It’s no mystery that the Pro Evolution Soccer series has required a major overhaul to really make itself a competitor in the footballing sim world again. Yet it’s now evident that the last two iterations of the long-running series are true examples of how refinement, fan feedback, and dedication can pull a once prominent and hugely popular series back into the limelight with positive results. PES 2016 is an excellent football game, and takes the Pro Evolution Soccer series back in to the days of when it was king.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 is all about the gameplay, which has been the case for most of the iterations in the series, and that shows through. All positions on the pitch have been tweaked and improved this year, with the defence now realistically tracking runs, midfielders pushing to intercept through balls played out of defence, and strikers making runs that emulate that of the real game. This makes for a much more realistic depiction of the real world game of football, although the victims of the improvements have been the goalkeepers, who unfortunately still stumble around and make unnecessarily silly errors.
The improvements in positioning and the intelligence of team AI make for a better experience while you’re on the ball, too, as there’s usually always a player available for you to swing a pass out to. Lobbed through balls are still quite overpowered and are the go-to option if you’re trailing in a match, although the refined AI are now more likely to pick out and intercept these passes, which ultimately leads to a game that feels more realistic than that of previous iterations in the series.
Running at defenders and making use of your wide options still remains a paramount part of the enjoyment of Pro Evolution Soccer 2016, and while it’s clearly evident that dribbling and passing have been refined again for this iteration, player movement still feels a bit limited. This becomes most apparent when a player’s trying to keep a through ball in play. While players in the real game will stretch out a leg to keep the ball in play and continue an attacking move, Pro Evo’s players run behind the ball and just watch it roll out of play without even trying to keep it in. In tightly contested games, this is incredibly frustrating considering the major improvements that have been made elsewhere.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2016’s presentation is top-notch this year, utilising the Fox Engine brilliantly to bring some of football’s biggest and most historic stadiums to life. Well known players like Ronaldo, Messi, Rooney, and Ibrahimovic all look great respectively, and that’s a constant throughout PES. Most of the players you’ve grown to know while watching football look excellent here, although this makes the generic player models in the lower divisions look all the more obvious, taking away from the immersion and experience ever so slightly.
As has been a major crux since Pro Evolution Soccer’s inception, the licenses for the Barclay’s Premier League and surrounding cup competitions aren’t available, so well known clubs like Chelsea and Man City are dubbed London FC and Man Blue respectively, with generic kits slapped on them. You can counteract this by importing kits made by a select group of creatives on the internet to achieve a closer depiction of the league if you’d like, although that’s only limited to those with the PlayStation 4 version of the game and it takes a little while to work through the manual import.
Master League, Pro Evolution Soccer’s premier mode, has been completely reworked for this year’s entry and it’s a major step forward. The main hub has been redesigned and makes navigating the mode much easier than before. Team spirit, another term for team chemistry, is introduced to the mode this year and is indicative of how your team’s gelling with the formation and other players you’ve thrown in to the starting 11. Having a higher team spirit will see your players play better, and this is an enjoyable, albeit minor, change to the formula of Master League. Other than that, everything is more-or-less the same with the other major change being a monthly analysis, which will give you in-depth details on your top scorers, how you played throughout the month, whether you prefer counter attacking or possession-based football, and so on. This is a welcomed addition to the Master League formula and will surely appease those who enjoy examining and working on their game through the analysis of statistics.
Pro Evolution Soccer’s version of Ultimate Team, dubbed MyClub, is back in PES 2016 and it’s perhaps the weakest of all of the modes available. While it’s enjoyable setting up your own team and playing through games against the AI and other online players, it just doesn’t have that sense of enjoyment or jubilation that’s felt with FIFA’s Ultimate Team.
Perhaps the biggest improvement seen in this year’s Pro Evolution Soccer is the commentary. Jon Champion is gone, and in his place comes Peter Drury — a name many Premier League fans will know quite well. Drury’s commentary is more insightful and exciting, and while it does get repetitive after a couple of hours of play it’s a major step up in terms of making the commentary feel like a positive piece of the package rather than a negative one. Peter Drury and Jim Beglin are a much better team than Champion and Beglin were in previous entries, and while Drury’s raised tone can become incessantly annoying at times, it certainly compliments the game a lot more than the lacklustre Champion-Beglin duo did.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 is a major improvement in almost every aspect, heralding a welcomed return from a series that fell from grace for quite some time. The game’s focus on gameplay and enjoyment makes for an ultimately very entertaining experience for football fans alike, with the reworked Master League and commentary contributing to a PES package that has never really looked and felt better. There’s still a ways to go to reach the apex of the hill once again, but the strides Pro Evolution Soccer has made over the past two years certainly bodes well for the series’ future and what’s to be expected next year.
Developer: PES Productions
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
A review code was supplied by the publisher.