Each and every year we’re treated to a couple of footy games by way of the annual FIFA and Pro Evolution releases (PES), and with each release the question of “which is better” can be heard around the playgrounds, offices and pubs of the world.
In recent years it hasn’t been a tough call to make: FIFA has been the outright victor while Pro Evo slumped off the field with slouched shoulders. What about this year? Could Pro Evolution 2016 be the one that puts Konami’s footy franchise at the top, or will it have to make do with the runner-up prize? Honestly, I’m not sure I can accurately call this one.
I recently spent some time with the new Pro Evo 2016 demo and I’ve come away rather impressed. Straight off the bat (oops, wrong sport) it’s obvious that FIFA and PES will be pretty much toe-to-toe when it comes to visuals. The stadiums look fantastic and, depending on your preferred in-game camera, really do show off a great amount of detail. Players look good, too. I’m usually not too fussed when it comes to sports games, but the graphics really were a joy to look at and it made playing the game a lot more pleasant.
As any footy game fan will tell you, it’s not all about the graphics; gameplay is where it really matters. So how does PES stand up? It’s actually, really, really good. For the most part.
Where FIFA offers easy pick-up-and-play controls and gameplay, PES strives to be a deeper experience. It’s not just a simple case of tapping a couple of buttons and having the ball magically fly in the direction of the goal, it’s more a case of building up the play with careful, timed passes while slowly pushing up the opposing end of the park before knocking the ball off to your speedy winger who slices in a beauty of a cross into the box. PES requires a bit of forward thinking, you could say.
It’s all too easy to pull off the fanciest of tricks in EA’s yearly entry, and while it does look good, it’s style over substance. Don’t get me wrong, PES has plenty of options for showboating, but it’s not as easy. Is that a good thing? Personally, I think it is.
I’ll admit that I’m not the best when it comes to playing football games (unless it’s Football Manager) and I did have a few naff games before I felt totally comfortable with how things work in Pro Evo 2016. The demo doesn’t offer any sort of tutorial, so I had to make do with the in-game commands list. Yes, a command list – something you’d expect to see in Street Fighter, not a football game. The list is expansive and covers everything from the most basic of moves to the most complicated of tricks. It’s a bit overwhelming when you first open the menu, but it’s better to have it than to not have it.
A few matches in and I’m feeling a bit more confident – bullish, even – so I decide to crank up the difficulty from the lowest available option all the way up to semi-pro. What? I said a bit more confident, not expert-like. Immediately I regretted my decision. No longer than 30 real life second had passed before my keeper was waving goodbye to his clean sheet and before half-time he was probably considering a different career path: 4-0. Damn.
Naturally, then, I rage quitted, started up the game again and gave it another shot. The problem was that I’d changed the in-game speed settings to inject some pace into the game in an effort to emulate the FIFA experience that I’m so used to. You’re able to speed up or slow down the play via the menus, so if you’re a tactical thinker who likes the slower version of the beautiful game, I highly recommend leaving this part of the menu alone – unless you want to slow the game down further.
After six games that consisted of me losing, I finally turned up a winning performance. Playing as France’s nation team, I managed to scrape away a win against Juventus – a match I’d actually like to see in real life, but it’s never gonna’ happen.
There’s a lot that’s been refined to make the game more accessible. Free kicks and set-pieces in general are really simple to get a handle on, but they do require time to master, time you just can’t stuff into a demo. Moving the ball along the park is also a breeze, but there’s more depth for those wanting to choose exactly how they put the ball forward. Not happy with the default system for slotting a through ball up to your target-man? No problem; just pull down on the L2 button and you’ll be presented with an on-screen arrow which lets you put the ball in the direction you want it. It’s really intuitive stuff, and, for the tacticians, it’s a brilliant little tool.
To summarise my time with Pro Evo 2016: it’s good fun and after a few games, I even manged to scrape together a winning performance. It’s a definite improvement over recent entries and I’m genuinely looking forward to the full release to see if the rest of package is as satisfying.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 releases on September 17th in North America and Europe. UK armchair footballers will be able to pick the game up on September 18th.
Preview conducted using the PS4 demo.