In its 20th year, can PES 2016 regain the title from FIFA?
The family tree that PES 2016 belongs to is far-reaching and would be envied by any game, let alone sports game – from the NES onward, every platform since has been home to a version of Konami’s beautiful pixelated game. But that tree has not always born healthy fruit of late, and while last year’s offering was a well received game and a huge step forward for the series, the promise of ‘this year, PES is back’ has been heard before. Does 2016’s offspring finally, finally deliver a title-challenging version?
I could probably wax lyrical for quite a while about the improvements and additions to game modes, but in all honestly, there’s more than enough to keep you entertained however you want to spend your time with the game – they’re important, sure, but also expected when you buy any sports game at this point in time.
What definitely is important is how the game feels on the pitch – can it recreate the tension, the missed opportunities, the glory, and the triumph of a real game of football, all the while making it realistic, but above all, fun? In this regard PES 2016 is an absolute winner this season – the updates to the FOX Engine, the improved AI and collision system, and the snappy controls make for a recreation that’s unparalleled in the genre so far. Players jink and weave like you expect them to, make intelligent runs off the ball, use their physicality to bully smaller opponents, and can be devastating in front of goal if you give them the opportunity (or sometimes just pull a wonderstrike out of their locker).
Individuality plays an important factor too. Ever since Roberto Baggio’s ponytail swished as he ran in International Superstar Soccer, player likeness has been a pillar of PES, and with the power afforded this generation, the recreation of key players is astounding at times. Robben looks and plays like you expect, arms dangling about as he cuts inside. Walcott plays on the edge of defenders, always looking to run in behind. Messi is, well, Messi. It all adds to the feeling that this isn’t some version of football, it is football – look quickly at a Champions League game, and back to PES (or vice versa), and you’d be forgiven for not knowing which is which.
There are some negatives which have to be picked up on though (and no, I’m not talking about licenses – if that’s important to you, you’ve already chosen FIFA – they’re also overcome with some brilliant community work and an edit mode that, though labourious, edges PES to parity).
Firstly, the squad rosters were out of date at launch, and won’t be updated until the end of October, a full six weeks after release – there may be legal or internal hurdles delaying the update, but in the current climate of multiple GB launch-day updates, and the inevitability of squad changes in the transfer window, not addressing this from the start is unacceptable. On the gameplay side, it can sometimes seem like a superhuman feat to just get the ball back from the AI opposition, happy as they are to pass it around the back until the whistle blows. Goalkeepers are much improved this year, but can sometimes be a little bi-polar, either rushing out to play as a sweeper, or sticking to their line like glue – frustrating, but exciting at least 50% of the time. The stadium list is fairly threadbare too, though hopefully that can be expanded upon with DLC.
But these things are what make PES, PES, and ultimately the quality of the game and its place in the history of Konami’s series will be judged by the stories it can generate, either in overcoming the AI, or when at its best, squared up against a human opponent. In the time I’ve spent with PES so far, there have been numerous, glorious stories, and I expect more to be written in the future.
PES is no longer the underdog. Marked improvements and fluid gameplay means a new champion has its hands on a trophy.