“The Pitch is Ours” – those are some bold words to put out there from the Konami team. Words that follow a few less than impressive releases culminating in the disappointment that was PES 2014. It was, in some ways excusable though, the team were clearly working with a new system and pushing towards their first new-gen release. Now there can be few excuses as PES 2015 releases, but will they be needed?
The most important part of any sport game is the gameplay, especially when it comes to simulating the actual sport. A game can have all the bells and whistles but if the gameplay isn’t there then it will almost always fall flat harder than an Ashley Young dive.
PES in the past has built itself on creating the most authentic experience on the pitch. While its competitor, FIFA, flooded the game with licenses and production value, PES focused on the football first. I am pleased to say that gameplay is something PES 2015 thrives on like never before.
This is mostly thanks to the wonderful Fox engine which allows for an in-depth system of animations, movements and on-field occurrences. You actually cannot believe just how many subtle touches there are, making it a full embodiment of the sport. Little jigs and darts, changes in pace, collisions, shirt tugs, competing in the air, passing and shooting, all of them feel spot on as if you are taking part in a real game. It’s all so fluid that it’s hard to believe just how they managed to go from last year’s flop to this years winner. Keepers have thankfully improved considerably too… about bloody time.
The gameplay extends to other aspects too, such as the way your team moves up the pitch when attacking and pulls together when defending. You feel in total control as tinkering with tactics has evidential effect and the new fluid formation, which changes the tactics on the fly depending on whether you have the ball or not, adds a whole new dimension to how you manage each match.
There are so many little things that can be adjusted that to detail all of them would take all day, but be assured that you can customize everything possible and doing so isn’t just a cosmetic thing, it actually matters. The control is in your hands, literally.
AI is vastly improved too, and the joy of PES has always been different play styles per team. Play against a team like Barcelona and you will struggle to get the ball as they majestically pass it around, but play against a team like West Ham and suddenly you need to contend with long, high balls and counter attacks. It adds so much variation that every single match feels like a completely new experience.
There is very little I can fault the gameplay on in PES. Apart from the occasional poor decision from a ref to give a free kick and the slightly odd penalty format. The gameplay is the best I have ever seen in a football game and those PES Moments and special goals are back like never before.
In the past PES has mostly relied on its Master League mode to provide the majority of entertainment. This time around it plays second fiddle to the new MyClub mode. There are your ‘standard’ modes where you can play cup and league matches, the Champions League, AFC and Copa Libertadores in all their licensed glory and of course the much underutilised ‘Become a Legend’ Mode. The most fun, however, will be found in the MyClub and Master League modes which are by far the best.
Master League returns in pretty much the same vain, but thankfully without stupid boots to improve your skills. It’s also a fair bit easier to sign players if you have the funds, although coming by said funds is a bit more difficult this time around. The format is the same though as you start off with a default side (or the club side if you prefer) and build your team into greatness as you make your way through the different divisions until ultimate glory. It’s essentially the best, and most basic of Master League returns, just as it should be. (P.S. – I hate that you can only negotiate with 5 players at a time still, makes no sense).
MyClub is PES’s take on FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode. It’s clearly not nearly as close to, polished or in-depth as Ultimate Teams but it does have an interesting take on the build-and-play format. In MyClub you start with a bunch of no-name players ala Master League, but you can sign new players the more you play. You do this by assigning agents. Each agent has a specialist skill in terms of signing players, put agents together and you get a somewhat decent player. Alternatively, you can use GP points which accumulate from playing the game and doing different challenges, to get a Top Player.
The interesting thing is that it is completely random based on what you assign to it. So you can’t go pick the exact player you want, but rather combine agents to try get a specific player type, or go for a Top Player and hope for someone decent. It’s frustrating but at the same time rewarding knowing other people can’t just pay their way to get the best players. Managers are also acquired through spending GP, and matching players and managers, as well as tactics increase your team spirit which improves your team (like Chemistry in FIFA).
MyClub is limited though. While the basis of building your team is great, the options surrounding it are not. First off navigating your way through what needs to be done is a chore, and confusing as hell at first, but once you get the idea it’s a lot simpler. More of an issue is that you have a choice of 4 different modes only.
The first is a standard game vs the CPU based on real players’ teams. It’s a pretty neat idea but at the same time it picks the difficulty level for you and while it is meant to change, based on your results, mine has stayed the same after about 15 straight wins.
The other option is online divisions which has you play through a series of games where you need to accumulate enough points against online opposition to win promotion. You get better rewards the higher up you go (so better players and agents) BUT since I got the game I have managed to play online once, while the rest of the time the servers have been an issue. It’s a great pity because the online worked wonderfully when connected and there is a real intensity about playing other people online.
The third option is coach mode where you play against others online but you merely change tactics rather than actually control the players. I honestly have no idea what the point of this is and I wasn’t able to connect to a match here either. Lastly are MyClub Competitions, which will open up tournaments and specific channels… but once again, I wasn’t able to connect. So when it works the options are decent, but if the servers continue to have a problem then there is only one type of match to play, that gets a little bit old, and you may as well play Master League rather. (Note – I do want to test the online following some maintenance and will report back on any changes)
I will start with bad and end with the good. In terms of presentation the menus and navigation thereof are as sloppy as Arsenal’s current defence. Finding your way to where you want to go is as confusing as it is aesthetically displeasing and while the team management stuff has improved it still feels like a mess overall.
Obviously licensing will continue to be a problem for many, and while the players do have real names, many teams still don’t. There are plenty of licenses in there, but not all of them, and the lack of option files as a solution on new-gen is not exactly ideal. Many will be happy to look the other way to get around this, but plenty will not.
The soundtrack to the menus is a good one, although only a few songs so you might start getting annoyed or just put on your own music before too long. And you might want to keep that music playing during the game because the commentary has somehow managed to get even worse. Repeats in the same matches? No thanks. At least the crowd sounds are decent without ever feeling truly authentic.
It ends well for PES though in terms of presentation. I have already mentioned the animations but if you want something truly marvelous to behold then all you need to do is look at the player models in-game. The facial likenesses are easily the best I have ever seen and watching highlights, just to see how good they look, and see the changing facial expressions, never gets old. It’s definitely a nod to the new-gen capabilities. The stadiums and fields, including the lighting and the crowds are equally impressive, and where PES lacks in production value, it certainly makes up for in terms of the stunning visuals.
So based on this what can we take home? Well PES is definitely returning to its best game. I fully believe that Gameplay is the fundamental aspect to any sport game, especially a football game and it’s there that PES is undoubtedly the best in terms of authenticity. You never stop seeing and learning new things the more you play. Couple that with some great modes and insanely impressive graphics and you have a fantastic game.
Yes, it is brought down by the messy menus and online issues (which hopefully are fixed before long), but the essential aspects are all there, and to date there is nothing better than playing PES with a few friends on the couch. The banter around epic moments never dies down, and it’s a true testament to a wonderfully enjoyable game.