Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
So, here we are again. Let us slip into that annual Pro Evolution versus FIFA debate that is as familiar and comfortable as the festive jumpers that we are soon to don. This year, however, PES has released noticeably later than FIFA, which has graced FIFA with its reviews not being littered with PES comparisons. That will inevitably not be the case with this year’s iteration of PES, given the time between releases, but thankfully that window of time only serves to highlight just how good a game of football Konami are now playing.
As I rifle through my box filled with the FIFA comparison cliches let’s get this one out of the way - of course PES does not have the same level of presentation on or off the pitch as FIFA. The front-facing side of PES has always come in for a bit of stick, menus have been clunky and reasonably obtuse but most importantly they always lacked that certain pizzazz. The good news with PES 2015 is that things have improved somewhat. The menus now operate similarly to the slide menu in FIFA but you will have to go digging for certain modes and options. Thankfully you can pin your favourites to the main screen which saves prolonged searching, but as a complete package it remains one element of PES that could be improved by borrowing more ideas from FIFA.
A special mention has to be given to the commentary on display here, as it is truly woeful. The script must have been recorded during an ITV Champions League advert break as within three games you will already be too acutely aware of the vast number of repeated lines. But even the lines that are there aren’t delivered with any authenticity, with Jon Champion and Jim Beglin seeming unenthused by the action and also around three seconds behind it. All too frequently there will be moments of nonsensical commentating that deflates the atmosphere that PES builds up, for example it is not unusual to score an equalizing goal only to hear “Surely that’s the winner”. As with many of PES’s problems the commentating isn’t a deal-breaker, it is something that you will learn to live with and thankfully the actual football covers over these cracks.
One of the reasons that certain consumers have chosen FIFA over PES in the past, and may well do so this time around again, is the lack of official teams, leagues and so forth; There are no Premier League licences other than Manchester United, which was lucky for this United fan, but otherwise you’ll be playing derbies like Merseyside Red versus Merseyside Blue. You can edit the names of the teams but it’s the lack of official kits that can wrinkle. Similarly there’s a lack of representation for certain leagues here, in a stroke of utter irony Mario Gotze features on this year’s PES but there is no Bundesliga to participate in. It’s a real shame that there is such disparity in attained licences between PES and FIFA as we should be living in a world where the quality of the football wins out but unfortunately the playing field won’t be levelled any time soon.
But this is where a line must be drawn; a point at which you must ask yourself ‘will I sacrifice presentation and licences for gameplay?’ Objectively it seems that the answer should be an easy ‘yes’ because of course you always want to play the best game possible, but that has not been the case across the last decade where FIFA has oft won out in the fiscal arena rather than the gameplay one. If you can abide the low key presentation and you don’t mind your character modelling fluctuating from uncannily brilliant (Cristiano Ronaldo) to downright hilarious (Adnan Januzaj looking like something from a Brothers Grimm tale) then the football game you want is here as on the pitch there’s no game in recent memory that can touch PES’s imagining of the beautiful game.
As you take to the hallowed turf for the first time what will strike you is that every player (modelled poorly or not) behaves differently. From the manner of their run to their shielding of the ball, you get a sense of the ability of the player from their animation. The wonderful physical establishment of any given player does not exist in isolation but is brought more to life when they interact with opposing players. Rarely has a football game felt so physical, with shoulder to shoulder runs really feeling like a running battle and those midfield tustles become vital to success. The Fox Engine brings the game of football to life in a way that feels truly organic, and while it may not have the fluttering shirt rendering or glorious hair of FIFA but PES’s wonderful player animation will have you buying into Konami’s footballing vision in a way that immaculate face rendering simply won’t.
