Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 (PS4)

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Title: Pro Evolution Soccer 2015
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (TBD)
Release Date: November 11, 2014 (US), November 13, 2014 (EU)
Publisher: Konami
Developer: PES Productions
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
PEGI: 3
Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
There’s a lot to be said for the intangibles of gaming – sometimes, no feature list, gameplay video, or description can quite capture what a game actually is. PES 2015 is one such title which is almost impossible to review.

I’ll say it straight off the bat – this is the most satisfying Pro Evo since the legend that is PES5 (or as Asians and Americans will know it, Winning Eleven 9) on PS2. Just why this is the case though, is difficult to say. It’s something you have to feel. During my time with the game, whether the final review code or even the demo, I had a huge smile on my face throughout. PES 2015 is an absolute joy to play.

Firstly, it plays like a genuine game of football. This is a perfect balance between last year’s iteration and the 100mph play of FIFA. Twelve months ago, I loved the slower pace at first, but as the weeks went by, the slight unresponsiveness began to grate and play became too monotonous. I soon reverted to PES 2013, which was probably the high point of the PS3’s lifecycle (though still not a patch on the PS2 glory days).

PES 2015 has a focus on possession play (as most real life teams currently do), but offers scope for a variety of footballing philosophies. If you want to contain and counter, that’s fine. If you’d rather play long balls for explosive forwards to run on to, it allows that too.

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The best element of Pro Evo though is certainly the passing. Those who like build-up play with short, crisp passes are in for an absolute treat. The passing mechanics are incredibly responsive and control perfectly. As each pass pings to its target destination and the ball inches ever closer to goal, the excitement and momentum builds, until that wonderful climax, the final through ball, where you’ll either fluff the shot or wheel away in celebration. There’s no feeling in gaming like it.

Goals specifically are always a massive moment of satisfaction. In FIFA, it can often feel like each goal is almost meaningless; it’s just one of thousands of bog-standard strikes. Pro Evo, partly because its nature makes for lower (more realistic) scoring encounters, nails the feeling of every goal being a significant event. With an absence of ‘floaty’ shots from the PS3 days, the shooting system is near faultless. Shots aren’t pre-determined, they don’t ‘home in’ on a set spot in the goal. If a player is off-balance, or hits it with an unnatural part of the boot for his current stance, the ball will sail harmlessly wide. Shooting whilst holding R2 (sprint) feels better too, more powerful, whilst analog stick positioning has a definite impact.

Overall, the gameplay is fantastic but there are a few creases which need to be ironed out. Dribbling for instance feels great a lot of the time, especially with the best players such as Robben or Ronaldo, who even have their own unique arm movements which you’ll recognise from their real world selves. However, in quite a few matches I played, any movement with the ball seems redundant – it may as well be a netball match. Midfield play like that can certainly suffer at a slower pace, as can some ‘ugly’ parts of the game. Crossing, set-pieces and movement in crowded boxes need refining.

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Furthermore, whilst defending in general is quite good – not feeling like the afterthought it was in previous iterations – there are some issues. Tackles seem to take a tad too long to recover from, so even when you win the ball with a well timed challenge your defender could still end up without possession. That particular problem happens offensively too – when a striker is dispossessed they can take a split second too long to regain footing or begin chasing.

AI is a term in gaming where the actual meaning is often forgotten. PES is reminding us this year that (for the most part) the ‘I’ stands for ‘Intelligence’. Pro Evo‘s AI is excellent, often mimicking real teams pretty well. Except for odd instances where easily interceptable passes are not recognised, defenders set up well to combat the style and tactics of the opposition. In attack, the AI finds space and doesn’t tend to make stupid decisions – the shot and pass selection can be frustratingly good. I did encounter occasional problems with the AI on my own team though where runs were simply not being made by any teammates.

Goalkeeping is the perennial stick to beat PES with, but this time around, there was a lot of hype surrounding a big improvement. It’s better than before – I was impressed with keepers in the demo – but they’re still not brilliant. There are a lot of spillages and silly errors, along with the odd moment of utter idiocy (then again, that is perhaps realistic). Penalties need looking at in a major way. Goalies will dramatically dive over the slowest, Anelka-esque efforts from the spot, landing on the ground two seconds after the ball hits the net. On the plus side, the developers have applied specific traits to the men between the sticks in the same fashion as superstar attackers.

