Pro Evolution Soccer was once THE defining football video game. When gamers wanted a social experience with friends, PES was the only option. When gamers wanted to compete online, PES was the only option. When gamers wanted to get lost in a 15 year career mode, PES, and Master League, was the only option.
But then something changed.
While the PES series from '3' to '6' on Playstation 2, Xbox, and PC were at the absolute pinnacle of sports simulation at the time, the transition to the next generation of consoles, the PS3 and Xbox 360, gave Konami a surprising amount of headaches, and all of a sudden the game that we all loved so much had lost it's heart.
Pro Evolution Soccer never really recovered, and the vast improvements that EA Sports made to the FIFA series meant that there was a new king in town. For years FIFA continued to make strides forward while Pro Evo played like the players were stuck in the mud, but FIFA hasn't really impressed since FIFA 13, and the obligatory new features that are added every year are, in the case of the new goalkeeping engine, now detracting from the enjoyment of the game.
The timing couldn't have been more perfect for Konami. After making the wise decision to skip PES 2014 on Xbox One and PS4 in favour of giving the team more time to design a decent game, Konami are now in the position of plucky underdog, as many are becoming disillusioned with FIFA and want a truer football gaming experience.
Can Pro Evolution Soccer seize it's opportunity to thrust itself back into relevance? I put some healthy hours into the Xbox One and Playstation 4 version of the game to find out.
The first thing that needs to be addressed in Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 is the ever present issue of licencing. Now, some people out there couldn't care less about how the kits look in the game, but PES has always suffered due to EA's monopoly on certain league and team licences, and for those who want to most authentic football experience possible, this has always been an issue.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 features the likes of North London (Arsenal), Merseyside Red (Liverpool), and London FC (Chelsea), but this was never too much of a problem when PES was king, so it shouldn't be now, although only having Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Wolfsburg, and Shalke from Germany is frustrating. The game does offer a stupidly deep edit mode, so if you so wish you can spend your time making every team look as authentic as possible.
Aside from the lack of official licensed clubs, PES 2015 is actually a very underwhelming game in terms of aesthetics. In some instances the graphics are very poor, and it certainly does not look as polished as it should on a console with the graphical power of the Playstation 4 or Xbox One. During gameplay, it could be confused for an Xbox 360 game, and although the actual animations for things like bookings and celebrations are very good, they don't look pretty.
Cut-scenes have always been a major thing for Konami. One of the main criticisms of FIFA is that the players are lifeless as they trudge around the pitch showing little to no emotion, and don't get me started on the frankly embarrassing title celebrations. Pro Evolution Soccer 2015's title celebration cut-scenes are a joy to behold. If you manage to win the Champions League, you will see players running around with the trophy, confetti flying, and players interacting with fans. It's superb, and it really makes you feel like you actually won something, unlike FIFA which rewards your 38 match slog of a season with basically a congratulations message and a 'press start' screen.
In summary, the overall visuals in the game are very poor, but... You as soon as you take to the pitch, all those issues seem to fizzle away.
Probably the worst aspect of PES 2015 is the sound. The commentary team of Jon Champion and Jim Beglin are constantly contradicting themselves and talking about things that are irrelevant to what you are seeing in the match. The speech is repetitive and mundane, and needs a complete ground-up overhaul. It has gotten to the point where I have turned commentary off and just enjoy the stadium atmosphere, which actually isn't bad.
Unfortunately you can't find solace in the menus, as the music that Konami have chosen for the soundtrack is even worse. Whoever made the decision to put 'Wake Me Up' by Avicii ft. Aloe Blacc in the game must be living in a world of their own, where the most overplayed song of all time is still an enjoyable experience. What happened to Konami's own J-Pop experiments that were so bad they were good? That was a winning formula that added a certain charm to PES as we eventually learned all the nonsensical words off by heart. There actually three Konami tracks in there (although they are safe generic beats more than anything), and surprise surprise, they are the three least offensive tracks available. The decision to add real music to PES was a bad one.
More of this please Konami:
Again, these problems are trivial in the grand scheme of things, but if you're going to be playing all year they begin to grate on you.
The shiny new game mode that Konami are parading in Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 is MyClub, which in all honestly is an attempt to answer the behemoth that is FIFA Ultimate Team.
It's similar, but different. You start with a basic squad of players, and need to improve your team by bringing in better players with an element of luck. Instead of opening packs like Ultimate Team, you sign agents to bring you a player. The better the agent, the more expensive he is, but he gets you a better shot of singing a top player. The actual method of signing a player is a fun sort of mini-game that involves rotating coloured footballs (white, bronze, silver, gold, and black) which stop randomly after the player presses A. There is no way to purposely sign the exact player you want, which in my opinion is refreshing, as Ulitmate Team has basically become me playing against Ibarbo and Doumbia up front in every single game. This method ensures you have to deal with what you are given, resulting in unique teams, and ultimately more of a connection with your players. You can pay real money for more 'GP' which is used to buy agents, so if you want a team of galacticos early on, you can hand over your hard earned cash to do so.
