The age old war between EA Sports and Konami’s football series has sparked heated debates over the years, as to which is the superior football gaming experience.  While the likes of the FIFA series being with us for a longer period of time, it’s also been the go to game for the vast majority of football fans.  In the early to late 2000’s many would tell you that Konami had the definitive football experience with its addictive gameplay, but most certainly in recent years EA Sports have possessed that crown.

While I have been a FIFA fan since the very original way back in 1993, for me at least, when I truly fell in love with a football game (not including the original Championship Manager), it wasn’t until I played Konami’s International Superstar Soccer 64 in 1997.  My love for ISS then converted over to Pro Evolution Soccer on the PS2 in 2001.  For years I would buy every yearly instalment and for me the pinnacle of the series was PES 5 in 2005.  But when the era of the PS3 and Xbox 360 dawned upon us, the PES series had lost its way somewhat by the time PES 2012 came around, sadly I’d finally lost interest in my beloved football series and moved back over to FIFA right up until the present day.

FIFA has grown from strength to strength over the years with its ever evolving gameplay and has now perhaps reached its peak with FIFA 15 (which is a fantastic game by the way scoring a 9.0), though there’s always been that voice in my head that has been cheering on PES from the proverbial stands, wishing that the series would regain its form.  Last year with PES 2014, it was a huge step for the series, especially when considering the game is now running on the almighty Fox Engine, which of course powers Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and The Phantom Pain (we need a release date for that by the way Konami).  However PES 2014 didn’t make its way on the new gen systems, it was understood that the reason for this, was so that Konami could test out the Fox Engine on the last gen systems, before rolling it out on the new gen.  Well now PES 2015 has arrived on the PS4 and Xbox One, and to put it simply, PES is back and its man-marking it’s most fearsome competitor like Christiano Ronaldo being trapped in a straight jacket with John Terry and a jelly fish attached to his crotch.  In more sane terms the marking marking/competition is now so tight; it’s getting uncomfortable for the competitor.

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While PES 2015 does not quite compete with FIFA 15’s most realistic player likenesses, the Barclays Premier League stadiums and its overall presentation, with the latest PES coming to the PS4 and Xbox One, this is the best looking game in the series ever.  PES 15 may not have reached the overall player likeness heights of FIFA 15, but let’s not forget that this instalment of PES looks absolutely fantastic and in truth there are some players that look better in PES 15 (such as Robin van Persie) then in FIFA 15, and vice versa.  Even if you’ve got the on-pitch camera zoomed out far, you should still be able to recognise many of the players just by their body posture alone.  Though when you go close up, you’ll see the work and attention to detail that has been put in by developers over at PES Productions.

For example you can not only see delight and anguish on a players face, but you can also see the disappointment from a goalkeepers body language as he lets in a goal and then attempts to spur his teammates on in aid to get back into the match.  But to get the feel of a successful football game right, it not only has to play the part, but also it has to look the part too and this is achieved in PES 15 and there are many small ingredients that all contributes towards the game overall immersiveness.

Last year when the Fox Engine was introduced into PES 14, it enabled the game to make the most out of PES ID.  What PES ID does is that it’s a gameplay mechanic that not only makes the players move and behave like their real-life counterpart, but it also allows the teams that their representing to play closer to their counterparts too.  So teams like Barcelona will fluently pass the ball around the pitch, with Lionel Messi being their focal point.  Whereas Bayern Munich will be an all-round solid team, which is well organised, hard to break down and lethal on the attack.  These elements are ever so important to any wannabe successful football, which is very likely why the genre is a two horse race and is key to why PES 15 is now accelerating towards that finishing line with great momentum.

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Naturally the Fox Engine plays a huge role in making PES 15 what it is.  It’s all well and good having realistic animations and quality visuals, but you need a very capable engine to back it all up, especially when games can run at a fast pace with plenty of players on screen at a time.  The Fox Engine insures that PES 15 runs as smoothly as Lionel Messi after being stuffed in a packet of wet wipes, but it also allows the crowd in the stands to have their own animations and react fittingly to the on-screen action.  That may seem like a small detail to non football fans, but footie fans will most certainly appreciate that.

