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Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 PS4 Review

It’s curious to see where your faith lies when it comes to a video game franchise. I was a Konami sports guy back when I was playing the Nintendo 64. I loved the arcade feeling of International Superstar Soccer 64 and its follow ups. When I moved to the PlayStation 2, I carried on moving with Konami and picking up the various incarnations of Pro Evolution Soccer, with Pro Evo 5 and 6 taking away lot of my free time. I was a PES guy, enjoying how Konami’s engine worked with the mechanics of the sport. Moving to HD, the series turned for the worse, as Konami couldn’t decide what perception of the sport it wanted to recreate. FIFA in the meantime found its bearings and became the undisputed king in both licence and gameplay. Last year’s Pro Evolution gave us a sign of things to come with the newly used Fox Engine, and now Konami’s flagship football game arrives on the one year old consoles full of confidence, as it feels and displays a better game of football than FIFA 15.

Being on PS4 and Xbox One is a nice starting point for the series to rejuvenate itself, and the space of about two months between the release of FIFA 15 and this game means that the title doesn’t have to put up a battle against EA’s giant. This time frame gives Pro Evo 2015 a more relaxed launch, and even gives chance for some people who bought FIFA 15 on launch to take a second look at Konami’s title, people who might not have done so if the game launched in September to take its rival head on. The licence issue is one thing that will never win over people who buy FIFA for all those licensed team and players, but really, if all you care about is that, then FIFA will be your home no matter how good the other game’s football plays. Pro Evo 2015 also has something to prove to its fans. It’s similar to the Sonic the Hedgehog cycle, where every new game announced has people hoping it’s the one that will bring the goods, and in Pro Evo Soccer, it’s the saying of “the return of the king,” well, this year is probably the best the series has been since the brilliant days of Pro Evo Soccer 5.

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So what makes Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 great? Well its motto for the year, “The Pitch is Ours!” should give you an idea that it’s all about what happens on the pitch, the gameplay, the key component of what makes a football game great. There is a sense of weight behind the players and their movements, from holding the ball, dribbling or coming shoulder to shoulder with a defender and getting past them with the use of momentum, there’s a motion in physics that offers a solid and responsive control over the action. This also comes with fluid animations, but unlike before, the animations don’t impose on the action by forcing the player to watch the sequences play out. Animations aren’t sacrificing the responsive controls, so movement and reaction is quicker.

Animation plays into bringing the characteristics of key players to the virtual world. Taking Real Madrid through the UEFA Champions League and controlling top tier stars like Cristiano Ronaldo demonstrates Pro Evo 2015’s behavioural system. Mr. Ronaldo has incredible control and explosive sprinting that looks like he’s skipping down the field in grace as he skills past defenders. His animation is captured well, and you can always tell where he is on the pitch from how his movement is portrayed. There is a limit on how much the PES ID system is spread across the players, so the new inclusion of the Championship league, which host teams like West Yorkshire Town (Huddersfield Town) Yorkshire Whites (Leeds United) and South Yorkshire Blues (Sheffield Wednesday. Can you tell I’m from Yorkshire?), doesn’t capture the spirit of their players compared to the well-known stars of the sport. There are around 1,000 players that look and perform like their real-life equivalents.

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It’s not just the players that have received an improvement, as the artificial intelligence has been given a boost to compliment human controlled players and offer a game that makes CPU controlled teammates more effective on the pitch. There have been plenty of times where a well set up goal was done because my teammate ran into space, signalling me with his hand for the pass, or the wingers supported my centre midfield by blazing down the lanes, permitting me to pop a pass over to them, so they could whip a beautiful ball into the box for a header or a well-placed volley for a great striker like Ibrahimovic, who is surely going to do some good with it.

This also works for the team you’re playing against, as they make tactical and skilful advancements against your team, showcasing plays and goals that seemingly only a human player could produce. The football on the pitch is alive and energetic, and best of all; it feels like a game of football, where skill and tactical movement out beats the ping pong effect that can occur when playing FIFA. PES 2015 feels more about the play than the goal, and that’s not to say scoring a goal is boring, it’s as exciting as ever to pop a goal in the back of the net, because you worked hard to get it in, but you will feel sheer joy when you make a fantastic play and the finish flies over the bar, bangs off the post or the improved goalkeeper AI makes himself wide to reflect a shot, just because it felt like up to that point the team were gelled as a unit, working together to overcome the opposition for the desired win. FIFA doesn’t have that feeling in the latest version – it lacks soul.

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Everything isn’t seamless though, as I did find that referees have a tendency to deal out yellow cards for the most flimsy of tackles. After a season, I must have had a group of players who were gunning for Lee Bowyer and his top spot for most booked player. It means caution has to be insured, because going in for a wild slide tackle will often result in a card, and even double tapping the X button to poke a foot in can result in a free kick. It’s tough, and tackles require you to commit at the right time or face the consequences.

Off the pitch, the game displays its new UI design that makes it easier to navigate through menus without having to control arrows to pinpoint what you want to do. Master League and Become a Legend return, along with the Champions League, Europa League, Asian Champions League and the Copa Libertadores cup modes. The Master League feels like it has been put to the side – being similar to last year’s version, but with the addition of a new transfer system – because of the focus on myClub.

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myClub – replacing online Master League – is PES 2015’s take on EA’s mega popular Ultimate Team feature, with the goal to create the best team, even if it means using micro-transactions to get there. The initial team is made up, similar to how a fresh Master League squad begins, but as you earn currency, by playing online and offline matches or buying coins, you can use those to sign managers, who come with their own rating and favoured formation that your team has to abide by, or use an agent to find a player in one of four roles, goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward.  The better the agent, the better the player, as bronze, silver, gold and black balls make up a lucky spin that results in the random player added to your squad. There is certainly room for improvement, such as why is it so complicated to get a player in your squad or why I can’t trade players online, but its Konami’s first attempt at a rival to Ultimate Team and it feels like a good attempt to capture that addiction.

The Fox Engine produces excellent graphics on the pitch, especially for the key players, such as Pirlo, Bale, Neuer, Thiago Silva, Messi and Neymar. I could go on, but you get the idea that the famous players look great. Lighting also helps illuminate the pitch, bringing some of the best graphics to the sport so far. Standards don’t hold up across the board, as lesser known or randomly made up players stand out like a sore thumb. The same goes for the non-licence kits, looking extremely generic when matched up with the real kits worn by Manchester United or Real Madrid. A real let down is the commentary team of Jon Champion and Jim Beglin, who have an incredibly limited vocabulary that you hear repeated three matches into playing the game. This seriously needs a revamp in next year’s game, because the stuff that dribbles out of their mouths is tiresome.

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Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 brings a mechanically crafted and intelligent game of football to these new consoles that even a lack of official licence or boring commentary cannot take away from its addictive and brilliant gameplay. FIFA still has the style and the flair of bringing an authentic looking presentation, but if you want great football on the pitch, then there is only one choice this year, Pro Evolution Soccer 2015. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, and the quality of Pro Evolution Soccer keeps on rising to spice up the once mundane, one-sided battle for greatest football game of the year.

8 out of 10