Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 (PS4) - ReviewJoseph Trotter , posted on 07 October 2015 / 6,439 Views
To save a long and repetitive introduction: Pro Evolution Soccer was good, and then it wasn’t. It was better than FIFA, and then it wasn't. Have things started to swing back in its favour?
It may seem impertinent to avoid a discussion of the history of Pro Evolution Soccer and its rivalry with FIFA when this edition marks the 20th Anniversary of the at-times-seminal series.
So I won’t.
PES 16 seems a long way from the ISS (International Superstar Soccer) that launched on the N64 and PS1 all those years ago, but the core remains the same; fast, flowing, uncomplicated sim football with deep gameplay to distract from the often woeful production values. Sometimes this has worked wonderfully – ISS Pro Evolution 2, PES 3 & 4 – while at others the formula has fallen dreadfully short, particularly recently. PES 14 was unplayable, but PES 15 was a step in the right direction.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2016, however, is a completely different ball game. Ish. It was once said by someone with an unmemorable name that if you get the core aspects of what you want to achieve right then everything else will fall into place. This is certainly the case here. The presentation may lack any sense of style, and it is still dogged by its lack of licences, but the gameplay itself is simply wonderful.
The best way to think of the difference between FIFA 16 and PES 16 is to think of EA’s behemoth as the Sky Sports Sunday to PES 16’s Football Italia – the spectacular vs refined, Richard Key vs James Richardson (a comparison for the kids), Walkabout vs a wee Taverna in a Milanese side-street. Subtlety is a beautiful thing, and many of the on-pitch actions in PES 16 are geared towards what you can’t see as much as what you can. Players tussle for space, strikers make darting runs behind defenders, while the stoppers themselves man-handle their opponents as they try to break through. Keepers miss shots because they are unsighted, or cannot escape the in-box melee as the ball is swept in. The result, as a gameplay experience and as a spectacle, is hugely impressive.
It may lack the explosive nature of FIFA or spectacular streaks of gameplay – the ball is often pinballed around the midfield – but it is nevertheless comfortable, and rarely feels unfair. Slide-tackling has been poorly implemented, however; the set strength is ‘Ryan Shawcross leg-break’, so if the tackle is even slightly mistimed then your man is going for an early bath. Slide-tackling is a liability to the point that it is a last resort. Purists may argue this should always be the case, but they have clearly never played an 11s match in the Glasgow Sunday League; slide-tackling is a lot of fun, even if some attempts are officially classified as War Crimes.
There is plenty of adaptability in gameplay methods, and different tactics have a visible effect on the game; all-men behind the ball is an effective tactic, unlike in FIFA, where the gameplay is heavily in favour of attackers rather than the fine art of defending. Players likewise move in a viable way, limbs co-ordinating eloquently to block, ricochet and control the ball. It is beautiful to behold at times, aided by a fine engine that never freezes or tumbles.
Many major European leagues are licenced, and the accompanying stadia are excellent, most notably the Juventus Stadium. The difference in the unlicensed teams, particularly the English Premier League and Championship, is startling. Player names are correct, but the teams still have the remarkably daft pseudonyms such as ‘East Midlands Blue’ and ‘South-West Clarets’. It’s a lot of fun to guess the teams initially, but it is generally more deprecating than endearing.
As fluid as many of the players' movements are, their facial structures are such that not even their Mothers could pretend that they are anything but monstrosities. They’re still arguably better than the menus, which are convoluted, confusing, and appear designed to deliberately annoy the player. The tactics screen is no better. When EA has taken great strides to simplify and improve the user experience to great success, it is a shame that Konami has not followed suit. Commentary has improved to the point that you barely notice it (a genuine plus-point for a football game), while the soundtrack is fully licensed, if dated. Still, compared to the Japanese techno that dominated previous editions, this is another notch for PES 16.
Konami has managed to massively improve PES 16’s online experience, mainly by copying FIFA. The superb Online Seasons (10 game seasons) has been transitioned, and is the most satisfying mode by some distance. Friendly matches are lobby based, a hangover of the late 00’s, and are hugely frustrating to manoeuvre. As with any sports game, PES 16 remains at its best when playing against friends in the same room.
PES 16 is very close to the game long-term fans have needed and demanded. It inexplicably manages to match terrific, absorbing gameplay with awful presentation everywhere but on the pitch. There is perhaps not enough of what makes FIFA itself great – the spectaculorium of features, striking goals, fast gameplay – to attract the hordes away, but what PES 16 does well it does very, very well. To describe PES16 as ‘one for the purists’ would normally be an insult, but it rings true; it is all about the gameplay, and everything else is a sideshow. In the farcical world of modern football, and indeed modern gaming, this should perhaps be applauded.
This review is based on a retail copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 for the PS4, provided by the publisher.