Though I’m not a sports game buff, there’ll always be a special spot in my heart for FIFA Soccer. The Beautiful Game still struggles to take a true foothold here in the states, but the effort and detail that go in to the yearly releases of EA’s football franchise pretty well establishes it as the top dog for many players. Still, each year Konami releases its own take on the world’s most popular sport: Pro Evolution Soccer. After doing some hands-on Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 (or just PES for the hardcore set) I’ll admit that I’m finally starting to get why the series has its devotees: PES feels more technical, precise than FIFA, even though it lacks the polished presentation offered by its counterpart.
Pro Evolution Soccer is a soccer simulation, so don’t expect any crazy fireball kicks or fistfights on the pitch a-la NHL Hitz (can we please have a new NHL Hitz, by the way?). The controls feel more complex, giving precise control of passes, shots, tackles, and all the other moves needed for success on the pitch. PES offers a fantastic tutorial system, though; you can practice arcade-style with each move, successfully dribbling, passing, shooting, and so on to rack up points and get medals. Also, every game action gives you in-game currency to use towards MyClub, a mode where you manage your own soccer franchise, draft players, hire coaches, and push your team towards victory. Again, MyClub feels more technically savvy than its EA-created rival, but I’ll admit that I got lost in some of the overly-complicated menus and player management options. Still, whether playing an exhibition match or tournament, all the gameplay felt like it tied in to a larger effect, something I really appreciated compared to other sports franchises.
One of the biggest payoffs of playing a more technical sports game is the reward you feel when you start to master the mechanics. It’s not enough to just press buttons and hope for the best in PES; you have to understand the nature of soccer itself, manage players, and stay savvy of regulations (I have a serious offsides issue). If you’re looking for something to just jump in and play for an afternoon, PES can feel a bit…sticky or cumbersome. But beauty comes with precision in this franchise, and rest assured there’s a great game underneath the learning curve.
Whether it’s due to budget or licensing, it’s a shame that Pro Evolution 2015’s presentation hasn’t kept up with its gameplay advances. Announcers speak about the teams without using any actual team or player names, and you’ll hear noticeable gaps in on-field commentary as the game fills in variables about which position generically completed a great or terrible move. The soundtrack, though it uses some pretty popular tracks like American Authors’ “Best Day of My Life,” is short and doesn’t really provide any sort of tangible energy. And, though the graphics don’t look bad on the PS4, they still felt a bit jagged, old compared to other titles. None of these facets affect the gameplay, but they do add to the budget-title feeling Konami may be trying to fight off in future years. Though the PES team roster is huge and I certainly wouldn’t expect them to record names for every player on every team, choosing a few crucial leagues and voicing their teams’ specifics would really help to drum up the polished feeling the game lacks.
I haven’t played much Pro Evolution in the past, but I’m planning on playing more in the future. Konami is certainly righting the ship with tight gameplay and deep modes in Pro Evolution Soccer 2015; my hope is that they’ll find a way to throw on some of the bells and whistles to let the world know it’s ready for the big leagues in the future.