Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 PS4 Review

We are a month on from the release of Konami’s annual iteration of Pro Evolution Soccer, the least successful of the two “big” football releases of the year, but this year seemingly the stronger performing title. The ‘other’ title I refer to in this instance is FIFA, in case you didn’t know. By stating ‘least’, doesn’t mean Pro Evo 2016 is a ‘lesser’ game in anyway… certainly not in a gameplay capacity, the gameplay is an area PES 2016 seems to have almost perfectly nailed down in the latest annual release. But more on the gameplay later.

First things first, how does it look? From an initial standpoint, things have taken a step up with the initial menu screen looking similar to the tile interface of the Xbox One Dashboard, with a slow motion player (from your chosen team) going through motions in the background. It’s all quadrilaterals and fireworks, cheesy, effective and to be honest. I like it… even if it is a bit busy. The first highlighted box is the most recently played mode and this is great for quickly jumping back into a previous league/cup you might have been playing. It would have been nice to be able to ‘Pin’ your favoured modes onto your own dashboard to personalise the experience.

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Once you have chosen your mode of play and you hit the tactics screen, this is where things get convoluted and occasionally frustrating. You can easily shift your players around by holding down the ‘X’ button (I am playing on the PS4) and simply dragging your highlighted player to a location of your choosing. This is great for manually editing formations and switching players around, except when you do not intend to switch players around. There are times where I may want to play with a sweeper, highlighting and moving the player further down causes a switch with the goalkeeper. It would be wonderful to be able to have more control over the fine-tuning of player positioning, however this is often obstructed by the size of the font used for player names often getting in the way of what you can actually see on the tactics screen. Minor complaints, but niggles nonetheless that would be far better if they could be ironed out. As it stands though, there are a multitude of options with which to create your (almost) perfect team layout and allocate each player duties. One addition this year that is a particular standout is the ability to select certain players to ‘join the attack’, this is great for those of you that like to play with attacking full backs and extremely satisfying when you can create the crossover runs that players such as Leighton Bains and Luke Shaw make to great effect for their clubs (when not injured).

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In-game things have improved dramatically, and is further proof that the PES team (PES Productions) are getting to grips with the FOX-engine with each iteration. On PS4 the game is presented in a (mostly) smooth and visually impressive 1080p 60 frames-per-second resolution. It looks great, and very sharp. There are still moments of slowdown, however this is mostly during set-pieces, and with so many players on-screen understandable. This is much improved on previous iterations of the game, and I would go so far as to saying it is the best performing PES game technically to date.

Game entrances have been improved, with the players lining up to go onto the pitch, surrounded by security and ground staff milling about. As the players emerge from the tunnel, the camera lowers to the ground, creating the same atmosphere as the television broadcasts. It looks really good, and to see fans actively moving and waving further enhances the atmosphere.

In-game, there have been some more changes and additions, specifically the game camera. You have your regular options, ‘Default’, ‘Long’, ‘Wide’ and the new ‘Dynamic Camera’ mode. This has been advertised as being a more immersive and involving option to really bring you into the action. The official blurb says that the ‘Dynamic Camera’ tilts and zooms, dependent on where you are on the pitch to give the ‘user’ the best possible view. In all honesty… I don’t like it, and I won’t be using it. My issues with ‘Dynamic Camera’ is that it just doesn’t feel dynamic, and if anything is quite off-putting as it weaves and maneuvers in an attempt to give you a better view of play. I prefer a predominantly static camera, so shall stick with the ‘wide’ camera angle, where I can see more of the field of play and I feel more comfortable playing in this mode. But I urge you to give it a try, there is no harm in doing so and it’s heartening to see Konami try something different to better engage the player, even if they don’t quite pull it off.

