It’s incredibly unfortunate that, at least within the mainstream, Pro Evolution Soccer is a series often over-looked by the football crowd. With an annual rivalry against EA’s very-own FIFA franchise – a series with extensive marketing, a massive following, and a partnership deal with the governing body of football itself – Konami’s attempt at portraying ‘the beautiful game’ has still maintained its presence as a persistent force over the last 15 years, but standing in the shadow of its contenders impressive credentials, it has undeniably struggled to capture the hearts of the mass market. With this latest release, however, Konami have striven to change this fact, and not only have they produced an excellent alternative to the market leader, they have once again certified this franchise as a serious contender.
Proving as a great example of a series that has gone from strength to strength – a feat that is most noticeable within the most recent installments – Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 displays a culmination of all the developer’s efforts and ideas from over the years to create a remarkable football simulation. With iterated and improved gameplay features that feel solid, challenging, realistic, and above all else – fun, it is my opinion that Konami has created not just the best PES release so far, but perhaps the best football game to date. Whatever you believe, however, there is no denying that PES 2016 is one hell of a great triumph for Konami, and for sports titles in general.
Recently re-released ahead of this summer’s UEFA Euro 2016 Championship, this edition contains all of the content included in the original release, plus, as the name would suggest, the additional ‘Euro 2016’ content on-disk – a free game update that was made available for existing owners of the game. Including the cup to compete for and access to the 24 qualified teams for this year’s competition, this bonus content isn’t anything massively significant, but is a nice addition regardless. With 15 of those international teams being fully licensed, this marks the most welcome feature to the base game, and further boosts the franchises ever-growing roster of licensed content. Though this title stands as an unnecessary purchase for existing PES 2016 owners, this title makes for the perfect opportunity for newcomers to jump into the series and experience what Konami has to offer. Marked with a significantly lowered price-tag, this makes for one bargain that is hard to refuse.
Featuring exceptional core gameplay, PES 2016 presents a fine flow to the gameplay that brings the game to life like no other. The ball physics feel second to none, with accurate shots, deflections, dribbling, and interceptions being dealt with appropriately and realistically. The players themselves move around the pitch with ease, and their animations blend seamlessly to present the game with a smooth sense of motion. Carrying a significant sense of weight, the combination of accurate player and ball responses makes for a game that plays like the real thing. There is no room for ridiculousness here, and coupled with largely intelligent AI, players really have to work for their goals and set up some impressive and tactical plays to break through the opposing defence, or acquire the ball from the opposition. With the ability to pull off more ‘advanced’ offensive and defensive moves through simple player inputs, there is more than enough variety on offer to ensure that a whole host of scenarios can be appropriately dealt with, and that the game accurately mirrors the sport it tries so hard to imitate. With a surprising amount of depth to offer within the gameplay department, the various game mode offerings are able to shine brighter than they have done in the past, ensuring that players keep coming back for more.
The biggest stand-out feature of Konami’s latest title is that of ‘MyClub’, a mode that made its debut in PES 2015, but has since seen further refinement to make it better than ever. Though it is ultimately another mode that requires a strategic mind and managerial skills, it has profound differences at its core that allows it to differ from the classic ‘Master League’ mode. Presented as the Ultimate Team to EA’s FIFA franchise, MyClub is a unique mode that blends together a variety of interesting ideas to create a mode with plenty of depth and a lot of mileage. Easily the biggest time sink of the series thus far, its inclusion within the 2016 offering cements the mode as a confident addition to the PES formulae that challenges players to go from zero to hero, and endeavour to create nothing less than the ultimate dream team.
