The intense battle between the two footballing giants that are Pro Evolution Soccer and FIFA Football has waned over the years, as EA’s continued dominance since FIFA 09 has seen Konami’s illustrious series fall by the wayside. Like two old warhorses, the last five years has been less El Classico and more like Man City slugging it out with Accrington Stanley in the FA Cup third round. Now though PES is going all Rocky III and making a comeback, and it’s now the plucky young thing looking to uproot FIFA 15 and send it sprawling along the turf.
PES is back with Pro Evolution Soccer 2015, and it’s finally making that next-gen leap we’ve been craving for the past year. PES 14 kept it safe and stuck to the previous gen (albeit on this new engine), but with PES 2015 we’ve got one of the most radical leaps yet for the series, as the spruced-up Fox Engine used for the likes of Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes hosts, of all things, a kickabout.
A Whole Different Ball Game
Where the FIFA series shines is in its presentation. EA Sports has sought to perfectly replicate the televisual experience, right on down to the overlays, commentary, and even the cameramen parading around the pitch. Everything is note perfect from watching the footie on the gogglebox. PES 2015 takes a different tack. It’s like going to watch Pompey run out against Wimbledon; it’s the real deal. It might be a whole lot rougher round the edges but it’s nothing that a piping hot cup of Bovril won’t sort out.
PES 2015’s crucial disadvantage is still that official license that FIFA clutches so dear to itself. It’s a bit of a sad world we live in where someone can’t make a game of football without the likes of Arsenal, West Ham or Liverpool. Instead they’re subjected to those tooth-grating name changes like North London Red, East London, and Merseyside Red. In the case of many it’s beguiling how you can’t use a place name, but PES 2015 has got to make do with what it's got. Of course updated names are never more than just a fan update away, but it’s still a hoop that many don’t want to have to jump through, particularly that poor sod who actually makes the update.
Luckily, for fans of football on the continent and even further afield, there’s plenty of licensed clubs to get cracking with. Manchester United might be the only British club making the grade, but the likes of Serie A, La Liga, Ligue 1, and Eredivisie all have their clubs present and correct.
Out On The Pitch
Onto the football then and Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 pulls a blinder, comfortably delivering the best PES experience in years, and most definitely providing a viable choice for those tired of their yearly FIFAs. Contrary to PES of yesteryear, PES 2015 eschews its arcade-style trappings in favour of a more robust and, dare I say it, realistic experience. That almost intangible quality that lends itself to PES 2015 feeling great to play is there, including much finer control over player movement and dribbling, as well as nifty passing options that can reward the nimble and quick-footed. A burst of speed and a change of direction can have you come up trumps during one on one situations, rewarding creativity and attack-minded thinking rather than constantly pinging it from player to player in triangles like Barcelona on a lethal cocktail of Pro Plus and double espressos.
Your AI teammates also actually offer some great choices and perform game-changing runs, while their movement to track or to close down removes many erroneous moments where your team are caught off guard, hinging crucial junctures on your own success and failures. It’s the ultimate reward of skill, and ensures that you’ve (usually) only got yourself to blame when you throw away that tricky Champion’s League final. It also serves the opposite effect, making the AI engaging and exciting to play against, which is just as well once you've had enough of a few punishing games online.
It must be said the AI isn't without the occasional problem, and your goalkeeper can let in some hideous goals from time to time. This might just be me bitterly regretting a few losses though, and it’s not like the beautiful game is bereft of absolute howlers in reality. Much like the previous versions and FIFA 15 at times, winning control of the ball can often appear predetermined, and it can be a bit grating having your player run after if when it’s clearly a lost cause. These are minor quibbles from a game that plays a great game of football overall, but when we've reached such peaks for the genre these things can start to stand out.
First Impressions Count
Back to the presentation though and it’s here where PES 2015 is still held back. Beneath all the glitz and glamour FIFA 15 has a well-worked menu system and group of modes that look like something purposefully built for the year 2014. To put it bluntly PES 2015 does not; it’s menus are archaic and occasionally obtuse, and it doesn't offer quite the glut of choices which its competitor does. There’s the usual Master League options, exhibition matches, cup competitions and the like, but PES 2015 doesn't exactly strive to push itself.
PES 15’s new myClub mode at least makes a debut, and it basically announces itself as a direct competitor to FIFA 15’s money printing machine that is FIFA Ultimate Team. It’s ugly and superfluous in FIFA 15, and for the most part it’s the same here. The concept’s fine, amassing players and building a squad who can complement each other’s style of play, but the microtransactions, like FIFA 15, bring the whole thing crashing to its knees. Winning players off other teams by beating them would be far more interesting and level the playing field, but when you can just throw a load of cash at the problem it grates when you’ve splashed out on a $50 purchase for the base game. Konami is of course trying to keep pace with FIFA when it comes to this mode, but for those unwilling to commit serious time or money it works in neither.
PES 2015 might not be the humongous leap that it was trumpeted to be, but it is a damn fine game of football. The core game is an undoubted success, albeit let down slightly by some poor presentation that can be slightly jarring. When it comes to having a kickabout few games are as true to form as PES 2015, delivering a gritty football experience rewarding skillful and tactical play over glitz, glamour, and bombast. With PES 2015 Konami has stuck a marker in the ground, but the jury’s still out on whether the PES series is just in a temporary purple patch or is going on to reclaim its footballing crown.
As ever before, the two are absolutely worlds apart. It’s not something we’d necessarily say is a must, but there’s no real harm in owning both footballing giants. They both offer something unique to them that makes them a worthwhile experience, but if you’re after true mastery then you’re best off dedicating your time to just one. The choice boils down to a few key points, and if you can overlook the licensing issues and lacklustre presentation then PES 2015 delivers an awesome game of football that could swallow you up for months to come.