The best PES ever?
What a difference a year makes. Remember E3 2014? You know, when I played PES 2015 for the first time and thought it was essentially a PES 2014 remaster on the PS4. I was both amused and crushingly disappointed in equal measure. Sure, the final product was a monumental improvement and a very good football game, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the E3 code was (no other way to put it) rubbish. This year, that word has no business being attached to PES 2016. If rubbish even dreamt about PES 2016 it better wake up and apologise. You get the point, right? Okay, well, even if you didn’t, I’ll put it simple terms. I’ve been playing early code of PES at E3 for six years now and this is by far the best, most polished state I’ve seen the game in at this early stage. It was close, but it was the best sports game I played at E3 2015, and I’m about to tell you why.
You’ve all read the epic press release and seen the trailers/videos, but nothing can prepare you for that moment when you actually play PES 2016. Like PES games of old, at first glance it might look the same, but invest some time into it and you’ll find it plays differently to what came before. And that’s it; you will have to play a few games before you get to grips with PES 2016. Thanks to the new additions and improvements to the gameplay, there is a bit of a learning curve. Don’t panic, it’s a good thing. For some, it will be a match or two whereas others might take a few hours, but rest assured you’ll get out of that rigid, predictable PES 2015 zone soon enough. You see, everything about PES 2016 is more fluid, dynamic and natural than its predecessor. It will feel foreign to most long time PES players at first, but my god is it good when you get it, and there are several reasons behind this.
Well, actually it’s a combination of reasons, but it’s probably best to start with the collision system. Yes, there’s an actual collision system in PES 2016, and it works! Players no longer bump their special places like a couple of action figures. Instead interactions are natural and dynamic, with the result dependent on exactly how the players come together. You’ll see everything from players clipping each other and stumbling to full on collisions where two or more players fall to the ground. With the game boasting three times more animations (more later), each instance is a sight to behold. I lost count of the number of times I paused to the game to watch collisions happen again in slow motion. Yes, I’m sad, but I “blame” Konami for bringing that out of me. I certainly didn’t expect an intricate system like this given the rudimentary one (I’m being nice) that was present in PES 2015. The modern game of football is as much a physical one as it is fast paced, and PES 2016 represents that extremely well. Not only that, it understands there are different layers to it as well.
It’s not just about the action on the ground; you are given the freedom to battle for the ball in the air. Using the left stick, you can attempt to position yourself adequately enough for a header or volley. More than that though, you can try and put off the opposing player. This comes in handy when you’re the shorter or less physically able player. Getting your body in the way and stopping the opposition getting a clean header is almost as satisfying as great pass or shot. No, really, it is. The best part is that all this transitions across to the ground game too. Sure, on most occasions, the bigger players will have the advantage during tussles, but that’s not the be-all and end-all. Just like the aerial battles, smaller players can work their magic in these situations. The likes of Iniesta and Pirlo are masters of it in real football, feeling out players, assessing the space around them, shifting the ball from foot to foot quickly and getting a pass off or simply drifting away like nothing happened. Thanks to the new collision system, this is all possible in PES 2016. If you know your football, know your players, it will happen and it’s all natural. No special button press or complex flick of the right stick, it just happens.
All of this, everything I’ve mentioned above, comes together thanks to the abundance of new animations. Without them, the physicality and collision system, both would be worthless. There’s so many of them, helping to make the game look incredibly natural. Players will stumble when clipped or skinned by the opposition, yet still attempt to get up on their feet as they do so. It looks great. In the air, players will collide as they challenge for the ball, falling to ground just as you’d expect them to. It looks amazing. In addition to that, the new animations make other areas of PES 2016 shine every so brightly. Dribbling is now sublime, incredibly fluid and response. It makes taking control of players like Neymar and Tevez feel, well, great. Their artistry and flair, you feel it. That’s just with the normal left stick dribbling too; you don’t need any fancy tricks. You’ll see them do things like dragging the ball back, rolling their foot over the ball, shifting it past a defender and unleashing a shot in one fluid motion. The best part though (for me anyway) is the way you can suddenly go from just slow dribbling to a burst, it’s magical. Messi, Neymar, Hazard and Sanchez, these are just some of the players you see do it wonderfully week-in, week-out and now you can mimic it in PES 2016. Man, I can’t even begin to explain how good it looks and feels. It was a frustrating experience in PES 2015 due to the rigidness of the animations, but that’s long gone now.
The animations, collision system and overall fluidity all have a positive impact on the defensive side of the game too. Just like with the dribbling, you feel like you have much more control over the defender you take charge of. PES 2015 took steps in the right direction in this area, but lacked that extra bit of control and responsiveness. Now that is not a worry. You can defend with a good degree of confidence, especially if you know what you’re doing. That’s where the benefits of the collision system come into play, allowing you to put your body in the way, barge opposing players off the ball and assert yourself physically. It’s great, because (unlike PES 2015) not everything is a damn foul. The referee, within the rules of the game, will allow the game to flow. Hallelujah. Actually, the best way to describe the defending in PES 2016 is to compare it to the likes of PES 5 and PES 6. Holding X to track and then close in on an attacker is usually the best option. If you do want to pounce or lunge in with a standing tackle, just double tap X. It’s all about knowing when to do use what. Oh and sliding tackles aren’t near enough useless now. The new systems in place mean if you do slide in (unless you’re deliberately looking to hack) then you’re player will genuinely attempt to get the ball. This could be a poke with one leg or a hook with both legs. Either way, sliding is more a viable option now when defending. It’s also worth mentioning the defensive AI is improved, with through balls and the like now being tracked or cut out pretty well. The attacking AI movement is better too, so just makes sense to balance it up I guess!
