2015 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Pro Evolution Soccer franchise. It’s had its ups and downs, as all longstanding series do, but though it lived in FIFA’s shadow for many years, last year’s iteration saw the once-preferred soccer game reemerge as not only a serious contender for FIFA’s crown but also a refocused experience far less concerned with emulating the successes of EA’s series. Now, with PES 2016, Konami thrusts its flagship franchise into uncharted territory, profoundly establishing it as a series designed for true lovers of the beautiful game.
PES 2016 invites players to immerse themselves in the granular tactics of soccer. You can employ fluid formations, which change depending on whether your team is defending or on the attack, and program your own players to perform certain maneuvers and form different shapes depending on what sort of game you want to play. More of a route-one, kick and run player? Set up your team to welcome long balls and stretch defenses. Prefer a more calculated tiki-taka style? Utilize a more condensed, fluid and supportive formation, full of passing triangles and runners looking for the ball in behind. PES 2016 lets you tailor your team’s performance however you wish, making each victory feel well-earned and every match an unpredictable encounter.
Of course, there are risks involved. Choose a formation with counterattacks in mind and you could leave yourself open for your opponent’s own breakaways, which could be fatally exploited by a speedy forward with clinical precision. Fail to recognize your defender’s plummeting form and fitness and you could be on the end of some painful errors towards the end of the match. There’s a lot to consider in PES 2016, and each element only grows more important and more sensitive as you turn up the difficulty.
Even then, however, PES 2016 always gives players the tools to turn their fate around. It’s immensely satisfying to tweak a small element of the formula, be it introducing a more rugged forward in the twilight of the match or dropping one of your midfielders into a more defensive role, and feel tangible, game-changing results. PES 2016 rewards players with astute tactical intelligence and the willingness to experiment, but it’s also a ruthless in its punishment of your own errors. True to life, one lazy or misplaced pass can result in tragedy, and the pressure to perpetually think two steps ahead makes every match tense and exciting.
PES 2016 is a gloriously comprehensive soccer sim, but its overzealous commentators often ruin the immersion. It’s one thing to hear the same handful of quips and shallow analysis over and over, but when even the tamest of shots are met the same, exaggerated shouting of the name of the player responsible, it makes the moments when you finally do unleash some magic feel significantly less special. It’s a shame, especially considering the game’s robust and realistic approach to nearly every other facet of the soccer experience, but nothing that should steer you away from PES 2016.
Pro Evolution Soccer has always prided itself on its realistic interpretation of the beautiful game, but this year’s enhanced physics engine completely revolutionizes the series. Each tackle is unpredictable, dictated by the players’ physical attributes and momentum, making the entire experience incredibly dynamic. The results are fantastic, capturing the physicality of soccer better than any video game before it; a small, well-timed nudge can put off a forward’s strike, or ruin an important first touch. Tactful use of strength is one of the most important and understated elements of soccer, and PES 2016‘s enhanced emphasis makes it feel significantly more realistic and responsive as a result.
With this iteration’s added emphasis on physicality comes a delightful lenience from the referees, making the firm-but-fair tackles synonymous with the sport at the highest level more practical and enjoyable than ever before. That’s not to say that you can get away with murder; refs will still shower discipline upon you if you put one stud out of line, but they’re also much more inclined to let clean and crunching tackles slide by without a whistle. It’s a significant improvement over last year’s entry, which I felt too often punished me for the same challenges.
Konami has brilliantly individualized players with this year’s Pro Evolution Soccer, emphasizing the physical attributes and skills of nearly every athlete so that each one feels unique to control. In tandem with the significant impact of the game’s new physics engine, there’s an elevated sense of unpredictability and personality this time around; small, fleet-footed playmakers like Philippe Coutinho can go on mazy runs at ease, but don’t always have the end product to match, while incredible strikers like Fernando Torres thrive on inch-perfect through balls and finessed finishes. As such, you have to pay attention to who is in your team and who they’re squaring up against in order to formulate your strategy for success; your zippy winger may be great for getting the ball up the pitch, but he won’t do much good when he’s being out-muscled by a sturdy outside back. Again, PES 2016 challenges players to be deliberate in their lineup and formation decisions, offering fantastic, tangible feedback throughout each match.
As is always the case with series, PES 2016 is no match for FIFA 16 in the licensing department. You won’t find teams like Liverpool or Chelsea by name, but the players you know, love, and admire are there bearing everything but the crest you’re used to seeing them wear. On the plus side, PES 2016 retains the glorious Champions League mode of past entries, complete with the stirring theme and grandeur of the world’s most prestigious club competition. Konami didn’t add any new modes to the roster this time around, but both myClub and Master League have seen subtle improvements to their structures in an effort to flesh out the experiences in light of FIFA’s ever growing mountain of content. EA’s series still has the upper hand in this department, but its grip is slipping.
Side by side, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 doesn’t stack up to FIFA 16 in licenses, game modes, or team selection, but Konami’s annual soccer series once again positions itself as a more complex and realistic soccer experience than EA’s flashy but predictable offering. With individualized players, explosive tactical potential and unparalleled realism, PES 2016 redefines what a soccer game can be.