PES 2015 Review (PS4)
It's been an interesting year for Konami's PES team. While EA rushed to harness the power of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One with FIFA 14, Konami decided to release PES 2014 on the Xbox 360 & PS3 utilizing the critically acclaimed Fox Engine. Despite receiving numerous gameplay patches throughout the year, PES 2014 often felt more frustrating than fun. Those who stayed the course with PES 2014 were ultimately rewarded with the best gameplay since PES 2011.
As news began to emerge on PES 2015, the community remained cautiously optimistic as Konami boasted that this year, "The Pitch is Ours." It's a claim that the community had heard before and all signs were pointing towards a pivotal year for a franchise that has seen its market share decrease in Europe and the United States over the past few years.
With the release of PES 2015, Konami has attempted to re-embrace its roots, focusing its attention on what it does best: gameplay. Now that kickoff whistle has blown, it's time to take to the pitch and see how successful PES 2015 is this year at replicating the beautiful game.
While PES 2014 often gave users the feeling of playing against the game instead of playing with it, PES 2015 feels like a godsend with its newfound responsive controls. While some transitional animations could use attention, the clunky animations from a year ago have for the most part been smoothed out and when combined with the enhanced AI, help to recreate that long-lost PES magic.
PES has always been about creating that moment of magic, but it's the ebb and flow in between that attracts so many to the series. Build-up play has never been better as midfielders work to find space opening up passing lanes while defenders work tirelessly to close down space and passing angles. Football fundamentalists are rewarded for setting up their sides with instructions that carry over to the attack and defense due to the introduction of "Fluid Formations."
Dribbling has never felt better thanks to "Close Control" as you can now beat defenders without having to rely on a skill/trick move. A quick change of direction when combined with a speed burst (think Arjen Robben) is just as effective, if not more, than a series of stepovers (think Cristiano Ronaldo). Keepers, a weak point in the demo, were upgraded and now do a much job at parrying away from danger and stopping shots from tight angles.
While some of their animations could be sped up, gamers will notice some like Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich sprinting out of their box to clear the danger. While the gameplay is very strong this year, there are still some areas which could use improvement such as fouls and a look at the stamina which depletes entirely too quickly.
It's puzzling that fouls aren't as prominent considering the last console patch for the PS3/XBOX 360 had a balanced amount of fouls. While it will take some time to get used to laying off the turbo button, stamina for wide position players (wingers and fullbacks) drains too quickly and often leaves them unavailable for consecutive matches in Master League.
Despite these issues, PES 2015 excels on the pitch offering gameplay that is not only rewarding but also strangely satisfying even if you're on the wrong side of defeat.
PES 2015 offers a variety of game modes capable of attracting your full attention. Series staples like Master League, League/Cup Mode, and Become a Legend all return. Fans can also play through several real-life tournaments such as the UEFA Champions & Europa Leagues, Copa Libertadores, Copa Sudamerica, and the AFC Champions League.
Once upon a time, Master League reigned supreme.
But now, from its outdated menus to its lack of innovative new features, Master League pales in comparison to FIFA's Manager Mode despite a few minor additions. As you take control of either a real life club or the default master league squad your virtual manager will sign a one year contract leaving you free to pursue other opportunities at the end of the year if you so please.
Adding players to your squad via the transfer market has been improved with the addition of terms such as appearance and goal bonuses to name a few. You can even add a player to help sweeten the deal. In my run through with Chelsea I found it too easy to acquire players as I was able to add Wayne Rooney after one negotiation and a modest offer of ~30 million sterling british pounds. One added bonus which has been in for years is the ability to actually look at player stats before targeting a player, a feature not available in FIFA unless he plays in the same league as you.
Coach Mode has been introduced within Master League and is surprisingly well done. As the manager, you can set your lineup and watch your tactics play out in a camera of your choosing or go into a Football Manager-esque view with real-time stats to boot. Unfortunately, the immersion of Master League is tainted by a sim-engine bug which produces way too many goals in simmed CPU vs CPU matches. My simulation often saw score lines of 10-4 or 9-0 resulting in some obscene goal differentials at the end of the season.
My run through with Chelsea saw Manchester City win the League after scoring 192 goals with a +116 goal differential. While it will most likely be fixed with a patch, the bug should have been caught by the Konami's QA/QC Department. One saving grace was that the League Table looked very realistic with both Manchester Clubs, Chelsea, and Arsenal rounding out the Top 4 while Leicester, Burnley, and Aston Villa were relegated.
With the power of next-gen consoles, PES fans expected to see a huge upgrade in 2015. Unfortunately, graphics are a mixed bag this year. While the PS4 is capable of 1080p, those on the Xbox One have to suffer through some jaggies as the game could only be optimized at 720p in order to maintain 60 frames per second. It's obvious that Konami spent a lot of time on player faces as those who are scanned look incredibly life-like. Those who didn't make the cut suffer at the hands of the generic preset faces (remember Rafael from 2014, yikes!). Body models and skin tones are generally OK although Konami could take the next leap and supplement them with real cloth-physics as shorts still look a bit off.
Edit Mode was hailed as "Unlimited" but at the time of release it's anything but. Gone is the ability to upload images and the inability to transfer edit data makes next-gen option files impossible at this time. Stadium Editor, missing from 2014, was reintroduced but doesn't actually let you create any new stadiums, only edit areas like seat color and pitch length for example. In a game that is highly customizable it's a real shame that edit mode was stripped down. If you're willing to put in the time you can still obtain reasonably close kits and real stadium/manager names but option file makers really spoiled us over the years.
Apart from the new tile menus, presentation hasn't seen a big overhaul. After the horrendous menus of PES 2014, Konami adopted more of a western approach as the windows based tiles were introduced for 2015. Users can now customize the front panel for quick access to their favorite modes.
The soundtrack is relatively small (10 songs) but contains some catchy songs from likes of Imagine Dragons and The Preatures. In-game presentation hasn't changed much as Champions League matches will still have the familiar anthem blaring during the pre-match entrance followed up by the official ball and overlays. Stat overlays are in the game but are too infrequent. The few stadiums that are in the game are replicated well with boisterous crowds that react to crunching tackles and near misses.
The commentary has always been pretty bad in PES as Jon Champion's patient style is tough to recreate in a video game as he often lets the game play out in real life without adding commentary.
PES 2015 is a well done game on the pitch, and it doesn't do anything else particularly bad. While Master League needs some improvements, and online play could use a bit of modernizing -- the game itself is an incredible experience after kickoff. The additional licenses and graphical bump of next-gen make the game feel a bit more polished, but there are still rough edges. All in all though, that familiar PES magic is back this year.
Learning Curve – It takes a bit of time to get used to PES if you're a newcomer to the series, especially if you've migrated over from FIFA. Luckily a Skills Trainer is available to help hone your skills and up your comfort level.
Visuals – Up close, PES looks amazing as faces are so life-like that you'll want to warn your little ones when Ribery is on the TV. From far away the visuals can look washed out and in need of fine-tuning.
Audio – The commentary needs more lines as there is too much dead-air. Importing custom chants, a past feature, needs to be reintroduced.
Value – There's a plethora of game modes to showcase the beautiful AI and while the lack of licenses can be a turn-off for some, it can also help to expand your horizons as you play with clubs from leagues you're not as familiar with. New weekly updates and if history is any indicator, the game will receive patches (There's already one planned in December to add 5 stadiums and some more licensed clubs) addressing gameplay and other issues. The strong gameplay leads to that "One more match" feeling from years past.
Score: 8.0 (Great)