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Players look fantastic – especially those with their faces scanned into the game – with individual beads of sweat running down their faces,. Some even possess the particular running techniques of their real-life counterparts. Lots of work has clearly gone into creating ‘individual’ characteristics of players, such as Robben’s gliding gait or Mata’s loping decadence. These players are ‘game-changers’ and getting to grips with how they work mechanically can drastically influence how games work in your favour. The players have a solid physical grounding to them due to the inclusion of the Havok physics engine, lending a real heft, or weight to challenges. Dependent on the player being controlled and their current speed and stance, they can be bundled over or even stand their ground against challenges. World Class players such as Lionel Messi, Juan Mata or Sergio Aguero have an outstandingly strong low centre of gravity, as such players attempting to dispossess them face a task almost futile in practice. The three mentioned simply glide through defences, with the ball seemingly stuck to their feet. This feature has been branded as 1-on-1 controls, whereby players can have individual tustles and battles. If you’re defending and you time the ‘nudge’ or ‘slide tackle’ perfectly you can change the direction of play and utilise it to not only dispossess a player, but affect the momentum of the oppossing team. It looks great in action and wonderfully mimics real-life sports.

‘Dynamic Weather’ is a new feature in this year’s release, changing throughout the game and having an effect on how the ball and the players react on the field of play. You could be playing a game that has light rainfall, and before you know it, the weather can turn torrential. This change also brings with it moments of satisfaction and frustration dependent on its impact on your game; there have been times when I have been victim to the now famous (for all the wrong reasons) ‘Gerrard slip’, thankfully not at the behest of a Premier League title. You begin to notice small effects such as blades of grass sticking to players who have slid in for the ball and patches of mud gathering on their kits as they slide for the ball, or are fouled. Subtle changes such as ‘Weather Dynamism’ really add an extra element to the game playing experience, when it is a torrential downpour, you’re probably better playing with the ball off the ground otherwise it skids skittishly when passed along the floor and is hard to control, or utilising the weather to ‘fake’ an opposing player and watch them stumble as you glide past them. For the first time in a football game, the weather can be the ‘12th man’, I can’t wait to see what happens when they add snow, and turf that cuts up during the course of a game or even a season.

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I would go so far as to say that Konami have really encapsulated the footballing experience perfectly in terms of in-game spectacle, but then some dragons rear their ugly heads. The in-game commentary is still laughable, often completely out of context and you will want to tear your ears off after hearing the commentator scream a player’s name like he has just scored a goal-of-forever contender, when he is merely backpassing it. It gets old, and fast. Thank God for Spotify integration so I can ignore the inane, oft-repeated banter being bandied about.

Then there are moments whereby the player AI, often on your team, displays this wondrous ability to be completely and utterly bereft of awareness as to what is occurring around them. Often switching off completely when the opposition is running by them, to be fair this is a consequence of the player-switching mechanism still being quite temperamental. Much of the defensive mishaps can be avoided by holding down the square button to force one of your teammates to close down and you jockey the opposition player, cutting out any movement, or picking up the inevitable loose ball. In some cases you may find yourself frustratingly clicking the L1 button in order to select the right player (pro-tip: Turn off assisted player switching, it’s horrible). It’s not a huge issue, but these are issues that have been pervasive throughout the entirety of the game series since its early incarnations, and still they remain, frustratingly.

I had abstained from writing a review for the game up until now, because it quite simply wasn’t finished to an acceptable level, it could also be argued that it continues to be afflicted by immersion-destroying issues. Playing the Day One Edition of PES 2016 you could have been forgiven for being quite miffed having forked out a pretty penny for a game where, full-team licences notwithstanding, the teams featured had horrifically outdated team lineups. Even more baffling was the fact that Online game modes featured updated team lineups and formations, I really don’t get what is going on with Konami here… these elements should trickle down into the single-player aspect of the game and to be honest it’s pretty indefensible.

Playing as Manchester United (team of choice, glory seeker etc.), I couldn’t help but notice the team was badly outdated with players in the squad that had left in some cases 6 months beforehand. It has never been this bad before, hopefully it will never be this bad again, lacklustre comes to mind. The thing is, first impressions matter and in this instance it wasn’t clearly communicated to the series fans and potential new buyers of the game that this would be an issue that wouldn’t be rectified for over a month.

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This was disappointing and has been the biggest blip with regards to this game to date. What followed however from the always rational internet, was quite frankly disgusting and beyond despicable. The PES Community Manager (disclosure: someone I know), was lambasted and subjected to horrific abuse, all because transfers were out of date. It was the first time I have been part of a specific gaming community and felt completely and utterly embarrassed to be considered a PES fan. As some of you reading this may know, I have been reviewing PES/Winning Eleven games going back to the early 2000s, and the events that shrouded the release of this game made me question my very involvement with the series. If what happened was indicative of the people who played the game, did I really want to be a part of it at all? Thankfully common sense prevailed, I messaged the PES Community Manager and I gave him on a personal level my support, that what he had been going through was abhorrent and he could still come out of it a positive person. Then I told him that I was disappointed in the lack of updated transfers on release. I am an honest person like that, but not a dick about it. Being all self-entitled and vitriolic never resolves these issues.

