PES 2015 pulls Konami's celebrated series back into the floodlights
As Konami held PES back from the launch of a new generation of hardware, many of us hoped its eventual release would herald a step onto fresh turf. A new start.There’s ample opportunity for Konami to win back a little of its own territory, luring lapsed players back into the fold with a better-playing game, but also remaining true to the tactical foundation that sees thousands still flock to their side every year. PES 2014 was a tentative move in the right direction, but it was a little too clunky, too slow to control. Shooting was altogether wooly (pre-patch), goalkeepers were too error-prone, and though the improved sensation of weight and movement were hugely appreciated by ardent fans, they were never quite enough to push into into the bracket of must-have sports games.With PES 2015, Konami has finally brought everything together - and it’s glorious. Not only are the core strengths of the series improved in this latest iteration, but it also plays a smoother, more free-flowing game of football than ever before. Long-time devotees of the series will find the same intricately-tactical heart beating beneath its improved Fox Engine-powered visuals, while there’s just enough of a foothold in its accelerated player movement to assist anybody coming over from the other camp. It’s balanced, it’s fun, it’s nine tenths of the game you might have been waiting for.
Fresh legsLet’s start with the areas that matter most: no longer can anybody say that PES has bad shooting, responsiveness or goalkeeper AI. Improvements in all three areas are tangible.
The moment the ball rolls away from that first kick-off, you can feel the work that’s been put into making 2015 a slick experience. Players no longer feel like oil tankers on the default game speed, exhibiting realistically quick turns and shimmies that help create space even without the use of close control functionality. As a result, the difference between fast and slow players now counts more than ever, but skinning a lumbering defender doesn't require the twirl of a right analogue stick or a double-tap sprint (though those are still options); the suspicious catch-up mechanic of yore has seemingly disappeared, so if you can see the space and you've got the legs, you can simply drop one way, accelerate the other and make a sprint for it. Controlling PES 2015 never feels too twitchy for attackers or too pondering for defenders in that regard; the balance feels just about true to life.
Chance creation feels more organic as a result of those tweaks, while passing feels clean, crisp and far more tactile. If you've got the type of intelligent players that can make it possible, then weaving your way through midfield with a series of five-yard passes is a fantastic experience, and on the whole, one-touch football has never felt this good in a PES game before. The increased roster of player animations also makes for a decent level of context-sensitive variety whenever ball meets player in mid-air or on the ground, but could still be improved further next time out.
On default settings, shooting is also vastly improved on last year. The manner in which your player addresses the ball, its resultant velocity and direction all feel a little more authentic, with less of the floaty feel of 2014. Chip shots still trace a suitable arc over the goalkeeper and can be used to dink an onrushing body, while specialist shots like the knuckleball are dangerous only with the right player at the right time. Advanced and fully manual shooting controls offer their traditional increase in variety at the expense of convenience, but also seem far more prone to weirdly conservative player animations, making volleys and headers difficult to pull off in anything but default.
Regardless, it’s the improved goalkeepers that really put those shots in a new light. While there is some ground still to make up here, PES 2015’s stoppers behave in a much tighter fashion than last year’s comedy counterparts. They dive at realistic angles whether making contact with the ball or not, they’ll now dash off their line and make themselves big if necessary, while crosses and corners are punched away to a sensible distance at good-looking angles. They can still be rounded a little too easily, and there’s a gap in the animation roster for shots that loop around 1-2 feet above their head, but they are nevertheless hugely improved on last year.
Inverting the pyramidPES 2015 also continues in 2014’s footsteps by creating the most authentic overall simulation of football yet to grace a console or PC. There’s simply nothing else that can match the myriad AI routines on offer here, and each team’s reflection of their real-world tactics is frequently spot-on.
Take my opening Champions League campaign playing as Chelsea (I’m a Cardiff fan, for clarity). Having cruised through the first couple of games thanks to Eden Hazard’s pace and Diego Costa’s unerring ability to simply not get knocked off the ball, I then faced a crucial two-header against Schalke. On kick-off I was immediately faced with a solid wall of players. Four at the back, two defensive midfielders never less than 10 yards away from their back line, a deep-lying attacking midfielder and two wingers that barely touched the halfway line on attacking runs. It was a siege.
