Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 Review‏

Let’s get straight to the point – Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 is better than FIFA 15. It’s the all-important question and the only thing that really matters when making the decision of which football video game to pick up this year. While I have always been one of the Pro Evo faithful, I have been happy to admit in recent years that, while I have stubbornly stuck with Pro Evo, EA’s FIFA has unquestionably provided the better game with only my on-going and ill-conceived commitment to the brand keeping me on the Konami side of the fence. Not this year though. This year, I can honestly say, hand on heart, that Pro Evo 2015 is the unequivocally superior soccer experience….well, on the pitch anyway.

As always, FIFA trumps Pro Evo comfortably off the pitch with better visuals (FIFA 15 looks especially magnificent this year), a greater variety and depth of game modes and an altogether vastly superior sense of presentation. Pro Evo 2015 is vastly improved in all of these regards, and is certainly a good looking game in its own right, but make no mistake, despite its best efforts, it’s still lagging quite a way behind EA’s footballing juggernaut.

Still, while EA wins relatively comfortably off the pitch, as Pro Evo’s sale pitch so succinctly puts it , the pitch is unquestionably theirs. The PS2 era Pro Evo releases are rightly celebrated as the high point of the series and what current-gen releases should aspire to achieve, but you know what, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Pro Evo 2015 is the best that the series has been…..like, ever.

Yes, that is a bold claim, but Pro Evo 2015 really is that good. It captures the spirit of the PS2 releases (something largely lost during the PS3 / 360 era), while managing to bring the game up to modern day standards via a collection of fantastic animations and tactical nuances that make the enjoyable but comparably basic FIFA 15 feel decidedly one note by comparison. While this still feels, on a fundamental level, like Pro Evo always has, Pro Evo 2015 looks and plays how you wish it would have in the past. Passes are crisp, shots have a devilish weight to them and animations, although not as slick as in FIFA, do a much better job of showing off individual player attributes.

It could be argued that the player attributes and one-on-one battles represent an exaggerated reality of the game, but it’s a balancing act that Konami have absolutely nailed this year. FIFA’s animations look truer to the sport, but they often lack the excitement or individuality found in Konami’s offering. Star players in particular can be spotted a mile off with Ronaldo’s running style, Iniesta’s slick passing, Hazzard’s quick feet and Suarez’s tight turns all easily identifiable. It’s something that Pro Evo has always been good at, but thanks to the improved visuals, animations and balance are more pronounced and successful than ever before.

These individual attributes make moment to moment gameplay more exciting than ever, but it’s the balancing (something that the series has struggled with in recent years) that really makes this year’s release arguably the finest in the series’ history and inarguably the best since the PS2 era. Striking a carefully considered middle ground between arcade and simulation, Pro Evo 2015 delivers those Match of the Day moments while also managing to provide a football game that puts tactical awareness and careful approach play above cheap thrills. It runs at a heck of a pace (certainly much faster than last year), but it never feels like that speed and urgency comes at the expense of realism. This still feels like football…..it just plays like the highlights.

Pro Evo 2015, like its obvious competitor, can deliver plenty of thrilling 3-3 score lines, but where it excels and sets itself apart is in its ability to deliver excitement in the oft maligned 0-0. It’s something you’ll hear relatively often from Pro Evo fans, but some of the best games you’ll play are closely fought nil-nils or carefully planned encounters that see you nick a goal on the break after a heroic effort at the back. Like I said, FIFA is still an enjoyable game in its own right, but it doesn’t offer the diversity or nuance of a fully functioning and well developed Pro Evo.

With its improved animations, superior passing game, vastly improved AI (team mates make genuinely intelligent runs while the opposition make realistic tactical changes based upon your approach), Pro Evo 2015 really does ‘own the pitch’ this year. Yes, the increased speed does give the game an ‘arcadey’ feel at time, but in conjunction with its wealth of tactical options, nonetheless feels as nuanced and carefully crafted as any true simulation. As I said before though while the fundamental gameplay has rarely been better, off the pitch, things are still a little ropey.

It’s certainly has plenty of game modes and the majority have actually been improved since last year’s release, but the nature of the beast insists that we compare it to the feature strong FIFA 15 – a comparison which isn’t always kind. I would argue that Master League still has the beating of the FIFA equivalent, but with few additions to the strong but long-running game mode, it is starting to look a little long in the tooth. The new transfer system does breathe a little new life in to proceedings, but if any game mode could do with an overhaul, it’s Master League.

In fairness, the reason why it hasn’t seen too much attention this year is probably down to Konami’s efforts to muscle in on FIFA’s money making behemoth, Ultimate Team. Pro Evo’s, MyClub equivalent, while not quite a slick as Ultimate Team, does a decent job of replicating EA’s money making machine by successfully incorporating micro-transactions into a system that just about works without them (just about). It still needs a little work, but as a first attempt, MyClub actually delivers a fiendishly addictive game mode for those willing to spend a little extra real world currency.  With Become A Legend also delivering plenty of entertainment and online looking like it actually works this year, Konami’s cross development between Japan and the UK certainly appears to be paying dividends (heck, even the menus and music are better this time around), but again, despite these improvements, in comparison to FIFA 15, Pro Evo is still lagging behind and missing that extra level of polish that makes EA’s efforts quite so easy on the eyes.

Saying that, the FOX Engine plays its part in making this a very handsome game in its own right. The player likenesses are fantastic (amongst the top-tier players anyway) and the stadiums, although limited in number, are arguably better looking than in FIFA 15 thanks to some very nice incidental details and the beautiful lighting that gives so much of the game a special sense of atmosphere. The crowd is a little fuzzy and of course, there is still the licensing issues to deal with, but for the most part, Pro Evo appears to be a series moving in the right direction in just about every respect.

Not perfect by any stretch, Pro Evo 2015 nonetheless delivers the best game of football that you’ll find on consoles this year. It’s still lagging behind its great rival in terms of presentation and game modes, but out on the pitch, Pro Evo 2015 delivers a carefully balanced and beautifully nuanced recreation of the beautiful game. Licensing inevitably remains an issue, but get past the missing Premier League kits and you’ll be treated to a genuinely fantastic alternative to the flashier but ultimately shallower FIFA 15.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@brashgames.co.uk.

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