The gameplay in MyClub involves online and offline seasons play, and for a first outing it is certainly a nice addition to the PES experience.
Master League is back. Possibly the most loved game mode in the history of sports video games makes a welcome return, as you can start with the default bunch of misfits and work your way to European glory in the way we enjoyed so much way back when.
The likes of Castolo and Minanda are not present, but Catolis and Minandinho are in a clear nod to the legends of the past. Negotiations are still a strange experience, and there is never much budget to make wholesale changes early on, but Master League is a game mode that is packed with charm. It honestly does feel like the good 'ol days when you get stuck in, and it has a longevity that FIFA's career mode can't compare to for it's complete lack of soul.
In other areas of the game, the Champions League and Europa League, along with the Copa Sudamericana and Asian Champions League are playable and are fully licensed, which is a major coup for Konami and adds some much needed legitimacy to the games visuals. The training mode is challenging and fun, and is an absolute must when you first boot up the game, in order to get to grips with the mechanics and take you out of the 'FIFA mindset' you have probably been accustomed to.
The game modes are not ground breaking, and the menus systems may actually be a little out-dated, but they do a solid job and get you back on the pitch, where you need to be, as soon as possible.
Pro Evolution Soccer 15 is a ridiculous amount of fun to play. There, I said it.
In terms of actual football simulation, there is no contest which the more rewarding game is this year, and this is coming from an absolutely avid FIFA fan. I should state that I do still enjoy FIFA 15, and will continue to play it over the next few months, but that oh so familiar FIFA feeling of "That's bullshit!" simply doesn't exist in PES 2015.
The game is much slower than FIFA, which is one of the main things that initially throws people off the experience. The first time I played the PES 2015 demo I didn't enjoy it, purely because I had become acclimatised to the ways of FIFA and it's frenetic high-speed gameplay. When you look at a game of FIFA being played, it doesn't play the same way an actual real football match does, does it? Players sprint through several challenges, chipped through balls are mandatory, and passing is one-touch from defence to attack in two seconds.
In PES 2015, you actually have to take your time and pick your passes. The way the game flows from defence to attack is stunning at times, and when you finally do carve open a defence and apply a tidy finish, you sit there watching the replays with a great big smug smile on your face. Why? Because you have actually achieved something. You have worked to create a goal. Sometimes it's not even a goal, as I have caught myself stopping to replay a moment where I passed myself out of a tight press. The game just feels much more closer to the sport than it's rival, and I'm aware of how much FIFA is being mentioned in this review, but the comparisons have to be drawn as they are in such direct competition with each other.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 is back to basics. Keep it simple. Pass to your men in space, don't rush in to challenges, and take your time when you have it, and you will be enjoying the game like you did back in the glory days of the series. The intelligence of the CPU controlled players is incredible. If you drag a defender out of position, you will see the opponent striker make a b-line for the free space. Full-backs overlap and look to exploit gaps, and the team always attempts to keep it's basic shape with players filling in for those caught out. It's great to see. Also worth noting are the ball physics which are fantastically true to life meaning crossing, long-range shooting, and chipped shots are a pure delight.
In terms of gameplay, PES 2015 has taken a gigantic leap in a positive direction, and honestly feels like a truer representation of the game of football than any other game available. The gameplay in Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 is a breath of fresh air. It's fun. Like actual, smile on my face while playing it fun. And it makes me incredibly happy to be able to say that again.
As an total package of looks, sounds and gameplay, Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 isn't quite there yet. It's still a little rough around the edges and has clear improvements to make in key areas, but the gameplay is so good that it makes up for those flaws.
Pro Evo is fun again. Sing it from the rooftops. The frustration and rage that is commonplace with FIFA is almost totally absent from PES. Of course you're going to get the odd animation when a player loses the plot, but they are few and far between, and the only person you can blame for the concession of goals is yourself. It's so refreshing to look at the replay of a goal you conceded and think "What was I thinking?" rather than "Of for **** sake I told him to go there, that's bullshit!"
Refreshing is a word I have used before in this review and honestly, that is the one word I would use to describe Pro Evolution Soccer 2015. I initially really liked FIFA 15, but the way the game's flaws are constantly exploited has seen me distance myself from EA Sports' latest offering, it's all too familiar. PES on the other hand is a throwback to when games were just about being fun to play.
The satisfaction that comes from crafting a great team goal is a unique and rewarding experience. If offical licences mean nothing to you, and you are becoming tired with FIFA, do yourself a favour and buy this game. For some people the fake team names etc. detract from the authenticity and the frenetic speed of FIFA is a delight, and that's fine too, but there is definitely room for two football games on the shelf this year, and if PES can build on this while EA struggle to find inspiration for a new direction, we could see a shift in momentum that places the original King securely back on top of the throne.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 gets a rating of 4/5. A huge step in the right direction.