PES 2016 Review (PS4)
On the surface, Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) 2016 looks a lot like the 2015 version which won various awards (IGN Best Sports Game of 2014 & 2015 Gamescom Best Sports Game) and received an “8.0” from this very site. It’s not until you spend a little bit of time with it that you fully realize the improvements the team over at Konami made to this proud franchise. From the initial kick-off to the final blow of the whistle, there’s a lot in between to satisfy your yearly footy fix.
Konami makes no bones about the fact that PES will always be about gameplay first and all of the variables that affect it. It’s with that in mind that the first thing you will notice is how responsive the players feel when compared to last year’s game. Where PES 2015 was lacking in animation quantity and quality, PES 2016 shines. Transitional and branching animations, while not perfect, are much improved even if it means the occasional sliding occurs during replays. New outside-of-the-foot passes, flicks and feints are smooth, functional, and contribute to a seamless flow of action. This new feeling of responsiveness does not come at the expense of physicality, a major eye-sore in PES 2015. With the introduction of a new “Advanced Collision System” the physicality of the modern game is represented fairly well.
Gone are the ugly collisions that plagued PES 2015. In its place are organic experiences in which players jostle for possession where the outcome is decided by a combination of ratings and stick skills (R3 controls the player’s upper body). This newfound physicality is replicated throughout the pitch as balls in the air will see your target man battle it out with the opposition’s defenders. These two improvements (Collision System & Increased Responsiveness) are strongly evident in Player ID. If the “Advanced Collision System” and “More responsive controls” are the Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric’s (midfield engines that control the pace and flow of a match), Player ID are the Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s that steal all the headlines for putting the ball in the back of the net. The feeling of getting on the ball with the likes of Neymar (PES 2016’s Cover Boy) and Arjen Robben feels amazing. There’s a sensation of adrenaline mixed with the weight of expectations as you’re almost compelled to attempt to pull off some magic when the ball’s at their feet. That feeling isn’t exclusive to the game’s superstars as players with low centers of gravity like Olympique Lyon’s Mathieu Valbuena feel dangerous. Conversely players like AS Roma’s Danielle de Rossi feel like tanks in the midfield, able to lean on weaker players and dispossess them. Balanced players like Juventus’ Paul Pogba feel like a hybrid of the two, capable of skipping past a challenge or making a crunching tackle.
It’s with tackling in mind that we’ll transition to the defensive side of the game. Another feature Konami touted in the build-up to the game’s release was “Perfect Defense.” Unfortunately, this is where the game struggles and leads to a bit of frustration at times, especially when playing versus the CPU. Tackling in football is a science which requires patience and precise timing. Get it right and you could jump-start a lethal counter attack. Get it wrong and you could be headed to an early shower. In PES 2016 the majority of the tackles, especially by the CPU, are near perfect and rarely go punished by the referee.
For all the positives the Advanced Collision System brings to the table the game really struggles when it comes to deciding what’s a foul; and what’s not. Often in PES, the defender will get some of the ball before making contact with the dribbler, only to go unpunished by the referee and resulting in a delay in responding by the dispossessed dribbler. Other times, the player, and it doesn’t seem to matter who, will skip over the challenge. While it’s refreshing to see the AI act with more aggression (an issue in PES 2015), the lack of fouls is shocking omission from a game that prides itself on authenticity as it relates to gameplay. Without fouls, matches against the CPU can turn into end-to-end contests, completely bypassing the midfield and any semblance of “build-up.”
Another issue that rears its ugly head from time-to-time are moments of “ball-watching” from CPU defenders which lead to free runs on goal. Replays (still in slow motion for some unknown reason) occasionally detract from that magical PES goal-scoring feeling when you see that the CPU let you waltz by as you move towards goal. Disturbingly, this happens on two of the game’s higher difficulty levels (Top Player & Superstar). Aside from those two major issues there is some good with defending this year. Defenders do a better job at tracking runs, cutting off passing lanes, and in general being more active. I can recall countless times in which my CPU teammates have stuck out a leg at the last minute to deflect a shot on target.
Keepers, once a gaping issue, have been improved by adding several new animations but they still suffer from the occasional slow animation and stick to their line too often. Keepers do command their areas with more confidence and parry less shots back into danger. Hopefully gameplay tuners/patches will be released to address those inconsistent animations as they make dealing with finesse shots very difficult. Now that we’ve looked at defense let’s transition to the attacking side of the ball.
