I have always been something on an unabashed Pro Evolution Soccer fan. Even during the dark days of the early 360/PS3 era, I stuck with Konami’s soccer simulator despite the majority of my friends (and just about everyone else) jumping ship to EA’s flagship sport title. It wasn’t out of some ill-advised sense of loyalty – I just preferred the way that the ball moved in Pro Evo, the way that it hit the net.
The package surrounding the core gameplay was often pretty dire, but the fundamental gameplay itself, that has always remained solid. The thing is, while I am an unabashed Pro Evo fan, I’m not a blind one. FIFA has been a pretty good game since 2010, and on occasions, has been a flat out fantastic one. I might have preferred Pro Evo, but I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it was the better game.
It wasn’t the better game……it wasn’t. It is now though. Having made major strides in the past few years culmination in the largely brilliant, Pro Evo 2015 (the first game in the series that I believe was a fundamentally superior game to EA’s equivalent since the series’ PS2 heyday), I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that this year’s release is unquestionably and incontrovertibly the best football game that money can buy. Now, this isn’t me being blinded by nostalgia for the series that I have loved for so long, this is mere fact. Pro Evo 2016 is, simply put, better than FIFA 16.
Sure, FIFA 16 delivers an incomparable spectacle, and off the pitch, it still provides a level of content and polish that Pro Evo can only dream of, but what really matters, what has always mattered the most, is what happens out on the pitch, and here, this is where Pro Evo gets it absolutely bang on. It’ll never have the financial muscle to compete with FIFA in terms of licensing and marketing, but as the Pro Evo’s own marketing team so succinctly put it, “The Pitch is Ours”. Yes, it’s marketing guff, but as far as marketing guff goes, that is about as accurate as it gets.
The team at Konami know that the only chance they have of winning the battle with FIFA (or of genuinely competing anyway), is by doing things better out on the pitch. Don’t get me wrong, FIFA 16 offers a very strong simulation of the beautiful game in its own right, but this year, whatever your views on the wider experience being offered by the two competing franchises, Pro Evo delivers the more enjoyable recreation of the beautiful game.
While the central gameplay mechanics will be immediately familiar to anyone with prior experience with Pro Evo, an array of subtle improvements have combined to make this the most complete, tactically nuanced and brilliantly unpredictable game in the series’ history. The big change however comes in the form of the all new collision system. Not only does its successful implementation give the game a more natural look, but the way it impacts on the rest of the games’ core systems ensures an experience built upon the kind of subtle physical interactions that are so prevalent in every aspect of the game.
No area of the game has been improved more by the inclusion of the new physics system than the individual player attributes. Unique player skills, animations and abilities has always been one of the series’ strongest points, but in conjunction with the new physics, player abilities feel more realistic than ever before. It is something that FIFA has always struggled to replicate with teams often feeling like eleven clones differentiated primarily by their speed, and while FIFA has certainly made strides in this regard in recent years, the latest Pro Evo takes the concept to all new heights with individual abilities now highlighted to a greater extent than even by realistic interactions and encounters with other players. It’s one thing to see the quick feet and tight turns of Philippe Coutinho replicated with amazing accuracy, but it’s another thing altogether when those quick feet come up against a robust and powerful centre back. Be it a subtle nudge before a shot or a full blooded shoulder charge mid-sprint, Pro Evo 2016 captures the subtleties of those encounters better than any game of virtual football before it.
As always, the tactical side of the game is as robust as ever with an array of options built in that ensure that those who fancy themselves as a bit of an arm-chair Jose Mourinho can tinker with their teams formations and specific player roles until they’re blue in the face. Whether it be an old fashioned rigid 4-4-2 or a dynamic 3-5-1-1 formation with changing roles based upon possession of the ball or position on the pitch, Pro Evo 2016’s fluid and exhaustive pre-game options allow for a multitude of tactical approaches that, perhaps most importantly, have a clear and identifiable effect on the actual game itself.
It’s all good giving the player a million and one options, but if you can’t see the effects of your actions out on the pitch, then what’s the point? Here, whether it be a system built upon counterattacks and speedy attackers or a more route one approach playing to the strengths of your big number 9, each individual match changes and adapts accordingly with the game requiring a carefully chosen squad to successfully compliment your chosen playing style.
While it proves an almost unequivocal success out on the pitch, as always, Pro Evo is a little more lacklustre when it comes to its additional features and presentation. Up close, the game looks great with many of the sports’ biggest stars arguably looking better on Pro Evo than they do on EA’s equivalent, but as usual, the drop off is pretty extreme with lesser known players getting little attention (players of African descent often look decidedly Indian). The stadiums too, while blessed with fantastic lighting, can’t compare in terms of detail or quantity, and with only a handful of licensed stadia to choose from, you’ll be spending a lot of your time playing teams in Pro Evo’s now infamous, Konami Stadium.
As we have all come to expect, licensing remains an issue with no Bundesliga, and of course, no Premier League kits or badges (outside of Manchester united of course) remaining the games’ most glaring omissions. It doesn’t matter much once you’re out on the pitch of course, but honestly, playing as Merseyside Red is still a tad depressing……and don’t even get me started on the Welsh squad.
Saying that, the PS3 and PS4 versions of the game do have a new import edit mode which allows you to download data online to a USB and then copy that info into the game. Yes, it’s a bit fiddly, but thanks to some very impressive community work, getting a full pack of perfectly recreated Premier League badges and kits is actually relatively easy.
I’m notoriously rubbish at this type of thing and it only took me an hour or so to get all of the Premier League teams bang up to date. Sadly, as of the time of writing, the same feature is not available on the Xbox One meaning that editing for the majority of Xbox One owners is unlikely to go far beyond the changing of team names. There has been no reason given for the admission thus far, but considering how successful it has been on the PS4, its exclusion will prove a major disappointment for Xbox owners of the game.
It’s not all gloom and doom though – the once great Master League has recaptured its former glory, and while myClub can’t match FIFA’s, Ultimate Team, it has once again seen an array of incremental but universally positive updates that help to make it a genuinely enjoyable alternative. The usual array of fantastic UEFA licenses are present and accounted for (the official Champions League License proves as stirring as ever), and while it’s still a little rough online, the overall package is a major step up from last years release.
The commentary, despite its first major overhaul in years, remains a long way behind its illustrious adversary, but like every aspect of the game, it’s all moving in the right direction, and unless you’re an absolute stickler for licenses (which can be worked around on PS3 and PS4), there really is no reason not to make the jump back to the good ship, Pro Evo.
Some of the series’ legacy issues remain, but despite being unable to match EA’s presentation and wealth of game modes, Pro Evolution 2016 stands tall as the finest game of virtual football available on the market. The last few years have shown promise, but 2016 is the year that Pro Evo once again became the connoisseurs choice (the Andrea Pirlo to FIFA’s Christiano Ronaldo if you will). There is still room for improvement of course, but while EA continues to chase the tangible recreation of Sky’s Super Sunday coverage, Pro Evo has instead attempted to capture the more elusive essence of the sport itself.
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