The Pro Evolution Soccer series has had a rough time of things over the last decade.
Confused aims and a focus on areas that didn’t deserve attention saw the series slip from the top of the football simulation game league to be just solidly mid-table. But that has been changing since PES 2014, and last year’s effort was the soccer title of choice for a lot of players. PES 2016 is even better.
You start a match and can see from the very first kick of the ball that this is a much-improved beast. It’s snappy, offering an immediacy even the current king of the genre, Fifa, has seen fall by the wayside in recent years.
Passing is quick, sharp and something that needs to be carried out frequently and handled with care. The opposition is quick to close down, snapping at your heels and trying to nick the ball away. It’s a welcome aggression and one that makes the defensive side of the game a lot more enthralling to play, especially compared to the somewhat lacklustre off-the-ball play of PES 2015.
But it’s not just a case of specced-up defenders and an attack that can’t cope. Passing – at least when you do it right – is crisp, meaning you can play your way out of trouble if careful (and quick) enough, but the biggest tweak to the formula is the increased importance and realism of players’ physicality.
When off the ball, it becomes a game of almost strategic qualities, requiring you not only to line your player up in the best position they can be to receive a corner, for example, but also for them to jostle with the opposition for supremacy in the area.
This is carried out with a quick flick of the right stick – a new control to learn for veterans but one that’s unobtrusive and, after a very short period of time, something that becomes second nature. And the feeling when you overpower a defender before rising to meet the ball and bury it in the back of the net ... well, that’s something PES has always done very well.
But this physicality also blends nicely with the regular flow of play, helping to make players other than quick-and-tricky ones useful in a dribble. I took the towering Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich on a merry dance through the opponent’s defence not by tricking and jinking, but through sheer strength, balance and tenacity.
It adds a dimension to PES 2016 – and to football games in general – that never seems to have been handled quite right. Fifa’s body physics, for example, have often been about show – about making the tackle look crunching and the fall realistic – but have rarely impacted play in such an impressive way.
From there it’s a host of smaller changes and fixes to the PES formula, building on PES 2015’s fine in-game action and resulting in something that immediately feels impressive, vital and surprisingly different. Best of all, though, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Konami has been making efforts outside of the game to make it something the casual player will want to get involved with, but the past few years have seen very clear attempts to draw in even more South American players – a region in which PES still reigns supreme. This year, though, Konami has scored a bit of a coup by landing the official license for the 2016 European Championships. This means the tournament will be inextricably tied in with PES 2016, represented in all its glory in the game – and waved as a carrot in the face of all those disappointed by the series’ lack of official licenses in the past.
That’s still the case in a large part, mind, with only two Premier League teams officially represented, and not every league in the world included. But it’s a step in the right direction – and I’ve heard from a source close to the matter that PES 2016 will be more customisable and editable than in recent years, so the many committed fan communities out there will be able to edit everything and introduce (un)official teams, kits, stadia and so on.
It’s become such a cliche to say “PES is back” each and every year that even pointing out it’s a cliche has itself become a cliche. But there’s no other way I can think of saying it: after some time with PES 2016, successful dribbles under my belt, stinging shots palmed away and brute forcing my way through a defence with Mr Lewandowski, I’m left with the very strong feeling that ... well, PES is back.
This article was written by Ian Dransfield, for theguardian.com on Friday 7th August 2015 11.02 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010