Often when an “update” comes out in lieu of a new title, there’s a tendency to feel a little robbed, perhaps. A bit like we’ve been duped, like the makers have taken a year off but kept their hand out. The irony of this particular release (the helpfully titled Pro Evolution Soccer 2021 Season Update) is that this approach has long been presented by gamers as a suggestion for sport title developer’s perceived annual repackaging of games with minor tweaks and a major price tag. However, the work done on the 2021 version of PES could be likened more to a fine polishing than a spit shine. With developers across the spectrum up front about preparing for the imminent release of PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X titles, 2020 was never going to be an uprooting year in the progress of established sports titles. And as the ill-fated Madden NFL 21 proved a few weeks ago, hyping a new release that does little to move the needle can backfire. EA Sports’ UFC 4 brings the Octagon home, but you’ll need to put in the work In its defence, Konami has been down the line about this year’s PES release. In a July statement, it was referred to as a “season update” being released at an “affordable” anniversary price point. The £25 (US$30) price tag was a dead giveaway that we shouldn’t expect an overhaul. There hasn’t been one. Still, the resulting game is a subtle upgrade on the critically acclaimed PES 2020 title. Let’s get the letdowns out of the way: the typefaces used are still terrible, the commentary is still calamitous and the menus are still monstrous. In general, user interface has always been the main area where the title lagged well behind its rival Fifa series and this edition is no different. After almost 20 years it’s probably time to stop anticipating an updated look. PGA Tour 2K21 review: pro golfers offer gamers a chance to test themselves Also licensing. Fifa has always had the upper hand when it comes to the official licensing of competitions and clubs. Although that’s nothing an option file makeover doesn’t neatly fix for PS4 and PC players, Fifa has always had the edge when it comes to crisp kits and club insignia. There is one blow to the latest iteration: AC and Inter Milan are gone. Losing the Milanese duo also means losing the San Siro, always a personal go-to stadium when setting up an exhibition game. The loss of that iconic setting will be felt deeper than the two middling Milan clubs who have switched licensing allegiances to Fifa for the new season. Apart from all that, PES still knocks its galactico rival into a cocked hat on the pitch. The PlayStation 4 generation of football games was mostly dominated by PES. That’s how history will remember the denouement of the PS4 period, unless EA has completely overhauled FIFA 21 ahead of its October 9 release, unlikely given the industry-wide switch to the fast approaching PlayStation 5 era. What PES lacks in intuitive user interface, it makes up for in gameplay and its animation is still top of the line. After several rounds of patching, the end product of PES 2020 was one of – if not the – most complete football game of the PS4 generation and by extension any generation. Yes, the AI could be infuriating for the positionally aware purist, but it was by far the best we’ve seen since the fabled PES 2017. Out of the case, PES 2021 is as close to perfect as we’ve seen yet in terms of gameplay. Konami has managed to ring every last drop out of the FOX Engine it employed for the run, as the PS4 console – straining to keep up under the bonnet – would attest. PlayStation 5 is coming soon, but not to China Some players have commented that they experienced gameplay improvements in PES 2021, despite no such promises from the developers. It’s hard to imagine that Konami would have the audacity to charge for a game with a few kits added here, and a few taken away there. There had to be some gameplay tweaking, didn’t there? For me, goalkeepers were less prone to the wacky, passing was more in tune with what you expect the end result to be, shooting felt like it had been tweaked and first touches seemed a bit heavier – so more realistic. Public call for Son Heung-min to be Fifa 20 video game cover star The title remains the best football game around, by a distance, and this is a fine farewell to PES on PS4. If you don’t have last year’s edition already, Pro Evolution Soccer 2021, by default, is one of the best football games ever created, and is available at a knock-down price. If you do have 2020, you don’t need to be up at night wondering what you’re missing out on by swerving this release.