RETROSPECTIVE: PS4 VERSION
Do you like football? Do you like football computer games? Do you like ankles? Do you like underwear combustion tablets? No reason, I’m just interested.
We don’t have much time. Let’s get into this immediately. The controls to PES 2016 are wonderfully contextual. No messing with special button combinations to flick the ball around the pitch, the passing’s crisp, the player AI’s superb, it looks great. Want to ping the ball across the pitch? Sure thing, Baines.
So there you have it, PES 2016 is the very best football videogame at this current moment in time.
What do you mean you want more?
You’re in for a treat as I’ll attempt to bore the absolute pants off you in this lengthy retrospective. Be warned, go make your cup of tea now, or ya’ know, do something far more interesting.
I’ve been playing football games since the Amstrad, and most of those ye ol’ games were just a bit shit.
As you can tell from the above picture, amazing times. Better football games came along such as Emlyn Hughes International Soccer (1989) and Kick Off (1989) and previous drafts of this article turned into a whimsical list, as I tumbled down the despairing pit of nostalgia. Most of those games of the distant past had a loose connection with the actual sport of football. This era (with little choice) concentrated more on the game aspect rather than being any sort of sports simulation. Sensible Soccer (1992) perfected football as a computer game.
It’s still infinitely playable today, especially Sensible World of Soccer, but the next generation of consoles allowed sophisticated animations and allowed for the pursuit of simulating the sport itself. ISS Pro Evolution (1999) hit the Playstations of this world and again set a new level of excellence. It looked ever closer to real life football, with a greater depth of control with through balls and one-twos. You can pretty much pick any of those early Konami titles to be that generation’s football champion, Pro Evolution Soccer 3 (2003) on the PlayStation 2 was my favoured choice.
Not long after this era the football genre stopped giving us tremendous choice and fell under the stranglehold of Fifa and PES, which in recent years has been completely unwarranted.
Both had found a cosy formula and both have not done enough to push the boundaries. By concentrating solely on the simulation part of game, the genre had become stagnant. Surprisingly, no other large developer has even attempted a fresh take on one of the most popular sports in the world. In the past we had top down views, punching other players, kicking the ref… in short; we had ideas and choices. Lots of ’em.
I’d love to see a proper interpretation on being a single player in a team. Not like the light single player versions buried within Fifa and PES, as they never seem to have a comfortable camera view. Maybe include some fun RPG elements, or some personal pre-match drama, or gambling side game. Something like Telltale’s Walking Dead meets PES, with slightly more dressing room boot-kicking and brain eating.
Plus the yearly updates have taken its toll, I would appreciate a rest of a year or two between releases. It might allow for some actual progress rather than baby steps.
So… PES problems. Since its inception PES has always suffered terribly from its licencing issues. No one wants to play as Shitham United. People still steer clear of PES because of this one issue. Yes, you can spend hours inputting correct emblems, strips and players, but no one wants to spend hours doing that.
The player database has been updated at the time of writing this and it still feels out of date. On release, the database was a season old. Completely shoddy and without a shred of proof, it’s obviously the publishers fault. C’mon, it must be them right?
Also the Master League is also… well.. shit. There are leagues, cups, transfers, players conditions, but Football Manager it is not. At its kindest, you could say its serviceable. I mean it doesn’t even have a transfer deadline day! Regen youth players with the face of ancient Frank Lampard is a magical sight to behold.
I’m not a huge fan of online gaming gibberish, much preferring local multiplayer, but even I can recognise the online component is lacking. I tried myClub and it lost my attention within a week. Also Konami being Konami, the game constantly insists on “establishing communications” for scrolling through its menus. The fucking menus! It’s slow, obnoxious and in my case, completely unnecessary.
So that’s the problems out the way, so what makes it so good?
It’s all about the action on the pitch. I decided to start the Master League with Fulham and immediately purchased a better defensive midfielder than the ageing Scott Parker. When I took Parker out of the team, I had lost that combative cover in the middle of the park. I had technically better options but Parker was a general, excelled in his role and you felt it when he was missing. Players have character. Contextual controls and smooth passing is one thing, we’ve had that for some time. Exceptional AI and actual personality makes all the difference.
In the recent past every in-game football player felt kinda the same, unless they were special or fast. Here you can feel the difference between the big sod up front or the nippy little sod. A ball playing central defender and a brute. What’s better then a brute? A brute on his arse because it’s pissing down and the poor guy can’t keep his balance.
Most of this generation’s football games have had two tiers of digitalised footballers:
The Messi star players that you’ll constantly come across if you ever decide to play online and everyone else who isn’t a star player.
The star player can single-handedly ruin every match by virtue of the magic overstep button or ‘goal when you feel like it’ button (shoot). The everyday stock-players may have different faces, but are mostly identical, with some being a little faster then others.
Off the pitch you can employ fluid tactics that change whether you have possession of the ball or not. For example, when you lose the ball you can set your wingers to fall back to the half way line, but in possession, change them to second strikers. You can set your team to chase the ball down or have them sit back depending on your style and available players. Shockingly, it all works incredibly well. You can’t say there are a wide selection of options at your tactical disposal, but what is there is meaningful. Sometimes I feel the tactical set up and the on the pitch action are two separate things. in PES 2016 your changes mean something and your players adapt to your team’s style of play.
If so inclined you can set your controls and options up to your heart’s content, personalising every aspect of the game. Or if you’re anything like me completely ignore it, forever closing my heart to the art of manual passing.
Player roles in PES 2016 actually mean something. Each individual talent shines through and is mostly contextual to the player. You do feel the difference between the donkeys and the not so great players, but it doesn’t mean they’re completely useless. Furthermore the fact that all players have become far more useful, means a forgotten remnant of the past returns to the world of modern football games.
Your own skill is once again, as important as the team you control.
It’s a challenge but you can beat Real Madrid, if you’re good enough. Tactical quick thinking or even hoofing the ball up to a big bloke can result in success. Taking advantage of the space, or even the slipperiness of the ball in the rain can work wonders. A special mention needs to go to the way the ball itself handles, at times never quite in control, pinging around much like the real thing. Hitting the perfect volley really does feel like you did it. On the other hand a player’s heavy touch may result in the ball smacking the ball boy in the face. This may have been caused by that bizarre stick manoeuvre you carried out, as you jammed all your fingers onto the sprint button.
A simulation’s great, but a straight simulation finds it hard to account for this:
It can get better as there’s plenty to polish or reinvent (Master League needs ditching). You can throw in more animation, create more player roles, tweak and improve the AI, get some proper crowd chants, sort out the useless player ratings and improve the edit system (QR codes anyone?)