Brazil versus Argentina. Arsenal versus Tottenham. U.S. versus Mexico.
Soccer thrives on rivalries.
For many years, the biggest digital derby has taken place between Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) and Electronic Arts’ FIFA. PES used to dominate the matchup until EA revamped its offering a few years ago. Now, the American publisher’s franchise stands as the cup holder.
Since the switch in supremacy, Konami has worked to regain its place as best on the pixelated pitch. Like a struggling superstar looking to regain his form, PES has slowly worked its way back into playing shape, ready for a chance to shine once again.
With the multiplatform PES 2016, available now and reviewed here on PlayStation 4, the Japanese underdog might just have a claim to the championship.
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What you’ll like
Celebrating the fun of football
When did you use fun to describe a recent sports game? I’ve used words like realistic and detailed. Comprehensive, too. But not fun. And isn’t that the reason we play video games?
PES 2016 is fun.
Its version of soccer is fast and frenetic. The ball ricochets back and forth, as players feverishly pursue it. I’ve scored so many stupidly cool goals in this game — because it wanted me to.
The experience is less about physics and A.I. behavior or about mimicking the frustrating, yet authentic, aspects of soccer and more about the magic, the stuff that makes fans argue that the sport is an art form.
Mind you, PES has simulation-based aspects and layered gameplay mechanics, but they don’t break the action’s flow.
I like how you can squeeze the trigger to dribble the ball more carefully, allowing you to execute “jinking” runs past defenders. Pressing a bumper lets you drive through balls as if they were lobs with attitude, leading to wonderful scoring opportunities. The other trigger gives you manual control over your shooting in a simple and elegant way.
These touches lead to the best-playing soccer game available. While FIFA has its intricate control schemes, which in some cases are similar, I found PES to be more enjoyable and dynamic.
And that’s a big deal.
Making the beautiful game more beautiful
PES 2016 features the impressive Fox Engine. That name probably seems familiar because it’s the backbone of the gorgeous blockbuster Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
As you could imagine, PES looks pretty good as a result. In particular, superstars like Neymar (the series’ poster boy) and Lionel Messi (ironically, FIFA’s cover guy) received carefully detailed character models. Actually, most athletes that the general public will recognize have gotten special attention in this case.
You might remember how I mentioned that Roberto Firmino looked like a create-a-player in FIFA 16 when I reviewed that game. Thankfully, the recent Liverpool signing passes the eye test here.
PES 2016 does suffer from that generic look, however, when it comes to part of its roster. I noticed plenty of lesser-known players with different hair, skin, and eye colors than their real-life counterparts.
But hey, even those models benefited from the foxiness of the graphics engine. Although, I will say that the difference between the accurately modeled athletes and the rest of the roster is pretty dramatic.
It’s also worth noting that the uniforms are really sharp. Even the numbers on the back of the jerseys reflect light differently since they’re made of a vinyl-like material. For kit nuts like me, details like that matter.
Championing the club competition
While PES 2016 has some glaring holes with its licensing, it does include some of the biggest club competitions in the world. Having the chance to partake in the UEFA Champions League and Copa Libertadores is pretty great. In the case of Europe’s biggest club championship, even the obnoxious theme song — complete with high-pitched operatic vocals — made the cut.
Fans of South American soccer are especially lucky since they have both the Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana to play through. I really appreciate how fixtures in these tournaments have a distinct feel from the get go, as players walk out to raucous crowds wielding flares that fill the air with smoke.
In terms of the leagues that made it to this year’s title, I’m thrilled to see the entire Brazilian first division, including my beloved Vasco da Gama. Konami even modeled famous Brazilian stadiums like the Mineirão and Beira-Rio. Sadly, the location of last year’s World Cup final, Rio’s iconic Maracanã, is not part of that list.
The French, Dutch, Italian, and Portuguese championships are in the mix, too, along with multiple German teams. English Premier League clubs are present under nonspecific representations — except for Manchester United, which is licensed — but their rosters remain intact.
Plus, Chelsea fans can always jump into the edit mode if they can’t stand playing as London FC.