Where the new collision system aids in dispossessing players on the ball it also allows attackers a greater sense of freedom to maneuver in tight spaces without having to rely on tricks or skills. While 1-on-1 battles might be slightly skewed towards the defense because of the lack of fouls mentioned above, the attackers still have plenty of weapons in their arsenal, none more effective than sudden changes in directions. Whether it be from a standstill or on the run, a flick of the left stick can leave defenders rooted to their spot allowing you to penetrate the heart of defense. If you do have a second on the ball you’ll notice a lot more movement from your AI teammates when compared to last year’s game. Players like PSG’s Marco Verratti prove their worth in PES 2016, despite limited physical traits, by constantly moving and providing an option. When fullbacks push up-the-pitch hugging the touchline and leave your center-backs further apart, you’ll often see a midfielder drop deep in-between them offering an outlet to relieve pressure. Further up the field your attackers will make intelligent runs or drop deep into space to offer variety in attack. In an age where two strikers up top is rare, it was refreshing to see how well my two strikers for Inter Milan worked off each other.
I can say with confidence, both online and offline, that the input lag which plagued PES 2015 is gone. Whether this is a byproduct of an increase in responsiveness/added animations, getting caught in possession because you’re waiting for the pass animation to play out is gone. Also gone is the mindless passing back and forth in their own half by the CPU. The CPU is able to keep more meaningful possession even if it comes at the cost of what can be at times, “Ping-Pong” football. What primarily leads to this perception is the lack of variety when it comes to ground-passes. As it stands now, they have little bounce, often travel in a straight line, and are usually perfectly measured when it comes to power. A little more error in passing by the CPU would really open up the game and subject it to some much needed “sloppiness.”
Shooting in PES 2015 was tricky to master (often resulting in shots hitting the post) but a bit too easy once you got a hang of it. In my experience with PES 2016, little has changed. It’s still too easy to generate powerful shots from body positions where it shouldn’t be physically possible. Controlled shots (R2 or RT) are still very accurate inside the penalty area, especially from angles, possibly a byproduct of the keeper issues mentioned earlier. Since these issues affect both the user and CPU, what ensues is a high number of shots finding the target. One aspect of shooting that is not overpowered are headers. They feel as good as ever, especially when combined with the new jostling mechanics and crossing trajectories. A perfectly timed run, well exectured cross, and end-product is a thing of beauty. In playing matches with PSG I have even witnessed flicked-on headers by Edison Cavani, a testament not only to the game’s animation additions but also Player ID.
Since the introduction of the Fox Engine in PES 2014, dribbling has been one of the series strong points. Feints and quick flicks of the left stick is all that’s required to ghost past defenders. While some skill moves require Street Fighter combinations, players like Eden Hazard and Messi solely require a burst of turbo and a sudden change of direction to be effective. If you are adept at pulling off skill moves you find the likes of Neymar very enjoyable as their repertoire makes them very dangerous. Because of the defensive AI awareness issue, players can occasionally zig-zag their way past defenders.
Over the years Master League (ML) has become quite stale as the once proud mode has been plagued lately by RPG-like additions (Magic Boots), Annoying cut-scenes, and last year’s ridiculous sim scores to name a few. When Konami announced that Master League would be completely overhauled offline fans rejoiced. This initial optimism was immediately pacified when the first news released was headlined with the phrase “All New Menus.” While certainly needed, this wasn’t the first item atop fans wishlists. While the menus are slicker, the information underneath remains the same with the addition of a few key additions. Sim scores have been tuned to produce more realistic results this year, new cutscenes have been added and the scouting system has been reworked to allow for more specificity when searching the globe for talent. Scouting reports and advanced stats show up in a monthly report as well as a “Team of the Month.”
The addition of “Player/Team Roles” is a neat addition which allows players to develop into roles such as a “Legend” or “Protégé,” boosting financial aspects like merchandise sales or the generation of more sponsor income. Live news stories are a nice addition which add immersion to your Master League as the game will take in-game pictures to display on the main menu. The ability to advance the days during the transfer window by an increment of your choosing is an improvement over last year’s version. One area in which ML could really use a boost is in the Youth Team. As it’s currently comprised, your Youth Team is comprised of players from across the continent. It would be nice if the team makeup was populated by players predominately from the country in which your club is located. Thankfully Konami has removed the smiley faces of PES 2015 when negotiating transfers but player values are still a tad too low and easy to acquire (Messi was quoted AND offered to my PSG ML for ~70 million euros). One aspect in which PES really has a leg up on its competition is in its ability to see what’s happening in other leagues. Everything from cup matches, statistics, and transfer logs are available. While it’s not quite the complete overhaul and still behind FIFA, Master League has seen enough improvements & refinements to keep your interest.
