PES 2016 Review

PES 2016 Review

People reading this will probably already be familiar with Konami’s list of misdeeds against the PC version of PES 2016. But let’s go over them again anyway.

It has pretty rubbish graphics. Far worse than those found in the PS4 (or even Xbox One) version of the game. This is most clearly demonstrated by the appalling low-res crowds, which I could almost consider charmingly naff were I not continually mistaking them for dozens of cloned Konami executives raising a middle finger in my direction.

You wouldn’t necessarily know the PC release looked any different from the PS4 one, though. Konami decided that, rather than being honest about those differences, they’d instead fill the Steam store page with PS4-quality images. Those incorrect images are still there. If only there’d been some sort of pre-release demo for PC players to try, eh? Alas, PC players had to wait until “release day” (which turned out to mean “several days after release day”) for a demo.

For those reasons you may wish to have absolutely nothing to do with PES 2016 on PC, and I can certainly understand that point of view.

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No need to point them out, we can see for ourselves how bad they look.

If you can get over the graphical equivalent of a videogame publisher laughing in your face, then PES 2016 on PC actually seems to play the same as the PS4 version. I can’t be absolutely certain about that because definitive confirmation from the game’s creators simply isn’t out there, so most evidence is of the empirical sort. It feels awfully close to the PS4 demo to me (which, as an earlier build, is slightly different from the release version in itself), and the modes of play are present and correct. Master League, myClub, Online Divisions and the rest all appear on PC.

To wrap up this stuff about the graphics, it’s worth bearing in mind that the flexibility of the PC version and an active modding scene could turn this false start around into something much more impressive. The early signs are pretty good (improved pitches and the like), so a month or so down the line the PC release could be looking quite nice and may even have some substantial tweaks to how the game plays.

Not that this really excuses the initial release in any way.

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Man United look like a collection of misshapen gargoyles, so that much is accurate at least.

Received opinion about the FIFA/PES differences in recent years tends to lean towards FIFA being the more frantic, arcadey one with pre-determined animations, and PES being the football-centric, possession-based one for purists of the game. There are still aspects of truth to that, but (based on FIFA 16‘s demo, which may not be entirely accurate), the two may be moving closer together this year.

Unless you reduce the default speed of play (which you can’t when playing online), the top players in PES 2016 produce pretty swift play. It’s more ponderous in the lower leagues or with inferior clubs, but the stars can get about at a fair crack. There are also more animations than ever before, to the extent that sometimes players occasionally have to perform a sort of ‘drift’ effect in order to both play out an animation and execute your input commands.

In PES though, there is more freedom on the pitch, to the extent that it makes the field of play seem larger. Much as I have a lot of time for FIFA, once you start to become familiar with the patterns of attack and broader play, you start to see them rather frequently. You become acutely aware that even though it looks like you should be able to play a rapid, low cross to an onrushing forward, you’ve been in this situation before and (even if you turn off the assists) it just won’t work from this particular position.

My comparative unfamiliarity may be partially the cause here, but I’ve not yet felt that disappointment in PES 2016. Even with some of the assisted controls left on, I’ve already scored a number of goals that (for better and worse) just wouldn’t be possible in a FIFA title. I feel slightly more in control of what individual players can do, and that control feels quite snappy and responsive.

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Not as snappy as Pirlo’s beard, but hey, what is?

That much is great, but there are some pretty clear problems too. Most of these could, potentially, be fixed with a solid patch (or a smart PC mod), but collectively they’re quite troubling.

As has been well documented on forums across the internet, the PES 2016 ‘keepers are fairly hopeless at close range shots. This is the case both online and in single player, and seems to persist across difficulty levels (at least insofar as it affects your own goalkeeper). Arguably similar to real life; though real life football isn’t nearly so end to end across five minute periods.

An even more significant issue, though, may be contributing to how often the ‘keepers are getting shown up. Much as I like the level of control PES 2016 gives you over formations (to the extent that you can select different options for when in and out of possession), central defenders are sometimes quite happy to leave a rather sizeable gulf between them. If they’re too far apart, even taking immediate control of the nearest player and legging it back into position is sometimes not enough to prevent an opposing player taking advantage. More experimentation with tactics might be needed on my part to reverse this behaviour.

In addition, sometimes the new collision system decides that you’ve just not won the tackle against an onrushing forward, or makes you stumble, or bobbles the ball off a piece of anatomy to a different opposition player. Online, this is vaguely ‘fair’ to both sides, but it’s less welcome in single player. There, the AI seems to score one type of goal a fairly large proportion of the time (exploit a giant gap, or exploit a lucky ricochet, then fire low and hard into the very bottom corner of the net).

