There are a couple of really outstanding football titles. By football, I mean ‘soccer’, of course. The general consensus is that EA Sports’ footballing game is the market leader with Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series coming in with more close-but-no-cigars than Arsenal in the last few years. The latest release of the affectionately shortened PES has been busy in the transfer market since it’s last release and with it also celebrating its 20th year, Konami have pulled out all the stops to try to make ground on its main rival.
It’s been a couple of years since I played a PES title. It was on the 360 and while it wasn’t nearly as good as the FIFA title at the time, it gave as good a game of football as you’d find elsewhere. This would be the first time I’d have seen PES on the Xbox One, so, it was with trepidation that I fired PES 2016 up and awaited the roar of the crowd.
The menu system that Konami have now adopted, while not nearly as Sky Sports polished as its rival, functions well as the ticket office to what is actually a very good game. The menus are a little cumbersome, but you’re not really here for the turnstiles and security-checks of the lobby system or game mode selection, you’re here for the 90+ minutes of sweat, power, skill and the endless, endless joy of the goals.
There are an almost bewildering number of options to set you off on your path to footballing glory. The addition of the officially licensed European competitions, the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, add that edge of authenticity that previous versions I’ve played have lacked. It’s great to see some licensed teams included as options, UEFA qualified teams such as Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona all feature, although the secondary leagues are unlicensed, as are the rest of the Premier League and the Italian Serie A. This, in truth isn’t as disappointing as you might think, although it was amusing to see how my home town club was named in the game.
This matters little in the grand scheme of things if I’m honest. The players involved in the match are true squad members of whatever team you’ve chosen to play as, with all of their genius or failures on the pitch. Konami have even taken the time to detail the more famous players’ faces. You’ll instantly recognise the likes of Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. While the lesser known players may have suffered a little as a result, this doesn’t really detract from the gameplay itself as a whole.
The gameplay then, will blow you away and frustrate you all at the same time. Konami have tweaked the control system with the main change you’ll notice being the upgraded feint system. This allows you to fool defenders into a fatal slip, but it’s not the only the change that Konami have made. Perfect Defence allows those cloggers that can time a tackle perfectly all the time, the ability to shove opponents off the ball, a boon when you’re facing a particularly tricky set of forward players. The player animations have been tweaked and look and feel a lot smoother than I’ve previously encountered in this series, but overall the controls are quirky and over-sensitive when it comes to setting the power meters. The inclusion of eleven accurate, official stadiums adds to the overall sense of an authentic experience during the game, although the crowd interaction remains a tad on the static side and are a little copy and paste graphically for my liking.
The weather effects for the game can be set and left as a permanent weather pattern, or they can be made to be changeable, as they would be in a real game. Start off in blazing sunshine and finish in a storm, with all of the in-game physics that would come with a slick pitch. There are the usual array of tackle options, including the Sunday League favourite, the sliding tackle. The addition of the weather system makes those even more critical to time. You’ll be walking a disciplinary tightrope if you mistime them, although in truth, the referee more often than not has the iron will of a quivering field-mouse at harvest-time.
The game’s graphics are good, if a little wooden, but there was one thing that definitely wasn’t right in my mind and it took me a while to figure out what it was. To me, the perspective as you played over the far side of the pitch seemed to be off. Either the pitch was twice as wide as it was long, or the players shrink as they move towards the far touchline. This aside, the player AI is roughly the same as you’d expect from the average footballer. The tackles come in but you can use your feint and dash skills to evade and escape, but inevitably you’re either tackled successfully or you’ve offloaded with a pass so random you’ll dislocate your shoulder trying to pat yourself on the back for it. If you’re lucky enough to score then you’re treated to an editable, saveable replay of your world-beating effort.
The in-game commentary has had a refresh, with the introduction of Peter Drury, but as with previous versions, the post-match summary doesn’t tend to reflect the on-pitch action. Other than this, the audio is a mix of grunts, feet striking balls, the inevitable oohs and aahs from the crowd and a suitably trendy popular music soundtrack to fill in the menu-hopping.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 is a very good football sim. The player AI is intelligent enough to be challenging but also fallible enough to make mistakes just as in the real game. The goal keeping is one of polar opposites. The opposition keeper either has a storming game or is unable to hold even a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness. The graphics are well animated and although the kits for the lower league teams are not in the slightest bit accurate, you’ll have a giggle at the names these teams have had to be given through lack of licensing then forget it altogether once your favourite player’s name is up in lights after a particularly thunderous goal. While the title does suffer from a few flaws, such as the power bar being far too small and sensitive, there’s still the core of a rival to the crown that EA have been hogging for the last few years at least. Konami have built upon the successes of last year’s effort and with the possible addition of the Euro 2016 Championships coming to the game, you won’t go wrong in at least seeing what the competition has to offer, even if the title race looks to be slipping away from Konami again.
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