PES 2015 introduced myClub to combat FIFA’s widely popular Ultimate Team and for a first try it was a success. It returns in PES 2016 with a few key additions, mainly a new player negotiation system, player level system, training system, and more streamlined menus. Those unfamiliar with the mode will be guided by helpful overlays and hints. Depending upon their performance, players now accrue “Experience Points” which can be used to “Level Up” attributes. Player signings remain the same with the return of the “white/bronze/silver/gold/black” balls as well as Live Updates which will change the form of your players via the classic PES arrows. A training system has been introduced by which you can take a player and have them train another player. Apart from a new “Winner takes all tournament”, the competitions remain the same as last year.
Standalone offline modes like UEFA Champions & Europa League, Copa Liberatodres & Sudamericana, AFC Champions League, League & Cup competitions all return with each offering their own unique flavor and challenge. Sadly Become a Legend (my personal favorite mode) has not received any updates apart from the new menus of Master League.
Playing online has always been a tricky conundrum in PES. With regionalized servers getting a quick game for North American users can prove futile, especially if you play with manual controls. However, if you have a stable of dedicated pro-evo buddies you can easily set up a Match Room and enjoy the best online gameplay to date as the input lag has been largely eliminated. I have personally played close to 10 matches online and can count on one hand the number of times I have experienced stuttering, (mainly when playing in the “Team Lobby” Konami’s version of Pro Clubs found in FIFA).
The presentation in PES 2016 is one of, if not, the game’s weakest points. Outside of the new Master League menus and some added cutscenes, not much is different than PES 2015. In-game overlays are infrequent and random making you feel like you’re playing in a vacuum. Stadiums, which were promised to increase in number, are still insufficient even if the authentic stadiums are very nicely captured.
Graphics in PES 2016 on the PS4 are hit and miss. Player faces are captured better than any sports game on the market, but player models and shorts could use some improvment. Up close, the game can look breathtaking, especially when playing with the top sides who have familiar players. From the default camera the level of detail drops, especially when the camera pans to the crowd.
The biggest addition to PES 2016’s audio was the addition of Peter Drury. While Peter Drury is one my favorite British commentators, his energetic style doesn’t seem to mesh quite well with the monotone and subdued Jim Beglin. It’s the first year of this partnership so there’s hope, but as of right now it seems like the two recorded their lines at different times, in separate rooms, in another country.
Edit Mode is back with the much welcome return of image importing on the PS4 even though Option Files cannot be shared and there are limited slots for kits. For some reason Konami only allowed ~300 slots for kits but ~3,000 for managers. Unfortunately, Xbox One users were shut out from image importing and have to resort to creating kits from scratch. Luckily there are some tutorials that can be found on YouTube to help aid in this process. Under the hood, all of the same tactical features return from last year, most notably “Fluid Formations” albeit in a cleaner, less cumbersome menu. Lastly, the game released in all major markets without updated summer transfers intact. In the age of instant gratification, this is absolutely unacceptable.
Despite promises that the new licenses would be added, only a handful of new clubs were added while they actually lost the full league license to Argentina’s Primera Division. While Konami will add new clubs via a Data pack but the ability to share option files or import images on the Xbox 1 will severely hamper those of us who would like to add the German Bundesliga or any other league not represented in PES 2016.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with PES 2016. The gameplay can be downright refreshing at times as the new-found physicality, added animations, and Player ID really shine. Unfortunately, the game can become frustrating when your opponent (CPU or Human) puts in tackle after tackle without any repercussion in the form of fouls. When combined with some curious lapses in defensive awareness and slow reacting keepers, PES 2016 can be a frustrating experience leading to a cheap feeling when scoring. A gameplay patch to address these issues would finally put Winning Eleven 5/6 to bed and cement PES 2016 as the best PES to date.
Learning Curve & Control Scheme: The basic controls are more than enough to hold your own against the CPU or human. You can pick up the unique PES nuances along the way.
Visuals: Improved but still not on the same level of some other current sports offerings.
Audio: Commentary is better, but mainly because it couldn’t possibly get any worse.
Value: There are a plethora of modes in PES 2016. You can boot up the game and easily find yourself immersed in Master League, engaged in an online tournament, honing your skills on the training pitch, or simply stuck in Edit Mode for hours. Unfortunately, for a game that prides itself on simulation gameplay, the absence of fouls and defensive lapses can sour what could be an all-time classic. Hopefully Konami will go the PES 2014 instead of the PES 2015 route and stay committed to tuning the gameplay throughout the year.
Score: 8.0 (Great)