The fight for the top football game of the year has been hotly contested for years between Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) and EA Sports' FIFA. Every year, Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) makes yet another 'comeback', and its latest stab comes in the form of PES 2016. We liked the little we played of the game at Gamescom 2015, but does the full game match up? Read on to find out.
The first thing you'll notice in PES 2016 is how fast it is. Every single action on the pitch, from passing, shooting, or heading, is all done at an almost manic pace. It's very different from FIFA 16, which rewards thoughtful, strategic play.
On the other hand, each match in PES 2016 is an adrenaline-fuelled romp that has you acting on instinct. It rewards attacking and creative build ups. This means that if you enjoyed earlier instalments of FIFA, which played up pace over other attributes, then you'll find yourself right at home with PES 2016.
(Also see: Six Things You Need to Know About PES 2016)
Having said that, while PES 2016 stresses on fast thinking and even faster football, you can't exploit this the way you could in older FIFA games, by simply choosing the fastest players to put in your team. Try that and hammer down the sprint button, the way you could in old FIFA games, and you'll find yourself in trouble because your team will tire out rather quickly. It is a simple check to balance out the gameplay, and it has you relying on other features, such as one-on-one feints, and smart dribbling, to get by.
Unfortunately, the game's defensive AI is erratic at best. Sometimes, matches against low-skill teams will be grinding no-score affairs, while there will be games against a powerhouse opposition that see you running riot in the other team's goal. The glaring lack of consistency will make this game annoying for some. It's less of an issue is you're just looking for a few quick sessions though, because in PES 2016, the best defence is a great offence.
The moment to moment gameplay of PES 2016 is great for those playing in short bursts, but there are more features, if you are looking for something more cerebral. Delve into the game's many menus and you'll find some interesting strategic options such as fluid formation, which lets you switch the formation of your team depending on the situation at hand. What this means is, you can have a 4-3-3 formation when you have possession of the ball, 4-5-1 when you don't, and a 4-4-2 at kick-off.
On the other hand, accessing these options isn't the easiest thing to do. In spite of some improvements in terms of the user interface versus last year's game, PES 2016 still has confusing menus and odd tutorials. You never quite feel that you have the hang of it compared to FIFA 16, which nails down user experience brilliantly. But persist, and you shall emerge with a few more tricks that make your team even better.
On that note, Master League, PES' answer to career mode, has received an overhaul. It's an excellent single-player mode that has you thinking in terms of how your whole team can play better, rather than hunting down individual stars. Every month (in-game) you'll see a detailed breakdown of how you played, where you scored, when you scored, and much more. Cut-scenes punctuate key moments like new signings and trophy wins. It also borrows an important element from FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) and PES' own FUT equivalent, myClub.
In FUT, Chemistry is an important stat to track, and in the same way, Team Spirit is crucial in Master League and myClub. Chemistry in FUT rewards you for using players from the same club or country; Team Spirit is dependent completely on how you shape your team. Stick with the same instructions and tactics and your team will benefit, working like a cohesive unit. Replace a star player due to injury or switch tactics and team spirit will drop. The effect of dropping from a 90 team spirit to 80 is obvious, making it an important number to pay attention to. It's an interesting mechanic that makes Master League all the more fun to play.
Similarly, there's myClub, which is Konami's take on FUT complete with its own currency and microtransactions to purchase top players and managers. It has exclusive players and an individual player levelling up system akin to role-playing games, complete with a focus on training, player development and scouting. It's playable both online and offline, and is worth checking out because it does a better job of not forcing you to spend to progress. Instead, you'll unlock what you need by simply playing the game.
And if you'd prefer something a lot more granular, you can partake in the Become A Legend mode, where you're put in the shoes of a footballer from debut to retirement, which is a nice addition since FIFA hasn't had something like this for a while.
In terms of online play PES 2016 holds up rather well. Matchmaking was easy and we never had a problem finding people to play against. It held up well with no perceptible lag or slowdown.
One thing football fanatics will cry foul about is the lack of official licenses. Much like Don Bradman Cricket, with PES 2016 as well, there's a way around this. On the PlayStation 4 and PC versions of PES 2016 you can import your own rosters and kits. Due to different protocols for user-generated content on the Xbox One and Xbox 360, this is not possible on Microsoft's platforms at the moment.
So has PES finally staged a winning comeback? The answer is almost. The gameplay is faster and undoubtedly easier to get into. It's let down by inconsistent defensive AI and poor menus, which keep it from achieving perfection. Nonetheless, it's a step in the right direction. We can't wait to see what Konami do with PES 2017.
We played a review copy of PES 2016 on the PS4, the game is available on PS3 and Xbox 360 at Rs. 2,499, PS4 and Xbox One at Rs. 2,999, at PC for Rs. 999
Rating (out of 10): 8