A challenger appears.
As with FIFA 15, our brief time with PES 2015 at Gamescom revealed several areas that left us pleasantly surprised, along with several more that prompted more questions than they did answers.
But what was most noticeable about Konami's leap onto the latest generation of hardware?
One of the big complaints from FIFA players coming over to PES is the extraordinary amount of control on offer. Everything is mapped to a button, whether it’s basic passing, shooting or tackling, with additional layers of modified animations accessed through double or triple taps, or the more advanced team-mate controls, traps, flicks and jinks accessed with combinations of triggers and shoulder buttons or by whipping both analogue sticks in set patterns. It feels, at times, completely unwieldy.
I've long maintained that control scheme complexity isn't really the issue though (FIFA has a similar number of advanced gameplay modifiers), but more that PES’ basic gameplay feels a little *too* restrained unless you fully understand those advanced features. Player movement and passing is largely stilted without mastering 2014’s pace controls, sidesteps and tricks, and so it was a huge pleasure to discover that 2015 finally tinkers with the balance to provide a more accessible game.
PES 2015 plays a much quicker, more newcomer-friendly game of football.Player responsiveness is instantly, noticeably different. Balls played into feet are controlled in a much sharper fashion, whilst the animation system seems to create a larger number of branching points for players to smoothly (or jarringly, in some instances) segue into new motion. Bulkier players no longer feel like tanks without the close control modifier coming into play, and simply passing the ball around your back four or turning out of trouble in midfield is a much more direct, translatable skill. It becomes more about timing your movement rather than nimble fingers across multiple buttons.
As a result, PES 2015 plays a much quicker, more newcomer-friendly game of football, without sacrificing the depth that die-hard fans are looking for. Passes, through balls and tackling are easier to digest (2015’s tackling system no longer relies exclusively on a timed double-tap, thankfully), with real-world knowledge of players making the game that much more enjoyable.
Pirlo, as my favourite example, can now be played in a fashion that befits somebody of his grace. The better responsiveness allows him to create space in the midfield a little more easily (much like FIFA 2015 in fact), opening up his huge passing range. Silkier players like Ronaldo and Neymar can glide past players simply with use of the left analogue stick, while defenders benefit from the snappier controls to close down space a little quicker without the sticky shoulder-barging that usually saw them latch onto players last year.
You can also burn past people with pace now, and the individual little animation touches for star players will bring a smile to the most jaded of footy fans.
Given the game is now a lot more fluid and attacking chances more prevalent (my first game against the Konami PR resulted in a very un-PES 4-3 scoreline), it’s also heartening to see some work being put into both the attacking AI and shooting mechanics.
Players seem to make more intelligent runs off the ball (I'm not sure if last year’s in-motion tactical set plays are still an option), to the point they almost seem a little too damaging at present. Through balls behind the back four are satisfying but feel a little overpowered thanks to the unerringly brilliant attacking movement, and while the defensive AI did a good job of tracking players (within a few paces) for the most part, there were still a few instances of classic PES-style walkabout centre backs charging out of position for no good reason.
The most important tweak though, is that the balloon-style shooting of 2014 is completely consigned to the dustbin of history.
Sure, 2014 made a little headway on that front by correcting the number of scooped shots with a post-launch patch, but 2015’s shooting feels much more forceful, with more realistic angles and power applied to shots unless your attacker is completely off-balance. If feels like the best parts of FIFA’s manual shooting system combined with PES’ better lobs and chips, resulting in an array of options, whether barrelling at a goalkeeper or shaping up for a 30-yard piledriver. Goalkeepers also now react with less calamity than previous years, which is something FIFA 15 could do well to learn from.
Elsewhere, PES’ presentation and off-the-pitch options have also made the leap into the next-generation.
Gone are the clunky menus in favour of a grid-based system more reminiscent of FIFA, while small features such as week-by-week updates for player ratings show that Konami is more than committed to matching their competition when it comes to maintaining a continually evolving game. There’s no word on any update to their net code just yet though, so whether the competitive online scene will be undercut by some of the issues plaguing previous releases is as yet unknown.
It’s also a much-improved visual feast than even last year’s Fox-engine powered PC release. The PS4 version I trialled showed some subtle lighting effects that produced a realistic daytime or night-time sheen to the action, and although the shadows and general ambience felt a little more static than I'd like, I was assured that those elements are being worked on as we speak. Last year’s huge (post-patch anyway) roster of player faces have been updated and bolstered by further additions, and there were no glaringly obvious mistakes to be found in the teams I sampled during the hour or so with the game.
Aside from the licenses of course, which are still shackled firmly to the ankle of EA.
So is it ready?Almost. PES still has a way to go in terms of matching FIFA’s vast library of player animation, robust physical interaction and bloody-minded license purchases, but 2015 left a better impression on me than any previous PES demo I can remember.
Konami’s sim has always produced moments of magic and realism that differ to EA’s offering, but the level of commitment required to master its systems usually turns new players away before they can see what lies beneath. That should no longer be the case, and in the world of football videogames, increased competition can only result in a better experience for everybody; no mater which side of the fence they reside.
Anticipation rating: watching with interest
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.