Ah PES, Pro Evolution Soccer, Winning Eleven, formerly ISS, what a history you’ve had. What a 20 years you’ve had in the gaming industry. A past filled with triumphs in the early to mid 2000’s with some of the greatest releases known to man and to the Beautiful Game. A past that went sour when things just wouldn’t go right. That sublime gameplay exchanged for lost ways, poor animations, outdated graphics and sadness.
PES has had a long road, it was once dubbed the King of Football purely down to its astounding gameplay. It didn’t have the licenses, the flash and panache of FIFA. It didn’t need them. It didn’t need the best commentary or online. It had a near perfect couch co-op mode and the best single player experience you could ask for. Oh, and did I mention the gameplay?
For years PES has played catch-up. It nearly found its feet and then decided to put in silly things like boots with powers for Master League. It introduced a new engine which had potential but felt more broken than your neighbourhood’s dysfunctional family. There were strides made but it never truly felt like PES would ever get its crown back. FIFA was just too strong, or was it?
What a Foxy Engine you have there
Three years into using the new Fox Engine and it’s safe to say Konami are learning how to harness its power for PES. It was evident last year but this year it’s absolutely in your face. The animations are smoother than I have ever seen in a football video game. Things like slide tackling, shooting, little touches and skills, passing, heading, crossing… everything is just so seamless that you have to sit back and admire it all. That Fox Engine is made for wondrous things, and PES is reaping the benefits.
The game benefits from the engine and animations in so many ways, most of which I will discuss a bit later in the gameplay but a shout has to be made for the player likenesses and the graphics overall. No, it does not have the presentation and production of value of FIFA, barely even comes close in that respect, but those animations and player likenesses are miles ahead. Some of the faces are so uncanny you can be forgiven for thinking they are somehow put into the game with some kind of magic. It is, indeed, magical.
The stadiums are also much improved though could still use a bit of work around the edges. It’s nothing to complain about, but with the players and ball physics at such a high level, it’s the next natural step in terms of presentation.
What’s New PESsy Cat?
Apart from new animations, PES has a few new tricks of its own. More licensed teams help but the real win is the ability for the PS4 to import images and having the Edit Mode in the game. This means that the wonderful community can create all those glorious images to make the lack of licensing a complete non-issue. Bliss.
The PES take on UItimate Teams, called MyClub returns, and it’s bang on in terms of addictiveness. MyClub has you once again building a team of nobodies into a team of Superstars. It’s far more balanced than FIFA’s Ultimate Teams in that you are never fully in control of which players you get. It does mean that you can’t quite create your specific team of stars, but you can get a great team and never feel out of balance against opponents.
MyClub now introduces online and offline tournaments which provide suitable rewards which results in improvements of your own team. In terms of the offline tournaments this is a great addition as opposed to the simple exhibition matches of last year. Online has lots of tournaments and challenges to keep you busy and I am very pleased to say that the online functionality is near perfect. I don’t think I have ever said that about a PES game before but I managed to find an online match without fail, experienced zero lag or any other issues which usually creep in.
While MyClub is quite easily the most addictive mode in PES, there is also the return of online seasons, online exhibitions, offline leagues and cups and of course the Become a Legend mode (which I still don’t like).
Yes, I am leaving the more important modes for last. PES may not have licenses quite in abundance like FIFA does, but when they do have licenses they use them to full effect. This goes for the UEFA Champions League, Europa League, Copa Libertadores, AFC Championship and Copa Sudamericana. All of these are so beautifully presented that you can’t help but feel a bit of sadness knowing PES will never have full licenses elsewhere.
Master League returns and while it’s not new, it does feel as though it has finally been refreshed. It no longer has silly additions which made it feel more like an RPG than a sport game. Building a team from scratch and getting to the higher glories has never felt so gratifying. It’s not an easy road but a worthwhile one. Last year the Master League was VERY easy for some reason, it seems the balance is better this time around.
Did I mention the Gameplay?
When it comes to football games it’s all about Gameplay, it always will be. PES was the king of gameplay back when, and completely lost its way. With the power of the Fox Engine I am happy to say that PES is right back on top in terms of gameplay. All those new animations make for a spectacular game of football. It recreates the moments and atmosphere, the panic and excitement of a match so spectacularly that you can’t help but feel emotionally involved at times.
The little touches which you discover as you go by have returned, it’s not just about flicking a stick and doing a trick, it’s about timing and experimenting, and it’s about learning new things each time you play. It’s also about knowing your opponents and the various different ways they play, you can’t just have the same plan every match or you will come undone. Tactics and formation really do matter and managing them is all part of the experience.
While FIFA feels off in terms of AI, PES seems to have it spot on. Your defensive team mates are always aware and in position, decision making is instant and players turn and move in ways you can only dream of. Defending isn’t simple, but it certainly is a lot more functional. Slide tackling is an absolute joy and the physicality which is evident throughout really goes a long way to making PES feel as great as it does.
Shooting feels natural, passing is expansive and full of freedom and little skills and jinks with the right players make them a riot to play with. It’s actually amazing to see the unique identities of players. Take someone like Coutinho with the ball and he can manipulate so well compared to someone who is a little more stoic, like Rakitic for example, but those passes with Rakitic are stupendous. You can feel the balance of each player making them feel like their real life counterparts, it’s not like everyone can sprint as fast as a Cheetah. Sorry Peter Crouch.
Goalkeepers are improved, attacking AI feels natural and intelligent and making subtle changes to the way you setup actually feels like it has a bearing on procedures. It’s not just cosmetic nonsense which makes you feel like you are doing anything, you really are.
There’s so much to go on about in terms of the gameplay, but I think my point is clear. This is, without doubt the best gameplay I have experience in a football game, ever. It’s better than FIFA 14 and FIFA 15 (which I loved) and it’s better than PES 3, 4 and 5, which were amazing.
10 steps forward, 1 step back
With all the good there is still some bad. It’s a real pity because PES seems to have come such a long way to regaining its crown, but there are some small issues which are quite unacceptable. The first is the squad updates which make sure that all the players are at the correct squads, as they are in real life. This should, without any doubt, be a day one, instant update, and while it does work for online, it doesn’t for offline. Even worse is hearing that this offline update will only take place at the end of October. It takes some of the fun out of the Master League mode especially and is just not good enough.
Also unfortunate is that some of the player faces that clearly weren’t worked on as much as others is quite atrocious. It’s great having so many good faces, but at least a little bit of effort into the smaller players would be welcomed.
The commentary team has changed this year for the first time in forever. Peter Drury joins Jim Beglin on the matches and to be completely honest doesn’t really improve anything. He does sound a lot more lively I suppose, and some of his coined phrases make their way into proceedings, but he and Beglin sound very unnatural, they are repetitive and often don’t even make sense. It’s not very good at all.
Lastly, and I understand no licenses, but at least have the right kit colours for teams. I don’t know why Liverpool, or Merseyside Red, must have a black and red striped kit. It just seems odd and out of place.
Is it a goal or an own goal?
PES 2016 is not perfect in terms of the little bits around the edges, but it sure as hell is damn near perfect in the one place it matters most. That gameplay is so sumptuous that you will find yourself marvelling at the things you can do. I have already converted some PES naysayers by letting them try it and believe me it is turning some heads.
It’s not going to take away the dominance of FIFA in the sales, and please believe me when I say both titles are very strong this year. But the football game that has come the longest way, that has truly evolved and is going stronger than it has in almost 10 years is PES. The King is back on its perch and if it manages to get those other problems sorted I don’t see FIFA dethroning it for a long, long while.