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Credit where it’s due though – that’s a great save.

I don’t want that to come off as complaining about PES 2016 being ‘too hard’, or whatever. If anything, a lot of those aspects work just as much in the player’s favour. I’ve been steadily working my way up through Professional, and even on ‘Top Player’ you can take advantage of the same Red Sea gaps in defence as the AI.

It helps that you can apparently foul everybody with almost total immunity. Once I discovered that the sliding tackle is only ever punished in the most obvious of circumstances (scything someone down as the last man when they’re running through on goal will just about alert the ref from his slumber), it was open season on opposition shins.

This lax attitude from the officials would probably be cause for alarm among online players, except for the fact that input lag makes pulling off an already somewhat slow sliding tackle a risk too far. There’s already a slight delay to most actions (like passing) while the power bar charges up to the desired level and the animation executes, but when you add some online input lag it can make any dwelling on the ball seem like a bad idea.

The PES 2016 online structure has been just about functional for me, if unspectacular. Perhaps I was predominantly being matched up with people in Europe (I’m in the US), or perhaps my connection wasn’t optimal. Whatever the case, input lag persisted throughout every game and directed a ping-pong passing style in most cases (as this is the safest thing to do under the circumstances). It can result in some exciting, high-scoring games, but doesn’t exactly feel as if it’s the way PES is intended to be played.

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A pretty typical online scoreline here (this image also features the HD pitch mod).

There does at least seem to be a decent community on PC. Getting games in myClub wasn’t too tricky, and there were friendly lobbies with several hundred people in them over the weekend (a couple of thousand were playing on Steam in total).

I’ve complained about a bunch of issues here, but I do actually like PES 2016 up to a point. Even the usual hodge-podge of proper licenses and made up club names can be quite fun in the right context. Though I realise not everyone will feel this way, Master League (the PES ‘Career Mode’, effectively) actually benefits from the unreal nature of the licensing situation. It’s so detached from reality that it suffers far less when weird transfers and other oddities occur (whereas in FIFA, these things instantly destroy any authenticity).

I’m also very keen on Master League quirks like players getting nicknames from the fans, developing titles like Leader or Hot Prospect, and the way teams need to spend time together before current players will gel with a new formation or transfer arrival. That stuff is all unique and adds the sort of flavour sadly lacking in FIFA’s dour and mundane approach to a club Career.

What can’t really be explained, though, is Konami’s inability to keep up with recent real life player transfers. Several days after release, PES 2016 is still stuck with team line-ups from about three months ago. That’s all rather embarrassing.

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Master League also has a bunch of stats, which are actually pretty neat.

MyClub, PES’s attempt at an ‘Ultimate Team’ style fantasy squad building mode, goes even deeper than Master League with some light RPG mechanics. Players gain experience points (and stat boosts) for performing well in matches, and you can burn unwanted player cards by turning them into trainers and ‘feeding’ them to members of your main squad. New players are signed by using earned scout cards, or buying agents with the currency you earn from matches (you could spend real money too, if you want, but like Ultimate Team this doesn’t seem hugely necessary).

The lack of a transfer market limits your options for getting the team you truly desire, but I guess that’s by design, because it forces you to make the best of what you have. This further feeds into the aspects of teams playing better together once they’ve had a chance to familiarise themselves with a formation and new team-mates.

Though the single player myClub cups are about as tedious as UT’s AI divisions, it does something much more interesting for one-off AI matches; it puts you up against a CPU-controlled version of a real person’s squad. Much more interesting (in the context of this mode) than playing against a ‘Beginner’ version of East Whickamshirestead Blues or whoever.

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A noble attempt to violate my ankles, but that shot’s already going in.

PES 2016 doesn’t feel like the “best football game ever!” or whatever other gushing phrases those pre-release reviews (some of which hadn’t even touched the online portion) were bandying about. But it’s a reasonably strong alternative title in a genre that now basically only has two competitors. Even with the goalkeeping problems and lack of fouls, I’d put it above last year’s lackluster FIFA effort.

As for FIFA 16, we’ll see in due course.

But there’s no ignoring the afterthought treatment this release got on PC. Mods and user patches may well end up beating this version into being the best PES 2016 of the lot, but that’s certainly not the case with the vanilla build. Given a few more months of community love, this game could turn into something special. Right now though, it’s a decent (but flawed) football title trapped inside a package that’s not just ugly, but one whose second-rate graphics were actively concealed from the general public. That kind of behaviour is just not cricket. Or football.

An open, responsive football title with a lot of individual player freedom, but one that also has dodgy keepers, absent fouls, and the usual iffy online environment. The PC community may bring it up to scratch, but at release it’s an ugly port that does a disservice to the game within.