Although, in the interests of full disclosure, I must confess right from the outset that I’m unashamedly a FIFA diehard, it hasn’t always been this way. Back in 2006, my first year of sixth form, my friends and I held only one football game in such high esteem: Pro Evolution Soccer 6. Its frenetic gameplay and addictiveness reigned supreme over official team and player names; FIFA was a mere afterthought to me. The thought I’d switch football sim allegiances was tantamount to suggesting Frank Lampard might one day score a decisive goal for Manchester City against his beloved Chelsea. Oh, wait…
Anyway, the turning point came with the release of PES 2008. What was supposed to be Pro Evo’s triumphant debut on the then next-gen consoles arrived riddled with bugs and infuriating gameplay mechanics. Coinciding with the release of a much-improved FIFA 08, I felt forced to jump ship to EA Sports’ franchise in order to experience the best football-based video gaming experience – and haven’t looked back since.
Apparently, I’m not alone. Conjecture aside, PES 2015 has been marketed aggressively by Konami as “a true return to core PES values”, with members of the development team acknowledging that recent entries in the series haven’t quite lived up to Pro Evo’s former glory. With the free demo for PES 2015 finally made available for download this week – no doubt strategically delayed to coincide with the launch of this year’s FIFA – I’ve had the opportunity to get to grips with Konami’s latest football sim. Could it be a long-overdue return to form?
Put simply, yes. Although the FIFA fanboy in me spent hours trying to pick holes in the demo – and don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of those, which I’ll get into later – PES 2015 is undeniably, irrevocably fun. And isn’t that what sports sims should be all about?
Pro Evo 2015 runs on the FOX Engine, Konami’s much-hyped in-house technology that is also being used to develop the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Though PES 2014 also made use of this engine, Konami has admitted that it was in a very rudimentary form at the time of development. Indeed, the difference this year is palpable. The FOX Engine has allowed for, amongst other additions, over 1,000 new player animations, more detailed crowds, and a new lighting system that reflects the changing daylight conditions during a match day.
Living up to its tagline of “The Pitch Is Ours”, PES 2015 offers you a great level of control over not only the currently-selected player, but control over your whole team in both attack and defence. Not to be outdone by FIFA’s new emotional intelligence system, many of the core gameplay aspects of PES have received a complete overhaul.
On the offense, PES’s new close control, low speed dribbling mechanics frankly put FIFA’s similar offering to shame, and it seems to make for more varied gameplay in which you don’t have to constantly have your finger on the sprint trigger during matches. Additionally, players now more accurately represent their real-life counterparts; possessing the same stance, trick moves and dribbling style as the genuine article.
Similarly, a number of improvements have been made to the game’s defensive system, bringing it on a level with its EA Sports counterpart for the first time in a number of years – with players being able to dictate whether to close down the opposition, apply pressure, call teammates for support, tackle, or hold up play.
Combined, these gameplay mechanics make for involved, dramatic and addicting matches; providing players with a “just one more game” mindset that has been sorely missing from PES in recent years.
The PES website, in a cheeky little dig at FIFA fans, states: “You can keep the easy goal. We’re striving for the perfect one.” Indeed, scoring in PES 2015 does seem to feel somewhat more rewarding than FIFA, though whether this is due to the gameplay being tougher in a better, more realistic way, or tougher in a frustating, hair-pulling way, is still up in the air a little bit.
Graphically, the FOX Engine has vastly improved player likenesses in the game, with footballers now more accurately reflecting their real-life counterparts rather than simply appearing as ugly caricatures. Stadiums and pitches have also been vastly improved, with Konami introducing game area degradation for the first time.
As I said earlier, PES 2015 has its drawbacks. In a world where FIFA didn’t exist, Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 would undoubtedly be heralded as an exceptional football game. But, unfortunately for Konami, it does, and comparisons between the two franchises are inevitable. Although PES’s core gameplay has been drastically improved, and in some places triumphs over its rival, there are several areas where it falls short. Significantly so.
Fans of either series will no doubt already be aware of the licensing situation, so I won’t spend too much time going into it here. In short, while all of the teams featured in the PES demo are fully licensed, a large proportion of those featured in the full game – particularly in the Premier League – won’t be. This, while certainly detracting from some of the realism of the game, in and of itself wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, if PES excelled in all other areas compared with its fully-licensed competitor. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.
Although pleased to have (or at least the sensation of having) a great deal of control over how the whole of my team operate at any given time, PES doesn’t seem to do many of the little things right that FIFA excels at. From its slow and methodological passing, slightly robotic player movement, and unrealistic sound effects when the ball strikes the post or the advertising hoardings, to the lack of ball-boys, commentary conspicuous by its absence in the demo, and a user interface that looks like Konami took going back to the PS2 days a little too literally; PES 2015 doesn’t quite provide the same immersion or polish as its FIFA counterpart.
But it’s still damn fun to play.