Think fast: If you were to buy only one football game for 2013, which one would you get this coming Tuesday, FIFA or PES?
After playing both games’ respective demos, it’s hard to name one clear frontrunner—they both excel in certain aspects and fall down in others. One of the most commonly used barometers to compare the two is “realism”. But the term has become somewhat overly used and, in a way, can generalize things too much: Realism in which aspects? Even if we narrow it down just to the gameplay, it becomes clear—the more time you spend with the two demos—that both games are realistic, and both games are not.
It's a funny thing. Nowhere else on OS will somebody see such a varied opinion on two games' portrayal of one sport. For every one member who thinks PES has reached the holy grail, there's another who sees it as too over the top, and that FIFA looks more like the real thing. So the better barometer, really, is which game’s strengths will you, the one handing over the money, be more receptive to, and which game’s weaknesses will be less detrimental for you. And, ah, now that becomes a more interesting debate.
PES... If You Enjoy the Game From a Bird’s Eye View
As if you needed to hear this again—but PES’ brilliance really does come out most when you’re paying attention to everything that’s going on on the pitch. The AI players make runs with purpose, and more importantly they work as a team to create space. That flies under the radar most of the time, but it shouldn’t, as that’s a huge part of what attacking in football is about. Instead of every player thinking for himself—that they all make runs in hope of receiving the pass—PES’ AI players look capable of going one step further, making dummy runs to create space for another teammate to run into. The result is some immensely intuitive and satisfying attacking sequences that evolve organically, depending on the run of play.
FIFA... If You Enjoy the Game From an Up-Close Perspective
Both games have tried to lay claim to the term “freedom”, but this is one department in which FIFA fares better. It has been the series’ forte all along. Let’s put it this way: PES is at its most impressive when you see the entire sequence of play, while FIFA shines if you look at it in moments. Certain moments, like a juke here and a nutmeg there, a through ball finding a striker breaking free down the channel, will leave you with the feeling that yes, this is the football game.
So, whereas PES’ biggest strength is simulating the behaviors of twenty-two players, FIFA’s biggest strength is, alternatively, simulating the realistic behaviors of one—yours. And if AI is the star of PES’ movie, then the star of FIFA is surely you. From the right stick dribbling from what seems now to be a long, long time ago, to the 360 degrees movement, to recent years’ dribbling improvements, FIFA’s strength has always been the ability to give you all the tools you need to emulate the skills of your favorite footy heroes. It’s the one thing that we’ve taken for granted for a while now, especially since the series has done this for so well and so long. But in all honesty, the amount of control you have on the ball is staggering.
PES... If You Enjoy the Game’s Unpredictability
Even during the series’ darker years, one thing that never really left PES was its anything-could-happen feeling during the course of the game. Now that the franchise is back on solid footing, that feeling is as vivid as ever. Playing the demo for PES 2013, there were plenty of deflections, goalmouth scrambles, and just manic passages of play that will inevitably bring you to your feet.
FIFA... If You Enjoy a More Controlled Chaos
To be fair, FIFA this year has added a touch—no pun intended—of unpredictability into its gameplay with its first touch control where, depending on factors like the speed of the pass and the technique of the pass receiver, the touch can go awry. It’s a good start, but by and large, the game is still geared more towards the Barcelona style, slow tiki-taka type play. Just like how PES can accurately portray the more hectic moments of the sport but can sometimes be a little too end-to-end, FIFA, on the other hand, does a great job at simulating the methodical side of the sport, but can at times feel a little too one note.
PES... If You Enjoy Single Player Games
Part of PES’ realism is in the way the CPU plays the game. Teams generally play true to their style, though at times you may still need to adjust their tactic sliders to bring out the characteristics of some of the more extreme teams, and also to fix the few that don’t fit into any type of tactical presets. The CPU also manages its team competently, altering attacking and substitution patterns depending on the how the game progresses. In short, playing single player games against the computer on PES is satisfying because over the course of ten, twenty matches, you will probably get to experience a wide range of styles—from slow, cautious games where both teams put men behind the ball, to end to end, all-hell-breaks-loose shootouts.
FIFA – If You Enjoy Multiplayer Games
On the other hand, FIFA is great for those who like to play the game with fellow human gamers because it can help mask one of the game’s bigger weaknesses—the CPU’s lack of variation in play style. In fact, as plenty here on OS have testified, playing against the CPU and playing against a human player can really be like night and day. Plus, the increasing popularity of FIFA’s various stellar online modes can extend the game’s shelf life immensely, even after Manager Mode or Be A Pro runs out of steam.
So—and surely you’ve expected this—the answer to the original question, FIFA or PES, is that there is no clear answer. It all depends on your preferences. The obvious suggestion is to download the demos, give both games a whirl, and draw your own conclusions. And of course, there are also the aspects of the two games which we don’t have access to yet, like manager and be a player modes, which means that checking out—shameless plug alert—our reviews will also help you in your purchasing decision.
But this has been a fun exercise, no? If not just to see how lucky we are, as football game fans, to have two series that push each other year in and year out. Be honest, loyalties aside, and ask yourself if you would be okay with playing whatever your second choice football game happened to be for the rest of the year. Chances are most will answer yes, even if a little begrudgingly. Now head over to the NBA 2k forum and ask the same question. See?
Happy football gaming, folks. And here's to hoping, come next Wednesday morning, you're still in an acceptable shape to get to work.