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Game modes are standard fare for the series in recent years. Master League is just about good enough but still needs revamping. The various continental club competitions are here again, fully licensed. UEFA’s Champions League is obviously the biggest of these and is my favourite portion of PES. They’ve captured the tournament outstandingly with most matches being as tense as Redknapp’s dog in a Monaco bank branch. As always, the away goals rule brings the game to life creating some epic encounters.

Pro Evo also has a brilliant ‘Skill Games’ mode which is technically better than FIFA’s but seems a little soulless. There are many aspects like this that need improving if the game is to become the complete soccer sim. Tiny finishing touches are needed around the edge of the page but the large brushstrokes are there looking great. Looking past the minor deficiencies, PES 2015 controls responsively, plays with an incredible fluidity and generates many jaw-dropping moments of pure joy.

Visuals:
A gorgeous looking game, PES has immediately surpassed FIFA in a way it never quite managed last generation. As referenced to with the gameplay, players manoeuvre with a great deal of fluidity, to the point where it’s often difficult to realise this is just a videogame which strings together various animations. Some transitions are sloppy but it seems they’re highlighted more due to the vast majority flowing well.

The age-old description of great passer’s feet being like a full set of golf clubs has never been more apt. You’ll find yourself scrutinising every replay to see exactly how each ball has been struck or controlled. In these slow-mo replays it’s evident how perfectly each individual contact has been captured whilst some of the flicks and touches are awe-inspiring.

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The player models are largely superb and the captured screenshots don’t do the game justice. Some likenesses are so realistic it’s a wonder how the developers achieved it without facial scanning. Equally, it must be said that ‘lower level’ footballers are hit-and-miss at best. There are even some really shoddy efforts for Premier League players – Wojciech Szczesny looks more like Tom Hanks. Overall, when you combine the lack of care on many England-based stars alongside the absence of licensing, PES is far more suited to those playing with European sides.

Speaking of licensing, I should probably note that nothing has really changed (presuming the Day One patch adds real Brazilian player names, as Konami has promised). There’s no need to dwell on the situation as it’s been done to death and we all know the score by now. Konami has done the best with the deals they have, especially the aforementioned Champions League. The edit mode and talent of the PES community, as always, rectifies many of the problems anyway. Elsewhere, I love how certain celebrations have been recreated too. Suarez kissing his wrist and Ronaldo doing the whole ‘this is my turf’ shtick are to name but two which look ultra realistic.

Players roam the field so smoothly and equally smartly – before Xavi receives a pass, he’ll survey the proximity of any defenders, then take a touch whilst looking up to meet the eyes of Messi, before swivelling his head once more towards the space where he’s just laid the inch-perfect through ball. Nobodys eyes are glued to the ball anymore. From a spectator point of view, PES 2015 is nearly as believable as the real thing. Lighting is another phenomenal aspect of the FOX engine-powered PES. The game doesn’t look as ‘shiny’ as some other sports titles, but as such is grounded in realism with a more believable look.

Off-field, the franchise has undergone a massive facelift. The front end is certainly reminiscent of the EA Sports next-gen menu system, but at the same time it’s difficult to say they ‘copied’ as tiled UIs are simply in vogue right now. It works well, looking very clean and classy, with customisable options for your favourite game modes. Furthermore, the tiles are somewhat dynamic, making your time in the menus more aesthetically pleasing.

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Audio:
It’s difficult to fathom how the commentary is still so poor. Instead of finding inspiration in the conversational, always contextual musings in NBA 2K and FIFA, the devs have seemingly set the benchmark at the PS2-level standards heard in WWE. Jon Champion is fine as the main commentator (though Jim Beglin as his right-hand man I could do without), but the lines recorded are not befitting of a PS4 title.

