Reviews

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016

October 22, 2015, Author: Matt Parker

There was a time when Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) used to be the unrivalled king of football games. Sure, FIFA’s always had the official licenses and had the privilege of using real footballer’s names but PES was always better. Having my beloved Arsenal be referred to as North London Reds was a price worth paying.

Notice I said ‘was’. FIFA is now not just the official product of the officially corrupt governing body of world football, but EA’s games have been absolutely cracking for the last six or so years and as such, PES lost its crown and has been nothing more than an also-ran in the race for football game supremacy. This year? It’s safe to say that this is a beautiful rendition of the beautiful game.

When I say it’s beautiful I mean that in both the superficial sense and in the ‘it’s really enjoyable to play’ sense. Running on Konami’s FOX Engine, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 looks pretty darn good. At first I felt that the players had an odd waxy glow to them and feared they’d melt under the floodlights of Konami Stadium, but I soon grew to appreciate the mostly detailed models and smooth animation.

I say ‘mostly’ because, as with all iterations of PES, you’re dealing with a limited number of licenses. Only one of the bigger English teams are licensed and all of their (starting) players look great and some of the bigger names within the non-licensed teams have had attention paid to them. Other footballers are relegated (ha) to having been created using the built-in tools rather than being scanned in digitally. This doesn’t mean they look bad, but they look noticeably inferior to their high-poly counterparts despite PES’s in-depth ‘Create-A-Face 2000’ technology. The non-licensed team’s kits look pretty awful and the logos look even worse.

Some players receive more attention than others. Look at Bale's ears for example...

Some players receive more attention than others. Look at Bale’s ears for example…

Another area that suffers from a lack of licensing is the audio. There’s a pretty slim selection of music tracks that accompany your time in the menus though the offering does including the hot new number ‘No Place I’d Rather Be’ by Clean Bandit. If you’re not sick of that song already then you’ll soon be sick of the commentary by Jim Beglin. He has a pretty shallow pool of comments to draw from and they’re all delivered in particularly shouty and annoying fashion. Classic Jim Beglin.

I’ve been pretty critical of the game so far but the issues I’ve discussed I’ve been able to get over. The fine folks at PESWorld.com offer all manner of downloads that give you all of the kits, names and logos that are missing. They’re not as good as what’s on offer in FIFA but that’s to be expected. As for Jim Beglin, I’d recommend you stick on a podcast and mute him right down. This will allow you to get on with the actual game, which is where PES really shines.

Staying true to the game of football, PES is all about timing, positioning and using just the right amount of power in your kicks. At first it can be tough to gauge the filling of these power bars – you’ll see shots balloon over the bar, long balls turn into hopeless punts forward and gently lofted through balls intended to land at the feet of your striker will instead fly straight into the hands of the keeper. There’s no way to get over this than through practice but when it clicks, it’s great.

It can take time to get used to the controls, but it's well worth it.

It can take time to get used to the controls, but it’s well worth it.

Once you’ve got the hang of the power bar, don’t expect it to turn into leisurely kickabout, though. PES provides a tough challenge (as long as you turn up the difficulty, obviously) but never feels unfair when doing so. During my first series of games I was often caught out by long balls over the top of my defenders. At first I feared this was simply the A.I. being cheap and that the game would turn into nothing more than series of fast attackers running past slow defenders as the ball is chipped over the back four. Not fun.

This wasn’t the case though as I soon played more cautiously by taking control of a centre-back and positioning the defender a couple of steps closer to their goal - ‘sitting deep’ is what the professionals call it. Any attempted through balls were then simply headed away. It was my own fault I gave away those early goals and any time a game makes you curse at yourself for being sloppy rather than curse at the game for being a cheat and having players with ridiculous stats, that’s a win.

Speaking of which, the stats of the players are really rather important and you’ll notice that an absolute golden opportunity will go wasting if the player tasked with tapping the ball into the net is a defender with a ‘finishing’ rating of 30. You’ll do well to get to know your players strengths and weaknesses as, for example, some wingers are best suited to running at defenders and dazzling them with their feet whilst other are better at swinging in a cross from deep. Do you know the difference between David Beckham and Frank Ribery? Do you have a Pirlo or a Gattuso in midfield? Is your star striker more Messi or Drogba? Knowing your players strengths and weaknesses will help you win and will also force you to play in different ways.

Some defenders can play their way out of trouble - others are born to clatter into people.

Some defenders can play their way out of trouble – others are born to clatter into people.

As fun as it is to play as the superstars of the soccer world sometimes you’ll find yourself playing with players of dubious quality. This is something you’ll come up against in PES’s main event: the Master League.

