The Fifa and PES franchise are most recently having a head to head race for the thrown of the best soccer game.
While last year's Fifa maintained most of what its predecessor already showed and only offered minor albeit welcome improvements, it was PES 2015 that turned out as the most eye-catching of the two.
Whereas the PES franchise for quite some years has always been in the shadow of its rival Fifa, PES got surprisingly reinvogorrated with PES 2015. A very fluid and easy to get into control scheme was by far its strongest aspect, while it was nevertheless still lacking quite a bit in the graphics department despite its use of the Fox Engine.
With PES 2016, the game is once again on. So how does the PES franchise hold up this year against its biggest rival?
Updated Core Mechanics - "The Sum of All Things"
PES 2016 holds true to its strong mechanics established in its predecessor PES 2015, while also adding new features that substantially make it a superior soccer game.
The thing with PES 2016 is that its mechanical improvements don't flatout show up in an obvious kind of way but rather in small improvements in subtle aspects here and there, that all together make for a big improvement in gameplay in the longrun.
Mostly, the updated core mechanics become obvious in PES 2016's highly improved realism in gameplay. The game features even better movements of players that make the entire experience heading even more toward realism. With that said, PES 2016 has a great focus on making each player feel unique and play and act differently on the field. In that sense, this new approach on making the physicality, tactics and moves of players more individual make them at the same time harder to guess. It all results in a much more satisfying as well as challenging soccer experience as a whole.
What becomes obvious right from the get-go however, is that PES 2016 feels much more polished than its predecessor. While most of it comes down to graphical polish, the gameplay itself also feels much more (or even more) fluid this time around. Mostly thanks to each player behaving fittingly to his physique, movements and maneuvers feel much more organic and even less video-gamey or artificial.
It doesn't take long to realize and feel that each player in PES 2016 handels a bit differently. Once again underlining the aspect of individualism in PES 2016, the controls to each player fit their physique quite well and make passing the ball to a specific player a tactic on its own, which wasn't present in such a way in previous soccer games. Thus, for example, smaller players are often more capable of keeping the run even after stumbling over an attacking opponent. Other players with bigger bodies however, are less likely to get outtackled or "outmuscled" by other players while often being not as fast of a runner as other players.
|Things are getting personal now.|
Anyway, what further extends the updated gameplay is that PES 2016 gives players a wide range of tactical options. Whereas each striking and passing ability also differs from player to player, it all is far not as frustrating or hard to handle as it may sound at first. Thanks in large to the fact that you can freely customize player positions on the field, it becomes quite tactical which player has to assume which position to achieve the best advantage for the team in the match. It's fun to poke around and experiment with different systems and strategies in the game to get the best results and it all gives the player much more of a gratifying feel that not only his skills in direct matchplay led to the victory but also his sense of strategy.
Strategy and customized team formations on the field become especially crucial when facing off against teams with star players like Messi or Ronaldo. And while star players once again are clearly overpowered in comparison to most of your players, it is somewhat realistic and at least offers quite and extra set of challenges to achieving a victory and giving you a further drive to think about tactics that can make all the difference.
|Customizing and improving your team formation is often the key to victory.|
Modes - "Never Back Down"
Modewise, PES 2016 much like its predecessor, isn't stretching out to far into new territory - but it also doesn't really have to.
While first of all, it should be mentioned that the menu itself has been redesigned and made far more user-friendly (you can even re-arrange it and pin your favorite modes), there isn't really much to get confused with in the first place: PES 2016's two main modes are Master League and MyClub.
While MyClub is simply the same mode from PES 2015, it's Master League that offers the primary meat here. Master League is pretty much the game's career mode and is expectedly handeled as such much like in previous PES itterations or sports games as a whole. While there are also different leagues that can be played, along with the usual suspects like Quick Matches etc., there is nothing out of the ordinary here. But that's not too bad given the fact that there is also not that much room for experimenting with modes in soccer and never really has been.
Looking at the licenses, it's clear that PES' biggest rival Fifa once again has and always will have the upper hand in this regard. But even considering this, it is a strong move on the franchise's part that PES doesn't give up but nevertheless tries to move forward. With licenses from older cups extended and some new exclusive licenses won, PES obviously knows that it overall can't hold a candle against FIFA's large array of cups and teams yet nevertheless doesn't back down, which is to be respected.
MyClub, PES' version of EA's Ultimate Team mode, doesn't boast many changes but some welcome tweaks here and there. Player levelling for example feels (just as the gameplay itself) more focussed and tailored to individual players. Players will gain additional experience by linking up with specific trainers: should they form an affinity, you’ll get an XP boost.
|Thankfully, menues are now easier to navigate and even customizable.|
Online play works very fluid most of the time with only very minor lag on some (thankfully) non-crucial occasions during the match. The netcode for PES therefore seems to hold up very well.
It all makes for some very fluid and intense matches with real players' teams that really test your skills with the ball and strategy on the field.
However, it won't take long to realize that online play is quite a bit tougher to handle than playing against the game's AI teams. But after all, that's what online play is all about.
Visually, PES 2016 finally quit its shabby PS2-like feel, that haunted it even somewhat in PES 2015, and starts looking next-gen.
Thanks in large to the fact that PES now seemingly takes full advantage of the Fox Engine, players look very realistic just as much as the faithfully recreated stadiums and arenas featured in the game. The game looks pretty good from afar as well as up close and therefore marks a true competition to EA's Ignite Engine used in Fifa.
However, if there is a gripe to be had, it's that one would wish that crowds would look as lively as the players. Sadly, PES 2016 still has to figure this out.
Soundwise, PES 2016 still needs to amp things up, while commentary functions satisfyingly enough for the most part, the game is still very much lacking in creating true arena atmosphere with an effective crowd sound design. Crowds still sound a bit too standard and passive and not as dynamic throughout the game. It's all a very servicable albeit standard sound package.
|Finally PES is starting to look like next-gen, thanks to the Fox Engine.|
After years and years of standing in the shadow of the Fifa franchise, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 turns out as not only a very serious competition for competitor EA Sports but also as one of the hands down best soccer games in recent memory.
After the incredibly fluid and easy to get into mechanics from last year's PES 2015, one would assume that there isn't much that could be improved in the mechanics department. Yet PES 2016 still found ways to exactly do that: with the big focus now being put on individualizing each player, making ballplay and handling dependent on the player's personal physique, size and behaviour, players become more than just usable playing figures on the field but actually feel like individual and unique members of an actual team. Likewise, PES 2016 gives loads of opportunities and options to go really in-depth in terms of tactics and strategy. It won't take long till one realizes that cutsomizing and reorganizing the team's formation will drastically improve the odds to win against a seemingly unbeatable team.
Accompanied by enhanced menu usability, graphics, realistic ball physics as well as player movements, soccer games have never felt this fluid, organic and user friendly in a long time. In the longrun, PES 2016's array of improvements becomes so undeniably apparent that small nitpicks in its presentation here and there are easily overlooked.
PES 2016 is a real treat for soccer- and sports game fans. Considering how easy it is to get into the game's mechanics, how realistic they feel and how strategic and rewarding the gameplay as a whole is, this might just be the time when Fifa officially got dethroned as the best soccer franchise out there by Pro Evolution Soccer.
Final Verdict: 9 out of 10
Big thanks goes out to Konami and Neu:Kom for providing us with a review copy of the game.
Big thanks goes out to Konami and Neu:Kom for providing us with a review copy of the game.