Anyway: PES 2021 isn’t a full game in its own right. Instead, Konami went down the path that – frankly – sports games should have been going down for at least a decade. It’s an update that slots on top of PES 2020, updating the squads and upgrading other bits and pieces under the bonnet. PES has been a good-to-great footy game for a few years, following the doldrums of the PS3 era, so there isn’t much that needed to be done from a mechanical perspective. I am, therefore, completely OK with this system – to the point that I paid actual money from my own pocket to get the game months ago.
Enough of that waffle, though, and onto the actual playing of said game. I set up the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament with the intention of just… playing it. Simple. A challenge of sorts, I guess, but nothing particularly fancy. Play the tournament, try to win it even though I’ve never been too great at PES as a series. And to make it a bit more fun, I opted to play as everyone’s favourite friendly Vikings, Iceland. The Frosty Warriors. The Chilled-Out (foot)Ballers. The team with Gylfi Sigurðsson, the man with the world’s most satisfying name to say. Such rhythm.
Safe to say, it didn’t start too well. It didn’t start poorly either, mind, but it didn’t start in a way that would impress any twelve-year-old football fanatics who are Really Good at football games. A couple of 0-0 draws, so points on the board, but nothing special at all to write home to the Viking kids about. Suitably enraged with these poor performances on my part, I opted to switch things around for the third and deciding group game against Sweden. Yes, this intense battle for Nordic superiority would see me sitting up instead of laying horizontally while playing. A bold strategy, but one that showed my seriousness.
And it worked, with a 64th-minute strike by someone whose name ended with ‘son’ bagging Frosty Jack’s Squad Of Frozen Hobos their first actual victory in Euro 2020, and sealing qualification to the second round, and first knockout stage. From here, draws would lead to extra time, maybe penalties, so it would become ever-more important to actually score goals. Something my fine-touch-lacking Icelanders weren’t doing too well with. And so it was the real game began: get the ball to Gylfi, have him open up a bit of space for himself, and use his uncanny ability to place the ball wherever the heck he so pleases to score some goals.
Would you be surprised to hear that this worked? No, of course not. It’s a video game set to ‘regular’ difficulty, being played against an AI that can be cheesed and learned quicker than you’d expect. What was surprising wasn’t the successive 1-0 victories against the Czech Republic and Germany, nor the final’s 87th-minute winner – a Gylfi special, of course – making the game against Ukraine also end 1-0. No, the surprise came in the semi-final’s 4-0 trouncing of Italy. Again, it’s not that I expect to lose games here, or that I expect it to be particularly hard. Beating a world-class team thoroughly isn’t the surprise. The surprise arrived in the form of genuine pangs of joy and delight with each shot going in. A scramble and a poke for one-up; a fist-pump in the living room. A glancing header deflected past the ‘keeper; an audible ‘Yes!’ surprising the dog. A Gylfi side-footed… can it be called a ‘shot’ if it was stroked in with the grace and calm of a new parent laying their child to bed for the first time? Anyway…that got another surprised yell. The fourth goal? A blur. Italy embarrassed, the Icelanders dominant, and a sweaty man in his too-hot living room remembering how great football games can be. Oh, and the tournament win, shouldn’t forget that bit.
What did we learn from this endeavour? That PES is always better played with other people, mainly those in the same room as you. We also learned that I should have done this themed feature using Football Manager 2021, but there’s only so much time a person has in their life (and I don’t want to succumb to the addiction of FM once more). Ball, ball, ball, footy, footy, footy...