Instead I patiently waited for the 29th October Data Pack 1 release. But I may as well not have bothered, having spent a fair amount of time updating team lineups and formations for the most important teams (I focused on the Premier League, and Chelsea needed all the help they could get), only to find that the update cancels-out all these changes, taking me further back in time to August 30th! One day before the closing of the transfer window… frustration is the key word here. Konami in recent years have been taking something of a backstep with regards to their updating of team rosters, player statistic updates and general team presentation, that it makes me question why they don’t have someone who solely deals with these increasingly important facets of the game (feel free to employ me to do this Konami). Such a questionable approach also makes me wonder why, if Konami knew the updates would be so lacklustre, there was seemingly no effort to include the ability to download custom made Option Files, that way fans would be able to share roster updates out of the gate. It would also reduce the criticism which has at times gone beyond scathing.

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PES 2016 isn’t FIFA (nor should it try to be), it is a game with a massively devout community and one that loves options, editing and fine tuning the player experience. But it would be absolutely fantastic to give us further ability to further enhance the experience, and would only raise the series’ stock value further with fans and new ones alike. It would also be nice to see Konami create a partnership with the likes of Sports Interactive (creators of the phenomenally perfect Football Manager series), to incorporate player stats into the game. It could even be an opportunity to further monetise the game, a nominal fee for weekly statistics updates based on what is really going on in the football world (license specific, of course). But as of writing this review, it’s November 13th and many transfers from 1st September are still wrong… sadly. Konami have apologised for this and reward players with in-game credits as a means of apology. It would only be fair to note that as this review was in the process of being edited, Konami announced that the game would be receiving the whole of the UEFA Euro 2016 content for free, it’s nice to see that a company knowingly acknowledges its own failings and goes some way to placating the fans of the series by giving away a content pack for free that previously would cost between £19.99-£29.99. Good move Konami and PES Productions.

As a result of the outdated roster, I had taken it upon myself to go through and edit the game manually, spending a couple of weekends on updating rosters, kits and even competition names. It’s all futile because I will have to do the same again next year, but I don’t care, I am living in the now and it looks so much better for it. A special shout out goes to the folks at PES World for their hard work on the kits, on all formats.

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So far in this review (of sorts), all I seem to have done is moan about the game. You could be forgiven for thinking that I am unhappy with the game, throwing an epic tantrum and knocking over more than one magazine stand in disgust. I am not, throughout all the frustrations Pro Evo seems to afflict upon me as a fan of the series (dramatic eh), it also manages to provide continuously the best football gameplay we have seen in a long time.

In its purest most broken down form, PES 2016 effortlessly encapsulates the spirit of a magnificent footballing experience, one that it puts you in total control of. Providing you play on ‘Manual’ that is.

Never has there been (at least since the PS2 era) a football game that allows you to totally control every facet of team build up play, from defence to attack, with a fluidity that is omnipresent and in no way dictated by the movement controlling issues presented by motion capture movement (ahem FIFA). Every single pass that connects instills a sense of achievement, it’s almost balletic how a ball can be played around the back four and midfield with a sense of purpose as you gently probe and press the opposition team. The same enthusiasm and ardour can be applied to the way long balls work, unlike FIFA when you knock a long ball, it doesn’t just fly to your player’s feet, there is an adjustment to be made in order to ensure the ball lands acceptably for you, it is a fine-line here and one that Konami has managed to get right, for the most part. There are instances where the ball will slip away from you due to player ability, moments of AI confusion, or even the weather (more on this later) has an impact on how you control the ball. However much control the game gives you, it also manages to reduce this through clever implementation of the elements, or even player morale. The crowd can have an effect on the morale of your players, cheering when you’re successful with the ball and jeering as your team performs poorly. The crowd is fantastically represented, moving and gyrating, waving scarves and really add a liveliness to the occasion.

