Soccer’s growing popularity worldwide has ignited the longstanding rivalry between EA’s FIFA and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer franchises. The two have battled for supremacy for years, but few would argue that recent iterations of PES have paled in comparison to FIFA’s expansive and engrossing soccer experience. Many believe Konami’s series has lost its way, casting aside what made it special in an effort to be more like FIFA with disappointing results. With FIFA 15 failing to deliver in the eyes of many, however, PES 2015 presents an opportunity for Konami to show the world what it’s been missing.
First of all, let’s address the elephant in the room. Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 is embarrassingly bare in the licenses department, a problem that has plagued the series for quite some time. That means that many iconic clubs and leagues like Liverpool and the English Premier League have been renamed to avoid copyright infringement, resulting in an initially foreign selection of teams. It’s an unfortunate compromise, and one that makes FIFA look a whole lot more credible, but if you look past the unfamiliar crests and club names the players are all represented in full, complete with their regularly assigned shirt numbers, stats, and some impressively realistic visuals.
Every year both PES and FIFA claim to have more realistic players models than ever before, but PES 2015 boasts some truly outstanding representations. Most players are immediately recognizable, and while there are still some awkward exceptions even players from lesser known clubs are afforded equal attention. The result is the most visually realistic game in the history of the series, and easily outshine’s FIFA 15′s dated and jagged interpretations.
PES 2015′s visuals continue to impress once the players take the pitch, too. It doesn’t take long before you’re completely in awe of the intricate and incredibly diverse animations Konami has implemented this time around, elevating the game from a simple annual update to something much, much more. You’ll see players gracefully bring a ball down on their chest and slip past a defender, muscle each other off the ball in midfield, and goalkeepers sprawl with spectacular commitment as a forward tries to finesse a shot into the bottom corner. This attention to the minute details of soccer makes for a game that’s thrilling to both play and watch, and sets a new standard for similar games moving forward.
But while PES 2015 isn’t afraid to stride past FIFA in some areas, it takes very legible cues from its rival in others. One such area is the new MyClub mode, which is for better or worse almost identical to FIFA’s own Ultimate Team mode. In it, you’ll start a team from scratch and meticulously collect your favorite players from around the globe until you have formed your perfect squad. Players aren’t free, though, and they’re definitely not cheap. You’ll have to spend the in-game currency accumulated in MyClub and throughout PES 2015‘s many forms of play, but there’s also a slightly steeper option for those unwilling to invest the necessary time. MyClub introduces microtransactions to the franchise, allowing players to spend their hard-earned cash to skip ahead and buy their favorite players without grinding for points. It’s far from some ugly pay-to-win model, however, and equally caters to whichever camp you find yourself in. MyClub is a nice addition, but it doesn’t do much to set itself apart from the more aptly named Ultimate Team boasted by its competitor.
The other usual PES modes are back as well, with Master League, Become a Legend and the various licensed tournaments remaining fundamentally unchanged, but Konami must be applauded for just how perfectly it has utilized the UEFA Champions League license in PES 2015. It’s presented exactly as you’d see it on television, and beautifully bellows the tournament’s stirring anthem before kickoff and while in menus. Champions League fans will adore this faithful rendition of the world’s greatest soccer club competition, and Konami very clearly knows it has something special here.
As superb as the Champion’s League mode is, the real star of PES 2015 is, rightfully, the gameplay. Konami has brought the series back to its roots with a welcome return to focus on the player’s access to accuracy, flexibility and control in any given match. Running alongside an impressively adept AI system that has players making intelligent runs, adapting to opponent’s fluid tactics, and individual players behaving as you’d expect them to in reality, PES 2015 is an incredibly tuned and exceptionally faithful soccer simulation.
Weathered FIFA players may take some time to adjust to the enhanced control you have over every play, but once it clicks you’ll be spraying perfectly weighted passes all over the pitch, dragging your opponents out of position, and beating the offside trap with elegant through balls. Each match is fluid, complex and utterly unpredictable, invoking a replayability sorely missing from other similar simulations. PES 2015 understands the beautiful game more than perhaps any soccer game before it in that it values shrewd, granular tactical assessment over all-out offense, and gives players all the tools they need to weave a different type of magic every time they kick off. It provided me with that same excited tension synonymous with the best matches the sport has to offer, and made me really feel and appreciate every victory and loss.
That isn’t to say the game is perfect, however. As a player with penchant for firm-but-fair tackles, I was frustrated to find that referees in PES 2015 are frustratingly intolerant when it comes to meaty, ball-winning challenges. This removes some of the raw athleticism from the spectacle, but ultimately doesn’t ruin the experience. PES 2015‘s presentation also feels a little halfhearted at times, as bland and generic menus rob some of the luster from this excellent soccer experience. True fans of the world’s game will see past this, however, and appreciated PES 2015 for the thoughtful, faithful, and addictive game that it is.
After a few submissive years, Konami has put forth a game that caters to soccer fans with superb flexibility for creative expression, fluid gameplay and astoundingly intelligent AI. The lack of licensed clubs and presentation standards well below the competition make it appear like a sub-par package, but it won’t take long on the pitch to realize the quality of the soccer PES 2015 is build around. Unfortunately, these superficial flaws will keep many FIFA players from tasting what is easily a superior experience, but fans who appreciate the beauty, unpredictability, and finesse of soccer will find PES 2015 is what they’re looking for.