There’s really nothing like having complete control of a ball at your feet. The way it moves with the slightest touch, or beautifully curves in the air after a sweetly powered shot. The ball ripples the net as the stadium erupts in a wave of celebration, your teammates rushing towards you in a state of jubilation. At its highest point, this is what the beautiful game feels like, and it’s the reason Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 gets so much right.
PES as a franchise made massive strides forward with their annual instalment last year, but it’s PES 2016 that has established a standard that even EA’s FIFA is struggling to hit. And it’s difficult to really figure out why. For the first time in a long time, PES 2016 manages to get the fundamental feeling of football right, but without sticking to the letter when it comes to authenticity. It’s fast, more fluid and on rare occasions wildly ridiculous, but it never ceases to be fun.
A lot of that fluidity comes with the amount of control you’re given on the ball. With the reliance on Konami’s baked-in physics engine, moving the ball from left to right foot comes with the hold of button, while dashing forward with great strides comes with another. It’s rare not to feel in complete control of what you’re doing, in part thanks to dynamic and expertly implemented animations that provide great feedback on how your selected player is doing.
You can see exactly when he’s not going to make a tackle, or is positioned incorrectly for a powerful shot. Better yet, these can happen at any moment based on tiredness, a changing emotional state during the match and current form. When things do click though, it’s complete bliss. The crunch of a desperate last man sliding tackle, or the unapologetic thud of a ball being smacked for the top right – these are all moments that make up matches in PES 2016. And it’s like crack for any football fan to be a part of.
It’s a good thing too that the game around it is somewhat generous, towards a more fun style of football. Referees specifically are pretty lenient when it comes to bone-crunching tackles as long as you get the faintest touch on the ball, and goalkeepers often look like they really could’ve saved some of your more spellbinding shots. That doesn’t mean you’re going to have crawling, injured players all over and score sheets the resemble something more akin to a rugby score, but it does give the game a far more satisfying feeling when actually playing.
That satisfaction doesn’t carry over into the systems that manage everything off the pitch though. PES 2016 features a far more intuitive UI than before, but it’s still a mess of menus that respond sluggishly and look far below par. Getting around tournaments and team selections can often be a chore, which is sad considering the deep options available here. Formations, for example, can be edited so that they dynamically change during a match – taking into account whether you’re attacking or defending.
Options files also play a great part in ensuring authenticity is preserved in the still unlicensed PES 2016, although the menu system does make it more work than it should be. Pick up the files online, load them up into the game and I was soon looking at an exact replica of my beloved Chelsea team – in all their poor form, game-losing glory. It’s great that there is a system in place to streamline this process as best as Konami could, but it’s still something that you have to physically do to get full leagues looking normal.
Also, it isn’t available on Xbox One, so that’s bummer too.
Thankfully that doesn’t get in the way of the expected wealth of content PES 2016 has to offer. Modes such as MyClub, Master League and become a Legend all return in their usual spots, each with small enhancements to their established formulas. Master League, for example, has learnt a lot from Football Manager – giving you great control over your club with intuitive tools that map out past and upcoming games, as well as details on your current squad.
Online play is also pretty great too, with most of the matches I engaged in going off without any real problems. There’s a little lag here and there, but it never made the difference between me either annihilating my opponent, or the far too frequent opposite. PES 2016 also updates players statics weekly now, to keep the sense of realism going for the next calendar year. I do wish that Konami didn’t feel the need to bombard me with server update messages every time I started the game though.
Running on Konami’s Fox Engine (the same that powers Metal Gear Solid V), it’s no question that PES 2016 looks the part too. Details such as shirt ripples to the blades of grass on the pitch are crisp and jaw dropping, even if character models themselves look like they’re eternally drenched in buckets of sweat. At the very least we know what Neymar would look like if he ever chose to change up his Brazilian sporting career for diving into a real pool instead of a grass one.
Still, these small problems are essentially throw away when you consider just how much PES 2016 gets right in the most important parts of the game. A football game needs to feel right, and PES 2016 is probably the best example of that on the market right now. It’s fluid, fast and a joy to play – which is really all you can ask for when sitting down to score some scorching goals and make some split second saves.
Last Updated: October 5, 2015