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When a ball is intercepted it is in most instances your fault for becoming too ‘cocky’ or even lackadaisical with possession, this is an issue that has blighted the Manchester United/Chelsea teams this season in the real-world, and one which the game accurately recreates to great effect. You show me another football game that has managed to succinctly recreate the rubber-wellied reactions of Wayne Rooney when trying to control a seemingly innocuous pass, or fall over pitifully when dispossessed on yet another futile run, and I will call you a liar. As you become more comfortable with the mechanics of the game and you are able to string a series of successful passes together, this in turn has an affect on the mood in the stadium, your fans get behind you cheering on each successive pass, or when you are unfairly dispossessed (or obviously fouled) they boo the referee.

For all it’s failings with regards to licences, outdated teams and some questionable AI, PES 2016 still manages to make even the most mundane clashes seem full of spectacle and tension. If you ever play FIFA the spectacle and presentation is at the fore, and for some reason if you don’t win every game enthusiasm dissipates.

This isn’t the case with PES 2016, like many of its forbears in the series, it can provide fulfilment from grafting 90 minutes, clammy hands, for a draw. I was playing the game last night Manchester United vs Swansea, taking the lead in the first 5 minutes after some excellent crossover play down the left wing involving Luke Shaw and Memphis Depay left the Swans baffled, I became complacent conceding three goals in twenty minutes. Following a reshuffle of the team, switching from two holding midfielders to the one, bringing on Valencia for Darmian, Martial for a redundant Herrera and dropping Rooney into the hole, things began to click into place. Schweinsteiger had more of a hold on the game playing just behind Rooney, in conjunction with Shaw and Depay, he was able to exploit the defensive frailties of Angel Rangel to great effect. After 63 minutes, I pulled a goal back and begin to play with more confidence, the fans cheering each pass. I paid them back by scoring one more through Depay, a cut in from the wing on 72 minutes. In the 87th minute following a string of passes (22, I counted), Schweini switches it up and plays a ball in behind Kyle Naughton who is outpaced on the turn by an energetic Ashley Young, who whips in a killer ball to the back post. Depay stretches for it being beaten by Ashley Williams, who in turn follows his headed clearance to the edge of the box, sliding recklessly into an incoming Schweini. Freekick. Rooney steps up to take the free kick curling it over the wall with pace into the top corner past the outstretched arm of Lukasz Fabianski. 3-3, it seems I was vindicated, as was an increasingly aged Wayne Rooney. Looking around the room for reinforced gratification of this amazing comeback, it became apparent. There were no humans in the room, just my two dogs looking at me quizzically, wondering what all the fuss was about and why I held aloft a blue glowing controller in my clammy mitt. But deep down, I think they knew, what excellent Poker-faces.

Initially when you start your first game on PES 2016, I would advise that you dive straight into the gameplay settings and turn off pretty much every assistance tool going. If you want help when shooting, passing assistance and computer-aided slide tackles, there is another game for you, and it’s not this. This is a game for the real football fan, the one who is willing to invest their time deconstructing the gameplay experience and slowly but surely making their way up the grades of computer difficulty. I recommend you turn off every assistance tool (ok maybe keep semi-assisted player switching if you must) and work your way through the training sections of the game. This is a game that requires, no, demands time from the player to get the most from it. I have spent over 50 hours playing the game and I am still nowhere near unlocking its gameplay potential. It really is that deep, like an orange you can choose to peel away the layers and find the sweet goodness beneath, or it can simply be an onion to you inflicting tears as you delve further and deeper.

Training Mode in PES 2016 is both simple, yet esoteric in its capacity to improve your game playing ability, many of you who play the game will have no need for the plethora of skills and tricks the game allows you to pull off, preferring instead to utilise (to great effect) the ‘Dummy shot’. Personally I have spent plenty of time in the training mode working on set-pieces, with all manner of players in the Manchester United team. I haven’t quite nailed it yet, but I have scored some absolute belters in games. When moments like that happens, you really do feel the benefits of having worked on your graft, reminiscent of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham well-known for their tendency to stay behind hours after training just to work on their techniques. Granted FIFA has more to do with regards to training modes, but the effects of the training mode in PES 2016 genuinely feel like they contribute to your improvement as a player overall.