Another subtlety that the Fox Engine brings is the lighting in-game.  It always looks extra spectacular playing a game at night, but now it looks even more impressive with the floodlights gleaming down.  Likewise when playing during the day at iconic stadiums such as the San Siro, with the sun shining through its grid-like roof and the shadowing perfectly reflected on to the pitch. Also one other visual addition that has been brought into this year’s instalment is rain, again as minute as that sounds, everyone knows just about anything looks better in the rain and in football, not only can it look nice, but it can also affect how the players and the football interacts on the pitch.  This in many respects, can be a decisive game changer.

This may seem like an odd thing to say, especially as obviously the only physical contact that you make when playing PES 15 is with the control pad, but you can almost feel the weight of the ball with every pass or shot.  I’m not sure if it’s a change of pace for the game, the power bars, the weather affecting the pitch, but something feels different with this year’s instalment for the better.  The opposition also feels more of a challenge this year, so much so that when you’re a team such as Real Madrid, lower teams can have their day.  At times it might feel a little pre-scripted, because you will have games in which you will dominate, but the opposition’s goalkeeper will be playing like Peter Schmeichel after a gallon of Red Bull and to frustrate furthermore, the opposition will score with almost every shot, regardless of their quality.  An example of this was when I was playing as Bayern Munich and no matter what I did; I could not beat the opposition keeper.

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Then in the 45th minute before we reached the end of the 1st half, they went 1-0 up with a stunning goal.  So I kicked off the second half continuing my domination, even hitting the woodwork on three occasions.  Then in 87th minute I finally beat the team’s keeper with a scrappy goal and I was willing to take the 1 point draw.  So with the 90th minute fast approaching…BAM! In the 89th minute I was 2-1 down after yet another spectacular goal, both of which would win any goal of the month competition.  I must have had about 10+ solid on-target attempts, in comparison to their two.  This is a minor gripe, to what is a superb instalment to the PES series, but it’s one that can frustrate from time to time.  I’m not sure if or when this will be fixed, but if Konami was to make any kind of gameplay improvements with a patch update, I would like to see improvements made to the goalkeeper representing the human team or just a patch to improve the games goalkeepers as a whole.

Over the years FIFA has made a big deal about the artists that perform on their soundtracks and rightly so, because it’s always a coo when you get a leading artist to lend a song for any game, plus it makes scrolling through the menus all that little more pleasant.  Though I will always have fond memories of listening to Kasabian’s Club Foot in Pro Evolution Soccer 5, but despite this, the soundtrack to PES over the years has always been somewhat lacking.  However this year Konami has pulled out all the stops to make sure that they also have a proud soundtrack to boast.  Such as Wilkinson “Afterglow”, Bastille “Pompeii”, American Authors “Best of my Life”, Calvin Harris feat. Ellie Goulding “I need your love” and more.  In fact you can have a listen to the soundtrack of PES 15 over at Spotify by clicking here.  It’s fair to say that having these officially licensed tracks in the game, is so much better than the generic menu music that we have gotten use to previously in the series.  Oh and other then Italia 90’s iconic them “Nessun Dorma” from the late great Luciano Pavarotti , it’s hard to beat any football anthem when up against the instantly recognisable UEFA Champions League theme tune that features in today’s PES games.

While several improvements have been made to popular modes such as the online and offline Master League and other ever present modes like the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League, these major continental club competitions are joined by the Copa Libertadores (South America), Copa Sudamericana (South America), and the AFC Champions League (Asia).  These global competitions may not appeal to all regions, but it certainly spreads the market appeal for PES fans worldwide, as fans from the respected continent will surely appreciate.

