It’s that time of the year again when football’s biggest gaming franchises go head-to-head with FIFA 16 and the game that this review represents, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016.  Every year each of the games will boast of their new features, though oddly this year, it’s been rather quiet in that respect for PES.  Rather Konami and developers PES Productions have done their talking on the digital pitch.

I know it’s a matter of opinion, but in recent years FIFA has been the better overall gaming experience in its genre offering a total package with a whole host of additional modes.  But what have been FIFA’s strengths in recent years could also be a downfall somewhat.   After all how can a game improve when it’s seemingly at its peak?  I suppose you could say that FIFA no longer needs to improve all that much and in a way that’s all credit to EA’s developers.

On the flip side of that coin, while PES has been playing catch up (even last year’s PES 15 was superb), it’s also had that benefit of having room to improve and the developers at PES Productions have done just that by making PES 16 arguably the best in the series for some time, though much like FIFA 16, not all that much has changed this year as essentially PES 15, is the same game as PES 16.  I’ll let you decide on whether that is a bad or good thing.

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We all know that PES has always lacked the officially licensed prowess of the FIFA series, though PES does own the rights to Europe’s biggest club competition, the UEFA Champions League, along with the Europa and other notable world club tournaments such as Copa Libertadores, the Asian Champions League and many other teams representing continents from across the globe.  Coming out from my bubble, most of the major leagues in European football have the official likenesses from Spain, France, Holland and Portugal, with many of the remaining teams coming under the rest of the world category.  So once more it’s only really the English Premier League that suffers, with Manchester United being the only officially licensed team.

Thankfully a feature that was not present on the new gen systems last year is that now you can import player kits, badges and self-created likenesses on the PS4, sadly this feature is not available for Xbox One owners.  While this is not quite the same as the official license of FIFA, if you’re either really talented with a lot of time on your hands, you’ll enjoy updated your PES 16 with the edit feature.  But never fear if you can’t get the accuracy of your favourite teams quite right, because while you can purchase data files from eBay, there are also some great forums such as PES World where you go download update files for free.  So if like me you’re a little fed up of seeing your favourite Premier League team with some stupid fake name, this is a great workaround, so thank you PES World for your great efforts.

While in essence PES 16, plays almost exactly the same as PES 15, there’s one subtle, but defining tweak to its gameplay.  It’s a hard one to actually put into words, well I can put it into words, but I can’t really do it the justice it deserves and that is somehow the developers at PES Productions make you feel the weight of the ball.  Now this could be down to the power-bar function, but there’s nothing all that unique about that, as it features in just about every sports game.  So how they’ve exactly got you to feel the weight of every measured pass is beyond me, but the developers deserve so much credit for achieving that.  When you’re pinging the ball around like David Beckham, PES 16 just feels great as for the first time in the series, I feel in complete control of the ball.

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In my experience every pass goes where I intend and if it does go wayward, it’s my own fault.  In previous PES games, I used to rage endlessly at the TV as many passes would go nowhere near where I had intended, sometimes in the opposite direction, even when I knew for certain that I was pressing the analogue stick in the right direction.  Another problem that had plagued me with previous instalments was that during a sprint, my player would run off the pitch with the ball, even when I also knew I had stopped pressing the sprint button, which was very frustrating.  It happened literally only once or twice last year, but yet in PES 16, I cannot honest remember that even happening once!  Hallelujah!

Though while the gameplay is as good as I’ve ever remembered it to be in the series, there are a couple of niggly problems that persist from previous games in the series.  The first being the reluctance of the referee giving you a free-kick.  I swear some of my players have had lumps kicked out of them and despite putting many hours into PES 16 already, I’ve only ever had two free-kicks, I kid you not.  Yet the referee doesn’t seem to have an issue giving the CPU a free-kick, even when it seems very unjust.  It’s an annoyance that really started to bug me with last year’s game and I hope the developers iron this out with next year’s instalment.

Another couple of problems that bug me is the fact that no matter the quality of the opposition, they will score with almost every opportunity, mostly instantly after you have taken the lead.  There the kind of goals that makes you want to scream at your A.I controlled goalkeeper, as he seemingly has transparent fingertips.  But on the flip-side of that argument, the CPU opponent’s goalkeeper will pull spectacular save, after spectacular save, before the CPU inevitably scores the injury time winner (a problem that I reported in my PES 15 review).  Oh and one more final thing, developers, please, please sort out the end of match player ratings!  Even if I claim a 5-0 victory, a player that has scored a hat-trick will be lucky if he scores a 7.5, while the remainder of his teammates will average scores of 5.0 – 6.0.  I know it’s a niggly complaint, but I would love to see fairer scores that actually reflect a player’s good performance, instead of ratings that would reflect a team that’s just been hammered.

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In terms of visuals, on the most part PES 16 looks fantastic, thanks to the all-might Fox Engine, this of course powers the awesome Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.  Key players such as Neymar Jr, Lionel Messi, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic look uncanningly alike, as do the vast majority of the games top footballers.  Sadly the same can’t be said for the generic looking players, but that’s where the benefit of the edit feature can come in handy and again I refer back to great fan sites like PES World (where they improve on the Konami likenesses a little).  Though at times, I can’t help but think that Joe Hart looks a little like the Adoring Fan from The Elders Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

While the Master League will be the go to mode for most PES players, Konami really wants you to get invested in the MyClub mode, which is the PES version of FIFA’s Ultimate Team.  While there seems to be more depth to this year’s mode, it still feels a little too clustered and bloated with options, and unlike FUT, it’s not that easy on the eye.  But what really bugs me more than anything else, is the excessive load screens as the game continually makes contact with the Konami servers.  Even when you go into the team management screen to  make a simple change, you’re greeted with a load screen, which grows tiresome very quickly and takes you away from the immersion.  But if you can look past the clutter and excessive load screens there is a lot of fun to be had in MyClub.  Though it still feels far less superior to FUT and all MyClub does, is make me want to play FIFA’s original version of this mode.

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I can see what Konami want to do with MyClub, by almost making it a player/management sim with its own identity, but if they were to make one improvement inspired by FUT, it would be to reduce the clutter, which should make it more streamlined (and you might find the load times improve as a result).  Still this is a mode in its early years and EA has had far more time to fine-tune their popular mode, so there is plenty of time and room for Konami to improve MyClub with any future instalments.

While we can always bang on about PES not having enough official licenses (let’s forget that it still has some strong license outside of England), PES 16 counts where it really matters and that’s with its gameplay on the pitch.  It’s the best PES has felt for many years in that respect, it may sound a little cliché, but its struggles prior to the Fox Engine era, PES Productions have been fine-tuning the gameplay, which has all led up to PES 16.  However, I just hope that Konami and their developers bring something new and exciting to the table next year, because as good as the gameplay is, PES still needs more depth and added quality with its extra modes (now that sounds like a football pun) if it’s going to really compete with the more popular FIFA franchise.  Yet, there’s still something special about PES 16, and if Konami can make improvements to keep it feeling fresh year on year, the series is only going to get better.  But for now, with PES 16, the pitch is most certainly ours.



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 and you can check out my Patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/solidus5nake