It's a strange way to kick off a game of football. Instead of something modern and aggressive our ears are treated to Giacomo Puccini's Nessun Dorma. An aria we naturally associated with the voice of Luciano Pavarotti, or, more recently, Paul Potts.
Whether it's an inspired move designed to build atmosphere or a way to cut costs of more expensive licensed tracks is unknown, but what is painfully obvious is that Konami have lost out in the tug of war that is football licenses this year as EA Sports have secured plenty of exclusives. It's most obvious when it comes to arenas - PES only offers 19 in this edition and not all of them are real world stadiums. A couple of notable stadiums stand out like Old Trafford and Champions League winners' Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena, but fans of La Liga are hit particularly hard as not a single stadium from Spain has made it in.
Then there is the lack of rain. And while EA Sports has not struck an exclusive deal with the rain Gods, it is due to technical reasons. A wet lawn alters the conditions and physics of both ball and player. If we are to believe the team, there simply wasn't enough time to implement wet conditions this year. But at least this provides us with proof that the game has been rebuilt from scratch.
In fact, Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 is a very different game compared to its predecessor. It only takes a few seconds to realise that it's not just a matter of some minor tweaks and changes, something is fundamentally different. It's hard to put into words what's different, but it certainly feels unfamiliar.
The flow of the game has improved significantly over last year, mainly due to the increased intelligence shown by AI players. Very seldom are your teammates standing idly by and instead there is constant movement. You don't have to wait long for a teammate to make himself available for a pass. Advancing through short passes is now a viable option.
It's especially gratifying to see how well the AI players understand the game inside the penalty box. They understand how to move and position themselves to be useful. This is by far the greatest single feature of the new PES. Reversely this also forces us to deal with the clever offensive tactics of the computer controlled team. There were times when the genius moves of the AI simply had me flabbergasted.
Our main concern, shared by many PES fans, are the helping lines provided with set pieces. These lines have been left in for the full game, and you cannot switch them off either. Even if these lines only give an approximation of where the ball will end up they still provide players with a visual reference that makes free kicks way to easy to score with.
With a little practice any reasonably experienced player will turn a free kick into a high percentage scoring chance. With the right amount of force applied most shots will end up in the net. It's a pity that this hasn't been handled the same way as other visual supports such as the ones for passing and shooting - as they can easily be switched on and off in the menu.
Battle for possession is completely revised. It comes across as something of a fight, and it's not always enjoyable. Capturing possession simply by running past your opponent is much more difficult to pull off and requires perfect timing.
Either way you're better off avoiding these duels altogether in Pro Evolution Soccer 2014. Getting a hold of the ball with the duel button isn't easy and only really works when your facing your opponent correctly and time it right. Simply running into the opponent rarely helps. It's more effective to tackle. This also allows you to sample the new physics engine that calculate collisions much like how it is in the FIFA series. The end result is neat and blends seamlessly with the rest of the animation work. When a player is hit with a sliding tackle at full speed, the results are quite spectacular.
Goalkeeper intelligence has improved slightly, but there are still some annoying behaviours to be found. In one-on-one sitations they often time their rush very poorly and can easily be beaten. And when the keeper tries to save a lob, often he tries to bat the ball away with the palm of his hand so it likely ends up in the back of the net anyway.
The referee is more lenient than he perhaps should. While these collisions often appear harmless on screen and thus are ignored by the referee, they still often result in lost possession or prevent a quick break. It is certainly the source of some frustration.
In terms of visuals Pro Evolution Soccer has been ahead of the pack for years, and this an aspect that has always seen improvement. Players in Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 are actually more detailed than what you'll see in most current first person shooters. The cutscenes are lower quality however as far as visuals go - they appear more jerky than previously.
The developers have also spent a lot of time recreating the visual details of the stadiums. While these still lag behind FIFA they now appear more realistic, and they give us impression of real fans in the stands as choreographed chants and celebrations take place. New chants also take the atmosphere to new heights in terms of sound.
This year's edition of PES comes with new quirks. It remains to be seen how it will improve with patches in the future, but in spite of these flaws Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 proves entertaining. Largely thanks to the improved artificial intelligence it manages to surpass its predecessor. There is still room for improvement, but we're excited about this totally revamped PES.