Pro Evo Soccer - a relaxing Android game


Casual Games - A Misnomer?

I'm into casual games, but I rarely find any worth playing. A casual game to me is a single-player affair that I can drop out of at any time, and pick it back up again without needing to retrain myself on the controls or the mechanics. It should feel relaxing; like throwing on a pair of slip-on shoes to take a leisurely walk to the mailbox.

Most modern games I come across don't fit the bill at all. They are usually a mutant mixture of the things that keep me away from games in general: a AAA abomination with 60+ hours of grindquest-padded gameplay, multiplayer-focused, open world, and a seemingly endless list of paid add-ons and level packs. Yes, there are games like Sim City, Stardew Valley and Animal Kingom, but these end up being massive time sinks as well.

And a lot of them are simply too hard to persist with. If I only have 30 minutes free, I do not want to spend it making repeated attempts to clear the same level of bad guys.

"Oh, it's to increase the challenge level" I hear you say. I don't recall my reason for purchasing this game to have been "I want to be challenged". That's for my LinkedIn, not real life.

So as much as I love the blood-red luminescence of the isometric levels on Ruiner, I had to set it aside because of my mounting frustration with the speed of enemies and the lethality of their weapons relative to mine. Ruiner's one of those games that tries to institute a certain amount of 'reality' by allowing you to carry no more than one primary weapon and one mostly useless sidearm.

Mobile games have these same faults, but manage to plumb the depths of suckage even further with in-game advertising, pay-to-win (P2W) mechanics and ultra-simplistic controls. I gaze across a row of icons on the Google Play store, mouth agape at how many of them are brazen clones of Candy Crush and Clash of Clans, operable with nothing more than a tap and a swipe.

Finally finding one I like

So it was a big, big surprise that the game I've been consistently playing is a) on mobile and b) exactly the kind of P2W cash-grab I would have otherwise avoided.

It is Pro Evo Soccer, or PES on Android. I started playing it during the pandemic lockdown, and I'm fairly certain it kept me sane during those months. I'm still playing it in 2024, and to my surprise, they've kept all the good things, and, get this.... removed some of the bad things. It usually goes the opposite way for mobile games.

I've played numerous soccer games on Android, and they've always felt stilted on mobile. Either the game was a graphically simplistic "reimagined" version of their desktop equivalent (think Fallout Tactics v Fallout 3) or it tried too hard to match desktop FIFA/PES playing experiene without the right kind of ball movement physics. This was the pitfall for Dream League Soccer, the last game I played (and loved) back in 2017.

What's Great about PES

Graphics: This might sound superficial, but I don't care. I was there when FIFA transitioned from sprite-based graphics to a blocky polygonal representations in FIFA '97. To me, it's pretty amazing that the graphics and motion tracking on a mobile game can be so good that I can recognize players from the opposition team by their running style and how they position their body to shoot. In FIFA '97, the net didn't even bulge when the ball went in! Meanwhile in PES, opposition defenders fall to their knees in despair when you score a late goal with seconds left on the clock!

Chip shots are very satisfying to watch when pulled off right

Game Physics: Soccer games are all about the movement of the ball. In reality, kicking a ball doesn't make it go in a perfectly straight line. Yet for the vast majority of mobile games I've played, that's exactly how it's rendered; closer to foosball than futbol. The ball movement physics in PES introduces realism, which in my opinion generates half the fun. A good example of this is when the ball hits the crossbar or the posts. If it hits the outside, it ricochets away from the goal. If it hits the inside, it can ricochet into the goal, or cause chaos by bouncing back into the 18-yd box where defenders and attackers battle to reach it first. PES provides these moments aplenty.

Post/Crossbar physics are very realistic

Not too real, though: PES and FIFA on consoles aren't casual games anymore. You're expected to know how to manage your players' stamina, use sprint mode sparingly, and dodge incoming tackles with deft button combos on your controller. I don't have time for all that. The touchscreen-based controls are more than enough, and thankfully don't appear to have any "special move" combos/gestures which just add cognitive load to the experience of playing. Even average players can occasionally come out of nowhere to send a hopeful longshot flying into the top corner. It's extremely satisfying when it happens!

Fun with half-volleys

What'll happen when it changes?

Mobile games rarely stay the same for very long. They add new, sometimes user-hostile features, either to boost the number of downloads, increase playing time, or simply make more money per download. This hasn't happened on PES yet, but it's probably only a matter of time.

Having played the game for a number of years now, I've noticed that the teams available to play as often change as rights expire. It's not too bad because if your team is missing, you can simply sign the actual players and build a uniform that resembles your team's kit.

The music changes as well. The song selection is actually pretty good, and I found myself humming "Everything's Electric" by Liam Gallagher. It's no longer available on the soundtrack unfortunately.

The bigger issue is if the game mechanics change. Dream League Soccer dropped out of conention for me when they raised the difficulty to the point where you had to buy super-players to win, with real currency, natch. From what I can tell, Pro Evo itself no longer has official commentary tracks from Peter Drury and Jim Beglin.

With older mobile games, it was possible to simply download an archived APK of an older version of a game if the updated version messed up the gameplay balance. Modern games however need a network connection just to initialize, and Pro Evo is no exception. There's no way to go back to the 2020 version I used to play. When the time comes for Pro Evo to be finally put out to pasture, all I'll have are my saved replays.

And a PSP ROM of PES 2010 if I'm desperate.