 

We are now also treated to weekly updates that will update transfers, team line-ups and player performances based upon their real life counterparts, similar to what we see in the FIFA series.  We also have more club teams to choose from, with second tier leagues being added to England, France, Italy and Spain.  PES 15 now has more licensed leagues with fully licensed teams from the Liga BBVA & Liga Adelante (Spain), Serie A & B (Italy), Ligue 1 & 2 (France), Eredivisie (Holland), Primera Division (Argentina) and Brasileirao (Brazil).  For the record, Manchester United is the only officially licensed English team.  Other key licensed teams such as Bayern Munich will be found in the other team’s category.

While it’s always a downer for us English not to have our licensed Premier League, thankfully PES 15 has more editing options than ever before, which obviously includes teams and players (assuming you have the time).  The stadium editor also returns and not only can you create your very own unique stadium (to an extent), but you can also edit goal nets, seats, side-lines and pitch patterns.  So while the PES series cannot match up to FIFA’s official team, player and stadium licences, at least there are plenty of custom options to tweak as you please.

FIFA 15’s biggest money spinner is their Ultimate Team mode, where gamers can earn XP or buy player packs via micro-transaction in the aid of building the ultimate fantasy team to play offline or online.  So naturally it would make financial sense for Konami to get into the act and they have done so with the MyClub mode.  MyClub has a similar premise to FUT and that is to build a team full of fantasy footballers.  But rather than buying Bronze, Silver of Gold packs, in PES 15’s MyClub, you must assign an agent to acquire a player for your team.  The better agent you assign the better player you can get.

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Players that you acquire are done at random, but unlike FUT you do have control over which area of the pitch they represent.  Much like FUT, ideally you must also gain a manager to suit you formation and as long as you have the correct players and manager assigned, your team will perform for the better.  It has to be said that while this is Konami’s first stab at this mode, it is some way behind FUT in terms of overall presentation and it doesn’t quite have that addictiveness that FUT has, yet.  But as I said, this is Konami’s first stab at this mode, so hopefully they will improve with future instalments.

The PES series has never been able to quite compete with the license prowess of the FIFA series, though Konami are acquiring more licensed teams and competitions with each yearly update.  In recent years FIFA has also owned the pitch in terms of presentation (which is still the case) and the gameplay on the pitch.  PES 14 made a huge stride with the Fox Engine and it had fans chewing at the bit wanting a new gen instalment, now that instalment is here and for the first time in many years (in my opinion), PES 15 has not only matched FIFA 15 in terms of gameplay, but arguably it has now surpassed it.  It’s always a bit alien trying out a new game in this genre (not that there’s been much to choose from), especially when you’re very use to how a certain game plays.  So whether you’re jumping from PES to FIFA or FIFA to PES, it’s always going to take a little time adjusting.

So if like me, you’ve been a long time PES fan that has felt the series has lost its way in recent years and have wanted it to regain its form (or if your thinking of changing footie games), PES 15 is most certainly your game.  It’s hard to exactly pinpoint what makes the gameplay of PES 15 so addictive, there’s something special with how it feels and plays.   It’s likely to be a concoction of many factors, but whatever it is, I’m now addicted to PES once more.  Even by writing this review, just thinking about the game, makes me want to pick up the pad and fire up my PS4.  While I really like FIFA 15, as it’s a superb game, PES 15 may not have its competitors overall presentation and modes, but when it comes to the gameplay action on pitch, PES 15 is simply sublime.  In football terms, PES returning back to form is kind of like that sleeping giant that has finally awoken to reclaim its crown and its coming for the top dog.  PES is back and it’s for the top honours.



Author

Richard Lee Breslin
Richard Lee Breslin

Gamimg has been my life for 30+ years and will always be my passion. I have a BDes Hons Games Development and Digital Media, and I hope to one day turn my passion for gaming and writing into a living. My favourite gaming series are Resi Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill, Assassin's Creed, Uncharted and The Last of Us. I collect gaming merchandise, comics and movies. I love football (namely Aston Villa) and WWE. I can also often be found wondering the outskirts of Raccoon City. Follow me on Twitter @Solidus5nake