For those of you that have played PES before you should already know what to expect, for everyone else, let me explain. It’s essentially FIFA’s manager mode but more involved. You’re in charge of buying and selling players, as you’d expect, but Master League puts a real emphasis on developing your players and it’s not frightened of punishing you with tough matches during the regular season and cup draws that pit you against teams that are literally out of your league. This can make the first season or two of this mode a little frustrating – you’re starting players are absolute rubbish and you’ll do well to finish mid-table. However, developing your players is what Master League mode is all about and it’s a real joy to finally be able to field 11 superstars who play the game just the way you want.

Developing players isn’t done through any particularly engaging mechanism as it all comes down to playing matches with them and eventually they get better. It’s not an exact science, but it does seem that winning matches and having players perform well (i.e. assists, clean sheets and goals) will see them develop quicker. Why this works well, though, is because players sat on the bench won’t reach their full potential and players who are getting on in their years, no matter how well they play, will plateau and then regress.

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Sometimes you’ll have to alter your gameplan and give a hot young prospect some playing time.

This helps Master League become a real balancing act of your finding and using your best line-up, fielding rubbish players because they’ll be great in a season or two and knowing when to cash-in on players who have reached their sell-by date. It stops you simply creating a super team and instead forces you to think ahead. Sure, your right-back is terrible now, but give him some playing time and he’ll be amazing. Yes, your top goalscorer is amazing, but if you sell him you can afford this year’s wages and can buy two promising youngsters. Add into this the spinning plates that are transfer requests, training regimes and contract renewals and you have a mighty fine offline campaign of footballing.

Sadly the other modes are basic and seem to desperately want to ape what FIFA has going on. Become A Legend mode has you play as a single footballer throughout their career and you can either create someone from scratch or jump into the boots of an existing player. This mode is particularly infuriating if you play as a created character because you start as nothing more than a bench-warmer. For the first several games you don’t start matches and you are instead forced to sit through a simulated game, hoping that you’ll eventually be needed. This is fair enough but the option to speed-up the game whilst you’re not playing is far too slow. Even at full-speed you’ll be sat around for a good 5 minutes watching virtual players do their best Benny Hill impression as Jim Beglin screams about something that happened minutes ago.

Once you’re on the pitch in this mode it’s even worse. You have little control over your team-mates meaning they rarely listen to your suggestions of ‘don’t give the ball away’ and ‘score a ruddy goal’. Also if you’re fool enough to start your virtual career in a bad team, you’ll be calling for passes that your team-mates can’t make. Progress through the ranks of teams with low stats is slow and painful and means that you won’t be seeing a contract offer from Barcelona any time soon.

The other mode worth mentioning is Football Life. Again, this is trying real hard to be like FIFA and is copying Ultimate Team. You know the money making drill – it’s all about collecting footballers of differing ‘rarity’ so you can play with your unlocked kickers of balls online. Seeing as this is a Konami published game there’s some real nasty free-to-pay hooks. You can melt bad players down into trainers and use them to level up other players. You get a ‘log-in’ bonus for playing this mode on the daily. You can pay real money to buy better card packs. It’s not too dissimilar to what EA are doing but it still feels kind of gross. Alas, the biggest issue with this mode is that it relies heavily on your internet connection, which is where I will need to make an admission.

My internet's not great. Here's the proof.

My internet’s not great. Here’s the proof.

The Football Life mode constantly connects to the net. You want to go to the training menu, you want to buy a new scout, you want to edit your line-up? All of these menus need to connect to the internet and this caused me massive problems. My internet connection is utter shite. As a result, it’s hard to know if my issues with PES’s online component is due to my connection or due to the game. These problems only got worse once I was in an actual game of football. I found online play to be laggy and as a result not much fun.

As the screenshot shows, my connection is far from ideal but I still think this is more on PES than my terrible phone-line. In FIFA, I can get through menus easily and play a match fine as long as no one dares use Facebook or Twitter and all phones and tablets have their wi-fi turned off. Not so with PES.

This leaves me with a game that can only really be played offline. Which is fine by me. PES is at its best when it’s offline and I’m working my way through seasons of the Master League mode. It plays extremely well and is a real contender to FIFA on the pitch this year. FIFA wins when you compare the online components, but then FIFA’s manager mode is nowhere as fun as PES’s Master League.

Best PES…

In the end, it comes down to three things. How good is your internet connection, how important are official licenses to you and how crucial is it that your football games have an in-depth offline mode. If you have a decent ISP, don’t care about kits and love building up a team from scratch, PES is an absolute must. For everyone else you’ll find that the online features don’t stack up to FIFA’s, but it’s still well worth checking out as the football has never played better. Up our boys and we heart dynamite shooter, PES is great again – though given the number of caveats I just mentioned, I can only say I strongly recommend you try this out for yourself.

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