This year’s instalment of Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 is finally here. After some teething problems with Konami’s proprietary Fox Engine, that hampered last year’s effort, Konami and PES Productions have pulled off what they had been threatening to do for a while now, and delivered one hell of a football game. PES 2016 is the culmination of some truly impressive gains, and a little trimming of the fat, that frankly should leave any football fan more than satisfied.
Why? Because there’s an elegant simplicity to the way PES plays, it’s a game in which you can become familiar with after a ten minute game, and proficient with after an hour or two, assuming you’re at least a passing football fan of course. Yet despite this simplicity there’s always more to be uncovered, and after hundreds of games, and multiple seasons in the ever stellar Master League, you’re still likely to discover new ways of playing, scoring or making a last minute block in the ninetieth minute to win you the match. How PES 2016, and for that matter how PES has always done it, is to make everything you’re able to do on the pitch contextual. The most obvious example of this is evident with regards to tricks and skills, where, unlike its rival, any such move requires both player and opponent to be in the right position, receiving the ball at just the right speed and strength in order for said trick to come off. PES’s genius however is to ensure this contextual simplicity is present across the entire game, and although they’re less complicated than trick moves, everything from crossing on the run, one two’s and overhead kicks, are all achievable only in the right situation. The end result is a football game where you don’t need to have an eidetic memory loaded with various button combinations in order to score stunning goals or make incisive passes. Where it seems as if whatever you’re thinking of is somehow instinctively understood by the game, despite the fact that you’re in fact using the same button you used to score a two yard tap in just moments earlier. And although such a system has been a mainstay of the series since its inception, never before has it felt so accurate and so fool proof.
With these contextual controls working so well it’s had something of a knock on effect for the rest of the game. Gone are the frustrations that were often felt in previous instalments such as giving away possession with an inexplicably over hit pass, unresponsive first touches, or switching to a player of no use to you in a moment of crisis. Instead everything feels crisp and correct, allowing you to think about what you want to do three passes ahead, rather than having to pay attention to whether or not things will fall apart at the first step. Along with the fact that animations that have been sped up, it allows the game to flow more naturally, and means that you’re constantly able to impact the game at every instance. There’s no lagging transitions in which you’re stuck controlling an animation locked player, no split second pausing between one input and the next. It’s just a staggering array of tiny changes, all honed to perfection that have culminated in making each match more enjoyable than the last.
It’s only after this initial amazement with the moment to moment gameplay begins to fade that PES 2016 reveals its biggest overhaul, something that, at first, may even sneak upon you and affect your playstyle without you even noticing. PES has always been able to accurately portray the individual nature of a wide variety of players, but until this year’s game it’s never used those individual traits together to impact the way you’ll want to set up teams from match to match. For example playing against sides who favour long balls will be an uphill battle straight from the kick off if you’re still determined to ply a high defensive line and use your forwards to put pressure on the ball, as will having smaller more technical players when you need to be holding up play or bossing the midfield. By having the strengths and weaknesses of players affecting your abilities in different areas of the pitch it creates a need to have players who have traits that benefit your team rather than being just great individuals. There’s no use buying Messi in you Master League if you’re playing as Juventus, you’ll need players capable of outmuscling centre backs and getting on the end of crosses. Instead of buying the best players and making your very own homage to Real Madrid’s transfer policy you’ll need to carefully consider what you need, to play to your team’s strengths and adapt from game to game. It’s added depth that no other football game has yet matched, something that has you thinking tactically for every game in a way that even the likes of Football Manager seldom achieves.
The only shortfall to such a level of immersion is that once again, and through no fault of their own, certain licences are still missing from Konami’s game. And where you can quickly rename and edit the strips of Premier League teams to mitigate the damage, the fact that one of the most competitive leagues in Europe - i.e. the German Bundesliga - is missing altogether, is a real blow. It means certain players ether don’t exist, or are registered as free agents upon starting the majority of PES’s various game modes. Yes there’s the Champions League, the various South American competitions, and the knowledge that Konami have secured the rights to the upcoming Euro 2016 (something which I expect will provide the basis for some sort of DLC expansion), but without the inclusion of all of the top leagues in European football the licencing shortcomings can still be a source of frustration.
It’s the final piece in the puzzle for PES, but even so the other ninety nine percent of PES 2016 is a game more than worthy of your time. One of the greatest football games you’re ever likely to get your hands on, it looks fantastic, with player likenesses at an all-time high, whilst delivering modernised menus and improved presentation across the board, as well as a wealth of content that matches its competitor stride for stride. However where it truly excels is in the effortless elegance of the on pitch gameplay, and the exceptionally detailed depth of the game’s tactical and managerial mechanics. No other football game has ever provided players with a more satisfying game of football, whether it be for ninety minutes or for an entire season.