There’s a special place in my heart for Pro Evolution Soccer (née: Winning Eleven), a venerable heritage that began two decades ago. I actually used to be an avid player of the series back before college when the PlayStation 2 and its DualShock 2 controller were in their prime.
But tastes change and my interests went elsewhere, although I never truly forgot about PES. Even as Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 debuted quietly for this E3, the series still has an dedicated following despite the more intimate affair held at the Konami booth. Actually it was the only playable title nestled within a private sports bar backdrop, where the beer was plentiful and decor littered with Japanese legacy Winning Eleven memorabilia.
It was certainly more stimulating between the demo of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which was only watchable as the exhibitors passively walked the audience through the open-world mechanics.
Thankfully, PES2016 is a lot more engaging with 1-on-1 controls yet feels very familiar despite to bring the underdog franchise as Marketing Representative Andre Bronzoni and European Brand Manager Adam Bhatti explained – the series has lots of international appeal but the aim of this iteration is to bring it back to the forefront. Chief among them is the continued implementation of the proprietary Fox Engine, which is the graphical heart and soul of the game, as well as drastically improved player models (look at the facial details!) and improved physics for greater realism.
The addition of dynamic weather can and often does change the flow of a match where a sunny day occasionally give way to rain and abrupt change of team tactics, with celebration control making that necessary goal all the more sweeter. The camera issues are also addressed now that the focus is automatically zoomed and tilted to follow the ball better. Quite frankly, it looks damn good overall.
There are other tweaks such as image livery photo importing (PlayStation 3/PlayStation 4), building up the personality of your goal keeper with an ID system, and a heavily revamped Master League for extremely dedicated players. But I got to play a number of rounds with the AI and a few people, and found myself a little out of my element but eventually found the general gameplay very balanced for experts and newcomers alike, the game won’t hold your hand but encourages you to learn the more advanced techniques while you go. The action remains fluid during passing and those sneaky offensive trips with a level of finesse, and holds that grounded edge against EA’s FIFA.
It remains to be seen if Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 will receive the attention it deserves for North America audiences, but at least the rest of the world already knows what we don’t about Konami’s premier soccer/football benchmark. For the passionate fans though, September 15th will be worth the wait.