What you will also notice is that there is something intangible at work underneath all those polygons that helps shapes matches. In PES 2014 there was the use of the ‘Heart System’ where players would react ‘emotionally’ to their performance and situation around them. It seems that there has been a further development of this mechanic that spreads from the pitch and into the stands. I was 2-0 behind at home in a second leg Champions League match to Lille who were passing us to death with a draw being enough to send us through. It was a torrid affair with players playing like they were resigned to defeat as Lille knocked the ball wing to wing and back to their back-four with consummate ease and professionalism. An unexpected mistake led to a goal to bring it to 2-1 with minutes to spare. At this point the crowd came alive with anticipation with repeated shouts of ‘Attack! Attack!’, and like a real match the players picked themselves up, started winning the midfield balls and Lille’s defence started to backpedal where for most of the match they remained unflustered. With the crowd at the back of the players an injury time winner was cooly slotted in the far right corner to secure advancement in the tournament. This is what PES truly gets spot on, the faithful replication of the heart of the beautiful game as it ebbs and flows both on and off the pitch and how one informs the other.
Your AI counterparts also seem to have had an overhaul this year with teammates making intelligent runs between and behind the lines, often pointing to where they want the ball passed. They will exploit space as and when they can but also seem to weigh this up against their movement leaving space for the opposing team. With your formation largely staying intact thanks to sensible defensive AI the game of PES becomes a game of true patience, working the ball around and winning those man-to-man battles across the pitch until an opportunity arises. It is not a game to be snacked on, but one to be savoured. There will be no easy goal ten seconds after kick-off, no unearned win but rather a game of chess as you move and exploit weaknesses before applying the pressure.
It’s not all perfect however as goalkeepers, while brilliant 95% of the time, seem to panic at bizarre moments. What seems to be a routine pick up and collect ball may end up with the man between the sticks diving to punch the ball out despite the fact an attacking players is not within range. There also seems to be an inordinate amount of flapping at the ball during corners, but elsewise they perform their duty fantastically well. Also, the use of L1 to select the nearest defender to the ball is at times inconsistent and can serve as a gripe. Sometimes as a ball is knocked out wide you will try to select your respective left or right back to close the space but occasionally the game will select every other person in your backline before getting to the player required. It’s not often and can be remedied by sticking to the mis-selected player and holding Square, sending the nearest defender to put pressure on the ball. But these are minor issues that are so heavily overshadowed by the on-pitch brilliance that you will scarcely notice them.
In terms of modes of play PES is also trying to move things forward, perhaps out of necessity rather than actually wanting to. There are the usual suspects on show here such as the truly brilliant Master League, but there are additions of some competitions such as the Copa Sudamericana. The biggest change to the game modes is the addition of MyClub, a total non-subtle return shot to FIFA’s immeasurably popular Ultimate Team. There are differences with MyClub however; you’ll need to hire agents who will go out and try and sign players, with each agent having their own speciality. What develops is a mode that feels like it has a lot more luck involved than FUT, leaving you to manage the team you are dealt giving you a real sense of ownership. It’s never going to win over FIFA FUT players, and if FUT is where you want to hang your hat then you’ll be left wanting with PES. However FIFA has had years to develop and evolve FUT, and as a first stab at creating a mode that is aimed at competing with its rival it does a fine job and it is definitely a platform for Konami to move forward. This new mode, and all the usual ones are bolstered by what seems to be a more reliable online experience than was available at the launch, and subsequent months, of Pro Evolution Soccer 2014.
What we are left with this year is that if both FIFA and PES were amalgamated we would have the greatest footballing videogame ever made. Unfortunately most people will need to make a decision of one or the other, so where should a gamer put their money? If you need the licences, the likenesses, the slickness of presentation and all those bells and whistles then FIFA is for you. If you can look past the superficial failings of PES and accept MyClub as a FUT substitute then you can console yourself with the beautiful game in its finest representation. Your concerns over visuals will melt away as you slide through a perfect through ball leaving the back four looking at each other in bewilderment. While FIFA has spent the last years looking for a new direction to go in, PES has a quiet, understated confidence. The goal has been simple for Konami; make the beautiful game beautiful to play. On that score alone PES wins hands down and the gauntlet has truly been thrown down for next year’s derby clash. It seems that those big signings haven’t guaranteed FIFA the title.