Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 review

“I had to hit it”. Said apologetically, by way of explanation, sometimes when no one else is in the room. These are the kind of exclamations you find come pouring forth when you play Pro Evolution Soccer. Something intangible about the feel and flow of a move causes you to want to hit that ball first time to seal it all off but you’re slightly off balance and just miss. “I had to hit it” you say, and if there is anyone with you they’ll agree, they’ll know why you did.

This is what PES has done for years, despite some troubled times it’s always had its trademark ‘moments’ and delivered a feeling to the player that no other football game (yes I mean that one) has ever quite managed. So let’s get things out in the open and make it all clear from the off; some people like FIFA and some people like PES. That’s fine and there are reasons for each, no one’s wrong per se but sometimes it’s hard to understand the decisions. For years PES was the better game and people still played FIFA, then FIFA was the better game for a while and people still played PES. I remember in 2009 trying to convince a colleague that, no really, FIFA is better these days. I explained how I too had always preferred Konami’s game in the past but it had lost its way. Well, at the risk of cliché, it’s back.

To be honest, I think the two games were fairly even since around 2012. FIFA had started to stagnate and the changes they made each year were making the game worse rather than better in my opinion. I started to check back in with PES and liked it but it wasn’t exceptional either. That was until last year when PES 2015 started the ball rolling again and 2016 has just built on that. Long preamble over, let’s get on to why.

You have control. That’s it really, but that’s such a huge thing when the competition struggles to give you that feeling. There’s something about FIFA that feels like you’re not the deciding factor in the game; you might put a move together and score, you might do the same and miss. It feels like there’s some other thing between you and what happens. PES doesn’t have that, or at least, it manages it all much better. In FIFA you can argue that it comes down to player stats and things like that but it doesn’t feel like that, there’s something missing in the communication. PES manages to let you know what’s likely to happen in a way where if you miss you know why, it feels like your fault and you just get it. It makes sense. They do all this by communicating the player stats so well that you feel them, the differentiation between players and teams is readily apparent and goes beyond just speed.

This is important for the gameplay but also the longevity of the game as it makes everything more interesting. The players individuality gives them character so when you’re playing Master League, the game’s career mode, you get excited about the prospect of signing someone new; you know they’ll bring something different. By contrast, in FIFA’s career mode I barely notice the difference between players, they’re either good or they’re not.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 (PES) Screenshot

 

Normally I like to think of games in a vacuum and not compare them to others or their own past iterations but solely on their own merits. However, in this case there are only two football games so I feel it’s necessary to compare and contrast. FIFA has the better graphics and all the licences and normally that sentence ends with someone saying ‘but PES has the better gameplay’. Well, it’s true, but only if you think it’s true. The two games are very different now and I don’t think it’s easy to go from one to the other. I do think a lot of my issues with FIFA are at least partly down to not being a ‘FIFA person’. That’s not meant to sound like a knock to anyone, it’s just true that some will always prefer a certain style over another. I’ve been more open minded than some and switched between the games but when PES is good it’s just light years ahead for me. This year PES is very good.

If you like the premier league and fast paced, frantic, unpredictable football then you may prefer FIFA with its great looks and all the stadiums. If you like continental or South American football and want a game that perhaps more closely mirrors Serie A or La Liga then maybe PES is for you. Some of this might sound like snobbery of a sort but I don’t mean it to. I love the premier league, it’s just that when I’m pretending to be a football manager I like to pretend to be an Italian one from the 1970s, smoking on the sideline while my team play out my vision of total football.

This might seem like an odd, or bad review; I haven’t said a huge amount about the game itself but we all know you can find the details elsewhere and have probably read other reviews before this one. My review here will probably be up a little later, it’s on a site that doesn’t get the most hits in the world and you’re probably here just to get another bit of insight or have seen the score and wanted to see how I justified it. Ultimately, it’s the gameplay. It’s another PES cliché, but it is just magic. How they convey the feeling of playing football cannot be explained, that’s why I haven’t really tried. If you want some details then sure, the graphics on the stadiums and the pitches etc. could be a lot better, but the player models are the best in the business. Presentation and overall UI elements still lag behind FIFA and the number of stadiums to play in is still pitiful in comparison. Commentary isn’t as technically good as FIFA either but I’m so sick of Martin Tyler and his inability to complete any sentence without, errrrrrrrrrr, a massive pause in the, errrrrrr, middle of it that I almost prefer the PES duo. I usually turn it off in both games either way.

I will hold my hands up and admit that maybe I just don’t ‘get’ FIFA, maybe I’m just crap at it. I’d agree with you if you said FIFA had better ball physics, though I’m not sure that makes a better game. I’d maybe even agree that FIFA is more realistic, but the crucial thing is, it doesn’t feel more realistic. PES feels like football. Maybe it achieves that more through impressionistic artistic representation than the ‘photo-realism’ scientific approach of FIFA but it’s going to come down to what you prefer. Before cameras, some artists would try to perfectly replicate the image in front of them using painstaking dot techniques whilst others just whipped out the oil paints and somehow captured the soul of what they saw. EA’s quest for perfect realism is admirable but it’s one they haven’t yet, and may never, fully succeed in. Meanwhile, PES has done a Monet and created a beautiful representation of football. Visually, beyond the amazing player models, it might not stand up to close scrutiny, but in every other regard it’s an artwork. I won’t argue with you if you prefer FIFA, I just won’t quite be able to understand you.