PES 2016 – Review

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I’m just going to come out and say this straight up. PES 2016 is the best football game in years. It’s definitely the best football game of the past five years and definitely the best on this current generation of consoles. Is it the best ever? No, but that’s not because of anything the game does, more of the times we live in and I’ll tell you for why.

Before playing the game for review I was lucky enough to play it twice, once at Gamescom and once at an event in London and the passion in the rooms for this return to form was evident. And as a football cliche, “return to form” has appeared a lot in regards of PES 2016 chatter, because it truly has. The game is going from strength to strength and with the dissolving of everything console for Konami except PES, the full attention it’s getting can only mean good things for the franchise’s future.

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It’s a future that has been built on solid ground here. Every single mode you would expect is here, the classic Master League, the challenging online play, the tournaments, licensed tournaments and the card based myClub feature. In fact, the game modes are probably the least important part of why PES 2016 is the best game at present because, whilst they are fun, they aren’t what makes the game fun to play.

But there are annoyances with these modes because of things like the teams not being up to date. I don’t mean the heavily publicised data update with transfers, but the teams themselves aren’t the same teams that are in this year’s Europa and Champions League competitions. It’s not a big issue but it’s one of the licence things that cannot be got around. The myClub feature is good and the coaching dynamic works quite well. It does feel a bit more football manager like than FIFA’s FUT but my experiences have been fraught with glitches and disconnections, some the games fault and some the players.

The Master League mode is as deep as it ever was and you can do as much or as little as you want in regards to forging your career and controlling the team. The main thing is that the menu screens are fairly easy to get around, although that’s been a thing that has plagued football games in recent years, and PES isn’t completely innocent with putting various settings in hard to locate sub-menus at times.

There are also a few things that keep the visual aesthetic apart from FIFA. You don’t have as much crowd atmosphere, a limited number of stadiums, the commentary is still a bit naff (although in truth PES commentary always was and is always better played with the Spanish commentary, because as British players it sounds more exciting and we can’t tell how broken it is), and the overall presentation is at times still trying to emulate that FIFA/Sky/Premier League visual style which would be great if not for everything else making it apparent that’s all it is, a style.

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The second biggest thing that the game has is pretty much for PS4 owners only, which is the ability to import data files and images for team, league and kit customisation. Much like its PS2 forefathers, this PES has the ability, with a great community of modders, to get around that sticky licensing issue and give us the teams. It’s not the simplest thing to do and it will take you a good hour or so to get it all edited to be the way you want it to be. But it’s worth your time doing. This is thanks to Sony’s policies allowing this, so sorry Xbox owners.

Which leads us to the most important thing – This is the best playing football game that there is available on the market right now. FIFA for all of its refinement and depth is still a very arcade run, skill and shoot affair for the most part. PES has an almost physical connection to how you play the ball, how aggressive you are, how much you pass the ball, how gassed you are when you run, the battles and tussles you go in to. This is down to two things, which are the engine and the animations. PES has always been a bit weightier in how you play, realising that the laws of physics do apply unless you’ve won many Ballon D’ors. FIFA has always been quite interchangeable in how any player can do a decent 50 yard run and shot on goal, regardless of if their stats and real life counterparts reflect that.

PES has taken a lot more care in the making sure that someone like Andy Carroll is going to be dominant in the air and a great person to hold up the ball, but is less likely to open his engines up down the wing and deliver a cross with accuracy. The FOX engine is great at making minute animations mean a lot more in the game. The physicality of a challenge is matched by new animations that help your player feel more realistic, like not having full control of a header as you’re backpeddling and off balance. What this does is it makes you respect, not only the player, but their ability and how they play. It opens you up to many different ways to actually play football, to adapt your tactics and play to your squads strengths, not necessarily your own gaming strengths, and that is magnificent.

Nothing has done that before or come close to it, and I doubt that anything will in the immediate future. In a perfect world, the contracts and money would loosen up a little and the ability to get a more immersive and in depth representation of world football would be available to the PES team. Or they would go “sod it” and completely abandon the areas of the game where it tries to do what FIFA does and makes the gameplay the stand out part of the game, much like the PS2 era did. But for now, this is the best that we have and despite some post-launch support niggles, it thoroughly deserves that praise. If this wasn’t an age where presentation and TV style run rampant in sports games, arguably over the good simulations that some games do, then this would be the best football game ever. But it’s close, damn close.

Summary

PES 2016 is the best football game available and the best that there has been for a long time. There is no doubt that the lack of FIFA sheen can put off people but, you aren’t playing football, you’re playing playing FIFA. Even some poor post-launch support hasn’t dampened the quality of the game and the experience. It might be some time before anything can better that and if anything, its attempts to present itself like FIFA at times inadvertently highlights its weaknesses.

Good Points

  • Excellent graphics
  • Great fluid and physical gameplay
  • Customisation and PS4 data importing

Bad Points

  • Poor post-launch issues
  • The non-football atmosphere is a bit naff
  • Outside of football, tires to be too much like FIFA

Why an 8.5?

This is the best football game available at the moment. It’s not the most refined, the biggest or even the most accessible. But it is the best simulation of football available now. It’s not the best ever though, that honour still goes to PES 5 for me, but in this day and age of TV and rights and licenses, it’s the closest we could possibly get.

 

This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.

 

PES 2016 – Preview

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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