The heavyweight clash between this year’s FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer entries has never been so competitive. FIFA has had the glaring advantage for most of the last decade, but Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 challenges EA’s franchise this year with fantastic build up play in the midfield, an added level of aggression and physicality, and the ever addictive online modes. PES 2016 signals a huge leap forward and an inevitable clash with EA’s FIFA as Konami aims to harken back to the days when it was top dog in the soccer game space. As a fan, you’ll probably recognize that professionals tend to prefer Nike football boots on pitch.
This year’s addition is jam packed with modes and as many game variants as PES fans are used to. MyClub — a competitor to FIFA’s Ultimate Team — has returned, with the new ability to turn players into squad trainers and increase their ratings after every match. There are now players exclusive to MyClub as well and an all-new player comparison system. On the offline side, Master League is updated with a host of UI tweaks that result in a snappier and cleaner menu format. Players can now view news from the world’s various leagues as well as a few new cutscenes, such as press conferences for new signings and when the player moves to a new club. PES 2016 also boasts a division style multiplayer mode that has you rank up and face opponents of an ever increasing skill level, which makes online matches fair and exciting despite some occasional lag.
On the gameplay front, PES 2016 perfects the passing game in the midfield and as the player moves towards the opponent’s penalty box. Little dinks around the area and slight feints allow for spectacularly crafted goals. While I think tackles in recent PES entries have been a little too aggressive, it is levied in PES 2016 as referees are more lenient on that front. Surprisingly, with the game putting an emphasis on the player’s position relative to the goal, some shots fly in inexplicably that are not consistent with the rest of the game. The AI is more defensively aware and not many goals come down to lapses in concentration from AI, but instead from the player’s inability to spot a move. There are, however, some weak aspects. The shots in the game either feel random or under hit most of the time, and the defending is difficult to master as slide tackles are risky. Additionally, overall movement is a bit floaty, which doesn’t help on defense when you need firm controls to make last ditch tackles or organize your defense.
All of this action happens in packed stadiums that give off a superb match day atmosphere with commentator Peter Drury screaming wildly when you go up 4-0 or score a late equalizer. PES 2016’s raw graphics don’t look that great from the normal television camera angle. Up close, however, the players’ facial animations really shine, and you can see them get emotional during key moments in a match. The buzzing crowd at an Italian stadium, or the roar after a goal is ruled offside is second to none and gives PES 2016 an added edge over its competitors.
It would be unfair not to touch on the licensing issue which has plagued the PES series for far too long. Where the FIFA games miss out on the Champions League branding, PES loses the kits and naming rights for a huge number of top clubs. It especially hurts when you pick a massive team like Chelsea, who are famous for their royal blue kits, to then see green and yellow outfits roaming around the pitch with the club name “London FC.” Thankfully, next gen versions of PES 2016 have the ability to import kits, crests, and the like to your heart’s content. One can only wonder about the financial viability of the two franchises calling a truce and allowing each other to thrive without worrying about licensing restrictions.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 is Konami’s valiant and successful effort at clawing back ground from EA’s FIFA franchise. While FIFA 16 saw slight improvements to an already solid title, PES 2016 has been taken leaps and bounds beyond last year’s title and is within touching distance of the multi-million unit selling megalith that is FIFA. More updates and tweaks to MyClub as well as a more significant overhaul of both Master League and the general menu presentation would have been welcome, but the improvements to the gameplay do not go unnoticed. PES 2016’s ability to make you feel in complete control when you dance around the edge of the box or chip one in over the keeper is unforgettable. PES 2016 is a statement of intent, and a warning call to the developers at EA Vancouver to watch their tails come the release of both FIFA 17 and PES 2017, as the David and Goliath battle continues.
A PS4 code for Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 was provided by Konami for the purpose of this review