Some would argue that leaving it a few months after the latest annual release of that other soccer simulation means that this here PES is on a hiding to nothing. But have the days where the “big two” stand shoulder to shoulder as genuine rivals really long since passed? Based upon the evidence at hand here, those days look to have returned. Because PES 2015 is an excellent game of football. One which allowed me to sit down with an old friend, play a couple of matches, and feel both old-school Pro Evo nostalgia, as well as genuine next-gen awe.
As always, we will move swiftly past the licensing issues. Some are going to be put off by the lack of “real” player names, or in some cases international squads. Even the Copa Sudamericana and other pan-continental competitions are plagued with copyright-swerving and oddly spelled players. You can pretty much edit everything here, and I am surely not alone in being the kind of guy who has (for many years) religiously changed all of the player and club names, and anything else that didn’t feel right, before embarking on my football adventure. It isn’t just me who does this, right?
But let’s concentrate on the things that immediately stand out, for a moment. The menus, which you will be able to see from our video content, are far more intuitive and inviting than they were last year. Even the tactics selection screen has had an overhaul for the better. The other thing that hits you from the get-go is the quality of some of the player likenesses, which are astonishingly accurate. From Cristiano Ronaldo’s cavernous maw and signature running style, to Gareth Bale’s trademark heart celebration and appearance befitting a refrigerator with a monkey’s head on it – you will be blown away by some of the motion capture and face-scanning that has gone on here. Konami have rebuffed a multitude of players, as well as employing significant AI advances thanks to Kojima’s FOX Engine that allow teams and players to behave as they would do in real life.
In motion, you start to pick up on these nuances. Every player behaves completely differently. There is a genuine unpredictability about things, so don’t expect a cookie cutter passing move that culminates in a perfect through-pass. Players can (and do) mess things up, just how for every Graziano Pelle wonder-strike there is a comedy failed Rabona, a la the oft-repeated David Dunn clip. When playing, it soon becomes clear how the many frames of animation employed and the attention to detail has an effect on movement, balance, passing, shooting – the whole package. Playing a few most enjoyable rounds with my editor, we were both instantly taken aback when we first witnessed CR7 jinking along the wing, or the utter ineptitude of his Bolton Wanderers side in general.
Close Control is an excellent addition which we caught a glimpse of last year, but really comes into play here. Much depends on the overall quality of who you are in posession of the ball with, but it is possible to use incredible ball control techniques, be it shimmying past defenders or employing the magnet-like retention abilities of maestros like Pirlo or Morgan Schneiderlin. Tricks and flicks are in abundance, but dont expect a clogger like Lee Cattermole to be rainbowing the ball over a defender’s frame, you need to be dealing with someone of an adequate ability. Another great inclusion is the satisfyingly weighty-feeling shielding from opponents. Mixing it up in a tussle with an oncoming midfield enforcer is a real physical duel, with physique and strength playing a part. Marco Veratti struggles against Yaya Toure, which is why you would use the diminutive Italian’s other considerable skillset to dominate an encounter. Pace (and how you use it) is something that has also been tweaked. Powerful and explosive forwards like Bale are able to execute whip-smart changes of pace, with firecracker wingers like Robben capable of breaking into an explosive charge that, whilst not approaching Babangida levels of the PS2 era in their ridiculousness, nonetheless accurately portray a real speed merchant.
Passing is sensational in PES 2015. Responsive to power and direction whether employing assisted mode or the brilliant manual passing, which indicates the direction with an arrow at the base of your player – it has it all. Nothing beats slipping that perfectly timed ball through to your teammate, or lofting a textbook assist over the defence to beat the offside trap. Free kicks, corners and other set-pieces now have an intuitive bar to aim your kick. Dont expect the ball to be laser-guided into the net or to your teammates, however, precision is still required in terms of power and flight to make the ball do what you need it to do. Penalties can now be aimed using a cursor-like mechanic (which can be turned off) which can lead to some interesting dummy tactics when playing against your mates. Shooting is absolutely wonderful, just as you would expect from a series that is famed for its powerful net-busting strikes. If you get things spot-on, you can expect to score some thrilling goals, but even if you sky one wildly over the bar, it feels realistic and in-tune with the feel of a real game of footy.
All of the skills and tactics can be honed in the excellent training mode, which awards medals based upon how effectively you complete the drills on offer. It is advisable for even long-time players to run through this mode first to accustom themselves to the feel of the game, and how the players and the all-important ball behave in action.
Things don’t just stop at the players. The crowds are never going to be a completely accurate reflection of reality, but there are some wonderfully animated seas of humanity within the array of 17 stadia. Konami moved some of their developmental duties across to leafy Windsor to get a feel for how Europeans treat the beautiful game, which really shows in some of the crowd chanting, and the attention to detail in how certain players and their teams behave on the turf. There are even real life managers, for goodness sake. Sure, you don’t have the whole lot of them, but it is certainly a boon seeing a recognisable face on the touchline, replete with their own instantly identifiable traits.
In terms of modes on offer, PES mainstays like Master League and the wide range of cups and tournaments are present and correct. Football Life and Become a Legend allow you to create and develop your own player and work your way up the footballing ladder to live your vicarious football dreams out how you wish. The real biggie is myClub, which is where Konami provides a fully loaded, online-capable counterpart to FIFA’s Ultimate Team. Using the brand-new in-game currency system, where you can earn “GP” for carrying out specific on-pitch feats (GP can also be purchased for real money), you can add players to your team and build an all-conquering side that can be taken online to play against friends and other denizens of the internet. It is an excellent addition which drags PES kicking and screaming into the present, and while it is probably not going to rival EA in terms of the huge financial revenue just yet, it is another reason for long-time Konami stalwarts to stick to their guns rather than turn to the dark side.
Fans of the online experience are well catered for with excellent lobbies that deal with everything from a simple one on one, to 11 vs. 11, Leagues with points accrued that can lead to promotion and relegation, and from what I experienced, very stable code all round.
PES 2015 doesn’t reinvent the wheel completely, but is a noticeable improvement on its predecessor, with some brilliant new inclusions that make it feel more on a par with other sporting peers. Konami have obviously worked their socks off to create a truly wonderful football simulation, that is easy to pick up and play, but will take aeons to master. The PlayStation 4 version looks and sounds incredible, but in a heartening twist for those still stuck in the last gen, give or take for a few slightly more ropey visuals, the gameplay is near-enough intact on the PS3 counterpart we also got to spend some time with. The FOX Engine is only going to get better and better, and competition for shelf space and revenue will get tighter and tighter. Next year Konami should be aiming to set their stall out a little earlier, and show the world their vision of the beautiful game in more timely fashion, because PES 2015 shows them back on the top of their game.
ON THE PS3 VERSION:
The PS3 version has all of the same content as it’s big brother, and still plays just as well. In fact, if you hadn’t experienced the slick PS4 version, you would likely be just as easily impressed by the last gen game. Having looked at both, there are some obvious differences in the aesthetics department. Graphics are muddier, textures and lighting less effective, animation that little bit less fluid, the player likenesses not quite as tasty. There is a strange stuttering, laggy effect that seems to plague the replays and celebrations.
Gameplay also seems slower by comparison. Do not be fooled though, these differences are far from deal breakers and if you love soccer and don’t own a PS4 yet, you need to snap this up.
Superb physics and physicality
Excellent attention to detail
myClub is a fun alternative to Master League
Lack of licenses will irk some
Dull commentary and poor soundtrack