Not just about hiring the best skilled players of the world, MyClub puts a lot of focus on appropriately managing the entire club through hiring the right kinds of managers, purchasing and selecting the ideal types of players to work with said managers, and then levelling up and organising players to make them better. While it might not sound so interesting on paper, in practice this mode is actually very entertaining. Centred on earning ‘GP’ and MyClub Coins, currency must be earned in order to purchase new players and gain loan opportunities. Executed through a ‘lucky dip’ system, talent scouts are used to acquire players, and their varying ability depends on who might become available. Sorted into a ranked system, some players are more rare than others, and there are even a host of ‘classic’ players thrown into the mix too, adding extra spice to the mix. Dealing with that element of uncertainty adds an exciting curveball to the proceedings, and helps to keep the mode consistently entertaining. With plenty of teams to compete against, friendly ‘VS Comp’ matches, and competitions to work towards, MyClub is a clever alternative to the typical gameplay offering, and one that has you coming back for more.
As aforementioned, Master League also makes another return to the series and once again strikes a great balance between managing your chosen team, and also getting involved on the actual pitch. Taking your team through each weekly schedule, building tactics, playing games, and making executive decisions that will shape the future of the club – there is certainly a hefty challenge to producing a quality team and getting them as far up the ladder as possible. Sticking to more traditional and realistic ideas than those found in MyClub, it’s fairly standard stuff and doesn’t really do anything particularly daring, but with years of iterative improvements, it’s certainly a solid mode that is easy enough to get to grips with.
‘Become A Legend’ has also made a re-appearance in this package, and once again it tasks you with establishing a legendary career as an individual. Taking control of just one player and shaping their career with your on-pitch performance, BAL presents a different kind of challenge as you co-operate with your AI controlled teammates and establish yourself as one particular role. While this wasn’t a mode that I exactly grew fond of during my time with it, it’s an addition that offers a different change of pace, and can perhaps become rewarding to those who are dedicated.
Outside of the more fulfilling game modes, the common additions are also out in full-force and boast plenty more content while feeling every bit as thrilling as the rest of this package. There’s your usual solid selection of exhibition, quick play, and online modes, as well as a large variety of competitions to contest within. Featuring the likes of the aforementioned UEFA Euro 2016, there is also the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, the AFC Champions League, and also the Copa Libertadores, amongst a few others. PES 2016 really does house a lot of quality content that gives you plenty of bang for your buck, and none of it goes to tarnish the sensational level of play.
The only key issues I have with the game are minor in the grand scheme of things, and thankfully they do little to detract from the overall experience on offer. The biggest complaint is directed at the somewhat lacking audio-visual presentation that, while looking and sounding good enough, could have done with more attention to elevate the action further. While player models are accurate to their real-life counterparts and their animations are of a high standard, it’s more the in-game environments and extra flourishes (audience members, camera crews, TV graphics etc.) that lack much sheen/detail, and there is a rather considerable disparity in graphical fidelity between that which is on-pitch and that which sits on the side-lines and beyond. The commentary is also rather hit-and-miss, with plenty of the same repeated lines and generic patter heard regularly throughout, so much so that after a few hours you can find yourself easily quoting and finishing the sentences of both Peter Drury and Jim Beglin. I also encountered some instances of sloppy AI that may have interrupted some opportunities, but I could forgive this because it wasn’t a persistent problem. There is also the tired issue with the lacking licenses for a notable chunk of teams, particularly that of those found in the Premier League. While this ultimately results in a lack of authenticity to the game, and it can feel initially disappointing to not have access to official names, badges, and kits, those that are serious about the game are unlikely to find much of an issue with this. After all, with gameplay as solid as this, why should anything else be much of a concern?
Pro Evolution Soccer is, quite simply, a beautiful incarnation of the so-called beautiful sport. With such a high focus placed on the feel of the game over the years, this has all come together to produce some of the finest gameplay found in a football game, let alone in a sports game in general. Opening the door to some truly convincing gameplay, Konami really have pushed the boat out with this latest release, and it marks a significant turning point for the franchise where it can comfortably sit beside its competition with a huge, beaming grin on its face. It’s so close to perfection, and if this is anything to go by, PES 2017 will take those extra steps and become monumental.
If you’re serious about football, I cannot recommend this game enough. Furthermore, if you’re sitting on the fence and wanting to see what PES has to offer, the cheap price tag of this particular release is more than enough reason to take a punt. Football has never felt so good!