What followed was the single greatest 0-0 draw I have ever played in a football videogame. Try as I might, breaking down those lines was next to impossible. I worked the ball wide, tried to stretch play with overlapping full-backs, moved Oscar directly into the hole behind Costa, and at one point even reverted to a basic 4-4-2; my footballing brain regressing to caveman status as yet another last-ditch block turned the ball away for a corner. A scuffed shot settled the return leg at 1-0, with Schalke pressing high up the pitch in search of an equaliser for the final ten minutes.
The beauty of the PES team AI means that games like these never seem scripted, and so draws and occasional losses usually feel fair. 2015’s artificial brain is another step forward, working in conjunction with the Player ID system to create eerily familiar team and individual performances. There’s still the occasional moment of questionable defensive footing or an example of a player dashing past a blatantly interceptable ball, but those are now few and far between. Playing against a CPU opponent is genuinely thrilling with the right combination of tactics, while playing against another human is just as glorious - provided your opponent understands the fundamentals of their squad.
***a note about PS4 online play***
As we publish this, it’d be remiss not to mention that PES 2015’s online matchmaking is largely broken for huge swathes of European players on both Sony’s consoles, yet works like a charm on Xbox.
The problem seems to be ISP dependant in the UK and limited to Sky and Virgin connections, but having tested both versions, I can verify the PS4 to be a frustrating mess of closed connections while Xbox One matchmakes players within seconds. Konami seem to have gotten the ball rolling on a fix, but no timescale has been stated.
New season, new kitWhile the official licensing and commentary situation remains particularly dire for Konami’s game (Peter Drury and Jim Beglin’s awful quips return), it is a nice change to be talking about a modern PES game and not referencing a terrible interface. Although the same text menus still pop up in abundance once you’re deep into any singleplayer mode, the front-end of PES 2015 has morphed into something altogether more appealing on the eye. It’s a similar sort of gridded interface to that of its rival, but with a quirky PES-style spin. Your most frequently-accessed game modes can be “pinned” to a home screen, while a large-scale model of your club’s star player pirouettes in slow-motion on the right-hand side of the screen.
In my instance that means Fabio dancing around in a red and white striped kit, and although I'm delighted to finally have the English Championship teams in the game, it’s a huge shame that the sterling work of the option file modding scene will likely never come to either PS4 or Xbox One. Kits and names are their usual amusing mess, while player likenesses are nothing short of stunning, with incoming patches set to increase the roster even further.
This is also the year that Konami finally has a punt at taking on Ultimate Team, with a new mode simply entitled myClub.
The formula they settled on is an addictive amalgam of Master League Online and some sort of bizarre lottery, with players taking charge of a lowly squad of bronze-tier players, winning matches and then spending the resultant currency on “agents” to randomly sign new stars. There’s no auction house or direct way of approaching anybody specific, but in practice, the roulette system for signing new bodies does at least force you to experiment a little with your lineup and tactics. It’s fun to spin the wheel and watch a new star roll into your squad, although (for those of you that like a shortcut) the micro-transaction prices to speed up that process are nothing short of exorbitant. It'll cost you roughly £2.00 of real-world cash to get a *chance* of signing a single decent player. No thank you.
Elsewhere, the Champions League, Europa League, Copa Libertadores and the AFC Champions League are all well-represented with their own branded game modes, while Become a Legend and Master League offer up their well-worn delights without too much in the way of changes. It’s all extremely well presented and attractively lit in its new-generation guise, with even the comedy false kits adding a dose of charm.
- Excellent team-based AI
- Increased responsiveness
- Crisp passing and shooting
- Hugely realistic
- Online woes
- Licensing issues
- Terrible commentary
- Occasional individual AI lapses
PES 2015 PlayStation 4 ReviewSo is PES 2015 the most impressive Konami football game ever? Definitely. It’s also certainly the best representation of team-based tactics and overall flow of the sport to date, although whether that translates to the best football videogame will vary from person to person. If you enjoy the analysis of the game and get as much joy out of a sublime one-two as you do from witnessing an improbable overhead kick, then PES is the only choice in town. If you prefer a speedier, amped and more idealistic style of football, then the other camp might apply.
For me, this year, there’s ample room for both. PES has made the stride we all wanted when picking up those PS4 and Xbox One pads a year ago, and it’s a sheer joy to finally have a version of Konami’s simulation that confines so many of its traditional annoyances to the dustbin. This is a slick, deep simulation of the game we all love, and the perfect counterpoint to the current dominant force.
A hugely welcome return to form.
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