Review: Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 (PS4)

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Title: Pro Evolution Soccer 2016
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (24 GB)
Release Date: September 15, 2015 (US), September 17, 2015 (EU)
Publisher: Konami
Developer: PES Productions
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: E
Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the Pro Evolution Soccer (or Winning Eleven, or International Superstar Soccer) series. Over the last two decades, Konami have taken down EA with aplomb in the PS2 era, before being brutally battered on PS3.

Much like PlayStation though – the platform the series continues to be synonymous with – the Japanese team soon realised they had become complacent. The issue was rectified, and on PS4, PES is back to challenge for the throne it once sat on, amidst the love of the public.

Gameplay:
In last year’s PES review, I spoke of the ‘intangibles’ of gaming – a feeling rather than a feature set, which Pro Evo nailed. Ten months on, that notion has only been exacerbated. Every moment on the ball is a joyous (or, depending on the match result, heart wrenching) experience, but there are off-field issues which continue to detract from Konami’s excellent soccer sim.

The one huge, unexpected issue – which has almost completely overshadowed the launch of PES 2016 – is the roster update, or lack thereof. This game still has squads from the 2014/15 season, and it will do until October 29th at the very earliest.

Though the ordeal is not deserving of the ludicrous reaction it’s brought out from the most vile idiots on the internet (sending death threats to PES‘ Brand Manager), it is a frustration for any buyer. Frankly, if you buy a product with “2016” in its title, it shouldn’t need a patch to include the correct squads for that season. This obsession with sending out a half-baked product to meet deadlines, then patch it up later, is unacceptable.

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Aside from that, Pro Evo’s modes still need more polish. Become a Legend, for instance, is functional but way behind NBA 2K in the story mode stakes. Master League meanwhile, for all the pre-launch hype, is slightly underwhelming. Yes, there are decent upgrades to the amount of information and customisation on offer, as well as cut-scenes and other visual tweaks. But it’s nowhere near perfect.

The transfer system has been altered via scouting but there are now annoyances such as not being able to specify transfer fees during negotiations; a simple ‘higher or lower’ option is given instead. Right now, Master League is purely a vehicle for playing matches, and not an addictive off-field experience in itself.

… something rather special indeed …
My other major gripe with PES is the lack of depth in teams and stadiums. I understand licensing is a huge financial burden. Adding unlicensed leagues though – like with the Premier League – would be fine. The Edit mode (as will be covered under ‘Visuals’) almost makes the authenticity a moot point.

There are a mere twelve leagues and a smattering of other teams. It’s hugely disappointing to have a football game with so few teams in the modern era. The sport is truly global, and the thirst from fans to experience any league in the world is greater than ever. The eleven stadiums is a ridiculously low number too.

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The reason all these minor flaws are so annoying is that the game is… well, there’s almost no adjective to do PES 2016 justice. It’s something rather special indeed. That’s where the frustration lies; this iteration of Pro Evo had the potential to be the greatest football game of all time.

In some ways, PES is more akin to South American football than European; there’s much more space on the field. Whereas in FIFA the play feels much more claustrophobic – like the Premier League it so closely represents – PES allows you room to breathe, think, and plot out a perfect passing move to dissect a defence.

… feels extremely responsive …
However, unlike past series entries where it was almost a case of ‘pass to win’ with a methodical pattern of play, PES now has a beautiful unpredictability which mirrors the sport. There are numerous avenues leading to victory, mainly thanks to the improved collision system.

The more powerful players can really impose themselves on a game. If you play with two huge central midfielders, you could simply bulldoze the opposition in a Yaya Toure-esque manner. PES‘ improvements to the physical aspects of the game are also evident in challenges, with the frustrating tackling animations of last year gone.

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Similarly, the problem with dribbling being almost useless is PES 2015 has been solved. It feels extremely responsive, with players’ movements with a ball at their feet receiving a host of new animations. The fluidity and realism of the animations is particularly evident in near-misses in regards to tackles as attackers jink and stumble their way past outstretched legs.

Konami’s on-the-fly manual passing and shooting system is still present too; as always proving to be such a clever mechanic for the former. This, in combination with the controls (and very good goalkeepers – still a strange thought for a PES title) makes for a game which rarely does you wrong. Unlike FIFA, a loss can only be blamed on the workman rather than the tools.