It’s up to you how you approach this game, and the manner with which you can choose to unravel your opponents. Do you play ‘tiki-taka’ reminiscent of the halcyon Barcelona-Pep days, or his current 100% total possession domination attempts at Bayern, or do you go for the quick counter-attacking approach of a Jamie Vardy-led Leicester City? It’s really all down to you, choice is omnipresent.

There are multiple other modes within the game, from the standard Exhibition (which it expands on this further with UEFA Champions League themed friendlies), user-created League and Konami Cup modes, to the officially licensed tournaments. These official tournaments take in the UEFA sanctioned tournaments (Champions League, Europa League and Super Cup), AFC Asian Champions League, and finally the Copa and Recopa tournaments (Copa Libertadores and Sudamericana). Fleshing out their career modes from last year’s iteration, there is the ‘Be A Pro’, revamped ‘Master League’ which has undergone a complete overhaul with a new player transfer system and is all the better for it. Finally there is the continuation of ‘myClub’, this is Konami’s attempt to recreate a FIFA ‘Ultimate Team’ like experience, and whilst it is good fun it is not quite there yet in terms of depth nor options. Unlike FIFA Ultimate Team’s method of selling you randomised player packs in cards (reminiscent of the collectibles era in school playgrounds up and down the country), myClub prefers to sell players on an individual basis. You have to find the right balance of player chemistry in order to have a successful team across the board. To succeed in this mode you can buy players, or grind (relentlessly) in order to unlock someone half decent. I’m still not sold on this and if I was to pick out of the two on this mode alone, FIFA takes it.

Online has been improved over previous iterations, with connections to games much more solid and reliable connections. Although it is still a sub-par experience in comparison to FIFA. For some reason the AI of your team mates seems to have been nerfed, goalkeepers often making far more mistakes, which can lead to frustrating moments where you will want to throw your control pad at the wall, or out of a window. It’s better but could still do with some work, but a huge improvement over previous years. This is a game better played with your friends huddled around a console, with some snacks and drinks and lots of shouting.

Without a doubt PES 2016 is a game of mixed emotions, it fills you with joy because so much has been done right, and the areas that frustrate you are the parts that ‘should’ have been gotten right from the off. Lackadaisical approaches to having an updated team roster out of the gate, reeks of a poor and fumbled attempt to beat FIFA to stores. It’s understandable that the license issue is completely a non-starter and that isn’t a problem, give the supporters of the series the ability to fully and comprehensively curate their experience, is that too much to ask? What’s unforgivable is the fact that the Data Pack that followed five weeks after the release didn’t even include the close of the transfer window 59 days before that. There are more issues as well, such as the erratic artificial intelligence which tends to switch off at inopportune moments, but this has been a series mainstay.

So, I can whinge and moan about the game until the cows come home, but as a pure gameplay experience it is a country mile better than FIFA 16. FIFA may have all the bells-and-whistles, the glitz and glamour, but it lacks soul, something PES 2016 has in spades.

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It’s not often ‘Return of the King’ can be espoused guilt free with such reckless abandon, but in the case of Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 it is almost the case. It may not quite be the King (yet), but it is definitely a Prince awaiting his ascendance to the throne. PES 2016 proves it is no pretender, but the strongest and best footballing experience you will have this year.

Sure, it is a game riddled with issues and raises more gripes and tantrums than a game should. But once you whittle down all the issues, bugbears and negatives, PES 2016 manages to be a wholly comprehensive footballing experience and the best available this year. One that captures the emotions, engages the player and incites an emotive roar for even the most mundane of interceptions. That is what happens when you capture the essence of ‘the beautiful game’. This is a very solid entry into the series and one that fills you with hope for the series future, even with all the continual negativity surrounding Konami’s video games focus going forwards. It’s one I can recommend wholeheartedly. What’s even better is that as this review goes to press, you can easily find a copy of the game for £25 in many retailers, should you wish to give this a punt. Which you should.

Note: This is a review of the PS4 version of the game, the Xbox One version performs in a very similar manner, however this review does not in any way, shape, nor form discuss the PC version. This year the PC version seems to merely be a rehash of PES 2014 without the gameplay additions of the console versions.

8 out of 10
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