On top of this, core elements such passing and shooting have been improved thanks to the addition of realistic ball physics. Both are now more varied and far less predictable than what was present in PES 2015. With passing, the ball will now swerve, curl and bobble around much more depending on exactly how and where it is hit. This means the first touch of players is no longer perfect, it will vary depending on how the ball is given to them and the way in which they attempt to trap it. The better players will adapt, but even then you might see a heavy touch now and again. Passing is the one element of PES 2016 that took a little time for me to get used to, but when I did I wondered how I even managed with what PES 2015 had in place. Even on the second assisted level, I felt passing was free and I could place the ball where I wanted to, especially the long balls and crosses. There is clear difference between shots too, with the ball moving around a bit more. This means not every shot you hit will hit the target, even when you’re unleashing a shot close to the goal. Early on, there’ll be an adjustment period, but a few games and you’ll figure out how it works.
Goalkeepers, another core aspect of PES, have been further improved. They were greatly improved in PES 2015, and Konami has gone further this year. New animations mean better looking and more varied saves. Keepers will dive with the correct hand rather than reach around with the opposite one, and it looks great. Better than that though, they’ll react dynamically to situations, making some amazing one-handed saves, pushing the ball around the corner or lifting it over the bar. The latter I witnessed for myself and literally jumped out of my seat. There’s some specific stuff too, such as Manuel Neuer being an absolute beast in one-on-one situations. Seriously, the dude is hard to beat when you close in on him. Scoring past him in those scenarios is as satisfying as a long range screamer! I also noticed keepers coming off their line to make clearances in different ways. A nice touch. That will be that goalkeeper ID Konami has been talking about then. They’re not perfect or superhuman though, not at all. There was the odd occasion where I felt the keeper could’ve stuck a hand out and made a save, but that would be nitpicking. There’s a fine line between keepers being unbeatable or rubbish in video game form and (thankfully) Konami seems to be on the balanced side of it all.
It would be negligent of me not to mention the visual side of things, so I guess better say something. They’re good, very good. The PES team seem to have got to grips with the FOX engine, resulting in PES 2016 shaping up to be the best looking football game. Come on, you’ve seen the trailers and gameplay videos, it looks great. Player faces are bordering on the photo realistic, with some stunning likenesses such as Neymar, Pogba, Tevez, Pirlo and many more. Seriously, I could go on forever. Player models and the shirts that drape them are a clear step up from last year, with the detail on the latter being particularly impressive. They get wet this year too, because Konami has finally added actual rain in the game and not just lines of blue like last year. Not only does it look great, especially at night (finally), it has a cool yet realistic impact on the game. The ball feels a tad heavier to move around and you’ll even see some players slipping when attempting to turn quickly. Oh and splashes too, you’ll see plenty of them. Didn’t see the dynamic weather in action though. Still, it all looks rather nice in the new gameplay camera, sporting more of a broadcast type angle kind of like the one present in FIFA. My only gripe is that the game loses some if its vibrancy in gameplay camera, looking a tad washed out compared to the close up action. Hopefully Konami can fix that before launch as otherwise PES 2016 looks damn good.
A few other issues/concerns include the R2 shooting that is horribly underpowered and the rubbish penalty system. Both need looking at, especially the latter. Not even joking, it’s horrid. The penalty systems is so random, it makes no sense whatsoever. As a penalty taker you feel like the keeper has a clear edge over you, especially when you’re playing another human. Yeah, that should not be the case. Having not played any of the modes, those would be my main points of feedback at the moment. I did feel playing against the AI needed to feel a bit more realistic and varied, but player and team stats are still being worked on at the moment so that might be me being too harsh and jumping the gun a little. It didn’t feel stale or rubbish, don’t get me wrong, I just hope when the final game launches, playing against AI versions of Juventus and Brazil will feel like exactly that. It’s something Konami are usually pretty good at so I’m not too concerned there.
In fact, that kind of sums up of how I feel about PES 2016 at the moment. Confident. It’s so much further along than PES 2015 was at this stage, and infinitely better too. On a gameplay level, with a few kinks ironed out, this is pretty much ready to go. No joke. What I played at E3 could’ve been the demo; it was that fluid and polished. With a couple of months of development time left (unless Konami mess things up), this could be the PES that leaves the PES 5/6 comparisons and PS2 days comments behind. It’s all there, PES at the core with this generation of consoles and technology in mind. Love the past, play the future. That tagline actually makes sense. Okay, I’ll say it. If it progresses like it is, not only could PES 2016 be the best in the series… It could easily be the best football game ever. What a difference a year makes.