Every year it’s the same – A few promises of new excellence and a vain hope that this year will be better than last. It all sounds like lyrics to a 90s alt-rock song or a cringingly created poem for TV montages, but it is a fair and accurate representation of how fans of football games feel every August when we wait and see how FIFA and PES stack up. We all root for the underdog and wait for the excellence we once knew to return, and every year we say “it just might.” This year I am saying “IT DEFINITELY WILL.”
The thing with FIFA is that fans of Football games don’t actually play it. Football fans do because it scratches their itch for a quick 10 minutes of play, or they become helplessly addicted to the ultimate team mode like us older types used to get addicted to collecting Panini and Merlin sticker albums. But to actually play football, a virtual representation of the difficulty and tactical skill of the beautiful game, we football fans have always preferred Pro Evolution Soccer or PES (or Winning Eleven).
The problem was that the game, for the past six years or so, hadn’t really caught up with the changing technology and just as it was, it changed again. The best football games lists will always include either PES 4 or PES 5 and last years PES 2015 was a hugely celebrated step in the right direction. But that list should definitely make some room for PES 2016. Playing it, I felt transported back to the days where I worked in an office and did a charity day every month where people just paid to come and play in their breaks. PES 2016 has that magic of creating stunning football again.
Firstly, let’s address the licences because the first thing people say is “oh, it doesn’t have every team with the correct kit”. Well boo hoo. Nothing ever used to have that and we always forgave PES because the gameplay was much better. But PES has all the licences you can dream of except the Premier League. All of Europe, a select few other clubs, international kits, the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League and the recently announced Euro 2016 tournament are all here. There are going to be a couple of teams from the Premier League as always, so keep your ears open to hear more on that.
Of course there are several features that PES has always had and a lot of new ones. There’s a refined Master League and the myClub feature (kind of like the FUT) makes a return. You’ll also see some excellent use of the FOX engine which the studio used last year. The FOX engine if you don’t know is the Kojima Productions engine that’s powering Metal Gear Solid V’s Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain. As such there’s several things that the game can do compared to other games.
You’ll get the ability to completely change what you’re doing while you play. Now by this I mean that the animation of what your player is doing is no longer locked. So you can abort out of a run, move, tackle or shot and really change what your doing quickly and reactively to what’s going on around you. The AI is going to make the player think more about runs and passing moves, as it will find the space and the runs and you need to be able to read it. Not just you sending your player on his way, it’s also going to be up to you react to your team. The collision system is much improved as well giving players a much more physical way to play the game.
That physicality directly translates to your controller. The game is much smoother than it has been and, dare I say it, even feels a bit weightier. There’s a gravity to the game and the movement that’s realistic and physical but not concrete or too light to be flying all over the place. It’s a very well balanced movement system and it might take some newer players a while to get used to. For the seasoned PES veterans however, this will take you back. I had a lovely animation where I was running under the ball, whilst fighting off an attacker and managed to head it away whilst turning my head, not my whole body, my head only. It was wonderful to see this kind of real physicality in the game.
One of the things that’s also improved thanks to the FOX engine is the graphical fidelity. Player textures are much better now and not just a shiny layer of lighting. The pitches and stadiums are just as well presented and dynamic weather will feature. So you can have a spat of rain, or a gleam of sunshine if you’re playing anywhere above Birmingham, and the game will change accordingly. There’s more to do with dynamic celebrations as well, much better keeper animations (something FIFA tried last year and half succeeded in). The TV presentation isn’t as TV heavy as FIFA’s but it’s nice and we in the UK get Peter Drury to voice our commentary. There’s also image editing on the PS3/PS4 too so there’s some great customisation options.
PES is celebrating it’s 20th year. For the past two decades it has had some big highs and some very big lows. But 2015’s iteration was the first to really show the light and won a few awards. That in turn has obviously spurred the team on and they’ve really made a great effort here. From the time that I played it, I got the same feeling as I did back in the PES 4 & 5 days, where you’d share a memory card to get all the kits, and you’d work relentlessly just so you could hit that one perfect pass or catch that one perfect volley. You’d practice for hours in the training ground just so that when the time came, you knew where to aim that free kick and could let fly and be your own star of your imaginary football heroism. I think this could be the best PES in years and quite possibly the best Football game. You don’t have to wait long to make up your own mind either, but for me, PES has returned and will definitely ruffle a few feathers in the dressing room.
PES 2016 is due for release on September 18th 2015 in the UK and September 15th 2015 in the Americas on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.
A demo will be released on August 13th 2016.