Firstly, it’s clear there is far less variety than in FIFA, where the only feasible explanation is that EA took Tyler and Smith hostage for an entire year, recording several unique conversations on every single player or scenario. In PES meanwhile, you will hear repeated lines of conversation in consecutive matches. 90% of the time it’s also embarrassingly evident that stock lines are shoddily stitched together with a player’s name; “Neuer… [long pause and complete change in tone] …starts in goal.”

Also, the commentary not only suffers from a lack of context but often doesn’t remotely match the current situation. Some instances are slightly forgivable, where the commentators spend the entire game bemoaning the dearth of chances, then Beglin ends proceedings with “It’s been a privilege to be part of such a great match.” Others are simply inexcusable – upon conceding a goal in the 70th minute of a domestic game to make it 1-1, Champion screams, “Oh! They’ve surely won it now!”

In sports titles especially, these small details build up to sour the experience. Yes, gameplay is king and must come first, but those that think these extra visual and audio details are superficial are wrong. It’s about more than marketing and public perception – it leads to a greater level of enjoyment.

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Online/Multiplayer:
(Review updated November 15th; four days after the online servers went live)
Like many games of the current era (gone are the days when discs would contain a complete title, fully functional on release day), PES has major connectivity issues. These may well be fixed soon, but we can’t keep updating reviews week-by-week depending on how the servers are running.

Let’s begin with the bad: I’ve tried searching for matches in the Online Divisions mode (similar to FIFA’s Seasons) many times, and have not only been unable to find a match, but also constantly caught in a ‘searching’ loop. The only way to escape is by heading back to the PS4 dashboard and rebooting the game. After surveying Twitter, it seems many players are finding matches with no fuss whatsoever. Equally though, there are others like myself, who get stuck in the infinite loop.

The issue is doubly frustrating as in the myClub (Konami’s answer to Ultimate Team) matches I’ve played online, the experience has been superb. There is absolutely zero lag; the game flows as it does in single-player. Presuming the matchmaking issues get sorted, your actual online gameplay experience in PES should be pretty damn great.

Elsewhere in myClub, the mode needs polishing – it screams of a first attempt with potential, but nothing to capture your attention just yet. Using a currency called GP (which pleasingly is earned throughout any game mode), one can sign random players to their team through agents. If you use a ‘top agent’, some control over the outcome is granted as a broad position can be selected (e.g. midfielder). Also, this option produces higher calibre players, with a minimum rating of 75 and a 20% chance of receiving an 80+.

It means that generally, PES has a much more successful method than the money-draining packs which FIFA offers. However, the lack of an online market – the portion of Ultimate Team which injects the most excitement and means you don’t have to spend any real money – is a fatal one. Similarly to the NBA games, the mode has no real hook without this element of buying and selling.

Overall, the online infrastructure of Pro Evo is still quite poor. It lacks a touch of quality, a slickness, which makes FIFA appeal to the everyman. Huge lists of messages (such as patch details) popping up at every launch is archaic, whilst “Establishing Communications…” spending long periods of time on the screen is annoying. If Ultimate Team is the main reason you purchase FIFA, or if high production values in the online ecosystem is important to you, I’d knock the rating down to a 7.0. PES 2015 is still a fine football game you should experience in single-player, but to that particular audience, it simply cannot be a must-buy at full price.

Conclusion:
I’ll return to the very first line of this review: PES 2015 is all about the intangibles. This is a game that can never be fully explained, but must be felt. For any football fan, the extremely fluid gameplay is an absolute joy to experience. Every goal provides enormous satisfaction and every successful moment feels deserved – this is certainly not a game which holds your hand.

Konami ran with the tagline ‘The Pitch Is Ours’ for Pro Evolution Soccer 2015. Truer words have never been written. On the pitch, PES Productions has shaped a wonderful recreation of the beautiful game, which continually amazes. With this solid start to ‘next-gen’ life, they now need to nail all the intricacies – the minute details that FIFA pores over, which accumulate to construct something greater than the sum of its parts. With a development team which now monitors the views of its fanbase along with the success of the competition, this could well be the first Cup victory that kick-starts a second era of Pro Evo dominance.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Raj Mahil

Raj Mahil

Game collector. Journalism graduate. Batman addict. Movie goer. WWE nut. Sports obsessive. Arsenal fan. Squawka.com Sub-Editor.

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