which were ineffective in 2020 are now much more useable. Though the game would still prefer methodical passing of the ball, beating your man with silky skills is all the more rewarding when you know its harder to pull off. There are still an irritating amount of “bugs” that typically surface, like your players not running to a loose ball or player switching being irritatingly hit and miss. It can really snap you out of the game into frustration, but then FIFA has its own share of bugs, even if they are generally a bit funnier.
What we have here is two different gameplay philosophies. On the one hand PES is Guardiola’s Barcelona, all about flow, and passing and movement, creating amazing team goals and rewarding patience with excellence. FIFA proves an experience like Klopp’s Liverpool, combining speed and skill to deliver a fast paced and enjoyable outcome.
Though its not progressed much, I am still going to give it to PES. Its a real testament that though basically the same game will be out for 2 years, few are complaining about the lack of on pitch changes because the football experience is that good.
FIFA 21 – 7/10
Winner – PES 2021 – 9/10
It may be hard to believe, but once upon a time Konami was the innovator in this area. I remember the first “Become a Legend” mode on PES, which inspired the much improved Player Career Mode on FIFA.
Nowadays FIFA leads the way on game modes all day long. Before even getting to the comparison of side by side modes, there are simply many more options to choose from in FIFA 21. Player Career Mode, Volta, a host of interesting options for online and kick off matches give you more choice, and greater opportunities at keeping the game fresh after the initial buzz wears off.
Side by side, Ultimate Team is still better than MyClub, even if both modes are encouraging unsavoury loot box buying behaviour (a topic for another day). FIFA finally answered the prayers of many by making some changes to Career mode after years in the wilderness. Whilst it was not the overhaul that some were hoping for, features like the interactive match sim and player development plans add some football manager-esque fun to the mode, giving you a little more to do after a couple of seasons. Master League is still, to be brutal, stuck in 2010, with weird robotic cutscenes and a scarcity of features.
Though I am not a massive Volta or online player, when I occasionally venture onto these modes they are fun whilst they last and at least the option is there. Online is also much more stable with FIFA than PES, which runs into server problems regularly.
This is the easiest one to compare, FIFA thrashes PES here, no question; but in truth its a low bar. We could use some innovation in both games next year.
Winner – FIFA 21 – 7/10
PES 2021 – 4/10
Licensing (Kits/Teams/Leagues) and Customisation
There is no way of adding value to the conversation about PES and licensing. Although PES managed to grab Juventus from FIFA this year, the fact remains that if you want a ready to go, immersive experience that doesn’t involve option files, USB sticks and browsing Reddit, FIFA crushes PES here.
However, the fact remains that it has never been easier to obtain option files and import up to date kits, leagues and competitions into PES. Yes its a faff and you won’t get the Premier League numbers, but realistically within one hour of booting up your game, you can usually have almost the exact same experience. FIFA offers more leagues, accurate trophies and if you do want to play as a league 2 team you only have one way to go, but its not the deal closer that it used to be.
Add into this argument; the level of customisation available in PES 21. Don’t like your teams kit this year? Upload last seasons one (which I did for Arsenal’s away kit). Or make your own on one of the many third party websites available. Want to put yourself in the game? The player editor option in PES is far superior to FIFA. Want to add your league 2 team or local village team into the game? PES gives you the ability to do that, make your own crest kit and even players if you like.
This category is a tricky one. FIFA has the better experience from the start, but PES gives you much more control in tailoring the experience as to how you want it. Because I like having the option, PES gets over the line by a whisker. No VAR here to review the decision I’m afraid!
FIFA 21 – 7/10
Winner – PES 2021 – 8/10
Verdict and Thoughts
|Category||FIFA 21||PES 2021|
|Licensing and Customisation||7||8|
For the past few years it’s been pretty close between the two. Last year I almost exclusively played PES 2020 over FIFA. As a career mode player, the gameplay was worse and the experience in career mode hadn’t changed for too long, so I needed to go to something new. Despite master league not being great, the greater difficulty and engagement of the matches made for a better experience overall.
This year however, the gameplay of FIFA has bumped up just enough that it’s enjoyable, even if not at the standard of PES. Konami has made clear this years update rather than full game was due to the Covid situation and that next year should be a much bigger step up. But the end result of this is losing ground to a FIFA franchise that they had maybe just started to get ahead of.
I am going to start off with FIFA 21, which just edges it for me. But if you are interested in PES and have never given it a go, the 2021 update is only £24.99, with 2020 (basically the same game) available in some places for even cheaper.
What do you think? Are you buying FIFA or PES this year? Let us know in the comments below!