… couldn’t take my eyes off it …
Perhaps the biggest compliment I can hand PES is that my thoughts on the gameplay were the same after 20 hours as they were after 20 seconds. Yes, tiny proficiencies or frustrations of any football game uncover themselves over the course of a year. But, in my week with PES 2016 the on-field action provided continuous joy.

Despite the conscious need to tackle more reviews, Pro Evo mesmerised me in a way Barca’s intricate passing does to opposition defences. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Rarely can a game (especially one with plenty of flaws) completely capture me like PES 2016 did.

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Visuals:
For the most part, the FOX-powered PES looks superb. It hasn’t undergone a major facelift, which is fine as PES 2015 was visually impressive. The fluidity of the gameplay never stutters, with fantastic animations. As with the individual skillsets of players, Konami also excels in matching the real life movements. The only complaint in this sub-department is off-the-ball running animations, some of which need refining.

In the ever-excellent custom replay mode following goals, Pro Evo is aesthetically phenomenal. The visual fidelity is almost unrivalled in the genre. Yes, there are a few player faces which are laughably poor – but that’s the case with FIFA too. The menus meanwhile are again similar to last season; they look fine and function competently, though lack the intuitiveness EA provides.

The proverbial stick used by FIFA fanboys to beat Pro Evo with – the lack of a Premier League license – rarely matters for anyone who owns a USB stick and has an internet connection thanks to the Edit mode. Using the pack made by the excellent PES World, all English teams can be given authentic kits and badges. As always, the licensing Konami does have is implemented brilliantly. The veneer of the Champions League gives those matches an extra level of prestige.

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Audio:
The commentary has seen an improvement (finally), with Peter Drury being given the mic. Is he the best announcer in the business? No. But his lines are lively and he adds another level of authenticity to the Champions League license (for British fans at least, due to his time with ITV). However, it’s still not very good. PES‘ commentary needs thousands more lines recording and the game needs to implement the lines smartly.

Team line-ups are now read out, but in a manner that clearly shows the game is stringing together 11 different audio files. EA on the other hand continues to make every line flow as if Martin Tyler is really watching your game. There’s also a lack of contextual commentary which the best sports titles master.

… no hook for me to keep playing online …
Online/Multiplayer:
This is the best PES ever in terms of online stability. Unlike last season where I encountered plenty of problems when searching for games, there have been no hiccups with PES 2016. Opponents are found quickly and it is always a lag-free experience.

The problem is, there is no hook for me to keep playing online. Pro Evo is far inferior to FIFA in the bells and whistles that accompany their infinitely polished online modes. myClub – the Ultimate Team rival – exemplifies the online offering as a whole; it functions soundly, but could never be described as ‘addictive’.

In myClub, I still like how players are purchased and also how GP (PES‘ currency) can be earned across any mode. The special agents (for instance an 85% chance of getting an 80+ player, or 100% chance of scoring a specific nationality) are much better than opening packs, like most other sports games.

The absence of a transfer market is a cardinal sin though. In its debut season, I could understand keeping it simple. Now, there needs to be an element of buying and selling with other players to drag this mode up to Ultimate Team’s lofty standards.

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Conclusion:
Based on the near-perfect gameplay, PES 2016 had the potential to be declared as the finest football game of all time. However, like any young player, it’s not all about the talent on the pitch, but also the mentality off it. PES‘ infrastructure, modes and presentation all require some time on the training field.

The series is now tantalisingly close to lifting the league title once again. It has the best starting line-up in the land, but needs to put together a decent bench too. With the truly phenomenal passing and fluid recreation of the sport, alongside fantastic animations and a genuine balance to the play, Pro Evo is well and truly back in form. Here’s to another twenty years…

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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  • Jahonius

    The Winning Eleven (the name for Asian regions) series has been synonymous with PlayStation for a long time.

    I still cannot forget the first two games I had played on my friend’s PS1.

    I remember really fuming over a loss, even more so compared to when I lost in a Street Fighter game… I still cannot explain why. I really hate it when I lose in a sports game…

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