What Is It: Football. Soccer.
Influenced By: Football. Soccer. FIFA.
Reviewed On: Windows7, AMD FX 4100, 3600mhz, 8 Gig RAM, AMD Radeon 7850
Alternatively: FIFA 15
Release: Out Now
Developer: PES Productions
Link: Official site
By Jon Denton.
Maybe it’s my age, but there’s a refreshing purity to PES 2015 that reminds me of a time when football games weren’t about card packs, microtransactions and screaming YouTubers. The simplicity and complexity of football is the focus of Konami’s long-standing series, and never before has it been as convincing or compelling. A killer one-two. A perfectly-timed tackle. A last-minute header. These are the things that should get football gamers screaming. And these are the things PES 2015 gets so, so right.
In truth, Pro Evolution Soccer has been threatening to return to former glories for a while now. As FIFA has stagnated, PES has refound its confidence, delivering a best-in-class effort in 2012, and a promising but sluggish engine refresh last year. This year, though, feels like its coming out party. PES Productions eschewed the ‘next-gen’ console launches last year in order to refine and polish its debut on new tech, and it shows.
This is the exact same game you’ll see on PS4, although you’ll need to do a bit of digging to actually get it running that way. For reasons only known to the overworked Japanese dudes at Konami, the PC version of PES 2015 defaults to 720p and a windowed-display, and the only way to change that is to actually launch a settings.exe in the game’s folders. Madness, but thankfully only necessary the once.
And when you’ve bumped matters up to 1080p, you have a rather handsome looking game. FIFA 15’s lighting model and 3D grass is superior, but PES has world-class payer likenesses, and more importantly, specifically engineered animations for the world’s best players. Robben runs with his arms up. Messi appears elastic from the knees down. Ronaldo sprints upright like Michael Johnson and leaps into the sky like Kobe. Welbeck falls over a lot.
It’s this attention to detail that elevates PES above its nearest and richest competitor. At face value, the two games look very similar—both offer snappy passing games, a wide variety of shot types and crunching slide tackles. Dig just a little deeper, though, and PES demonstrates a unique understanding of how football actually works. Dribbling isn’t reliant on tricks (although they’re in there). It’s about timing, weight distribution and angles. Beat a man by convincing him you’re zigging when you’re actually zagging. Use runners to create space. Play the way you face. Simple footballing fundamentals, that when combined with PES 2015’s marvellous simulation physics, creates moments of football drama, without the need to script them.
At its best, PES 2015 captures the PS2 heyday of the series at its best, but does so with the kind of production values our mid-2000 selves could only dream of. This is a game of curling 30 yarders and scuffed tap-ins, of mistimed slide tackles and rounded-keepers. It’s the agony and the ecstasy of football, but also the drudgery and frustration. It’s really rather good.
Backing up the fantastic match engine is a front-end that finally feels like it’s from a modern videogame and not patched together by the work experience boy. The typical competitions (including the Champions League license) are joined by a FIFA-apeing online seasons mode, that lets you progress up the ranks by beating the world’s PES players in low-latency contests. It’s a shame it can’t be played cooperatively, but it’s still a step up from PES 2014’s broken online mess.
An even more obvious ‘homage’ to FIFA comes in the form of myClub, a very PES take on Ultimate Team. Very PES, because it appears to have been put together by madmen. Much like the ‘esoteric’ charms of Master League (itself back and as daft and compulsive as ever), myClub drowns you in the most baffling jargon before letting you go about the business of building a team. If anyone out there understands the instructions about agents (used to sign players in this acid-trip of a mode) then you might need to lay off the prescription meds.
Hilariously, once you figure out the nonsense, myClub is actually a simpler mode than Ultimate Team. Sign players from random draws, build a team that functions better when the players share traits, take on the world. It’s the same, but bonkers. I shouldn’t be surprised, this is the team that gave players bananas as an unlockable bonus in PES 2013.
As much as PES may try, it can’t compete with FIFA off the pitch. Licensing issues are prevalent as always, with only Man United officially included in the Premier League, and no German league at all (Bayern Munich appear as a one-off), and as enjoyable as Master League and myClub are, they’re not a match for the all-conquering Ultimate Team. Does it matter, though, when you’ve just beaten three men with Ribery, skipped past one lunging challenge in the box, then lifted it over the onrushing keeper with a flick of the right boot?
Of course it doesn't.