In last year's review of Pro Evolution Soccer 2015, we were very happy with how the gameplay felt in Konami's football offering, something we have been more and more disappointed with as far as its main competition goes. This has not changed significantly this year, there is still something special about PES, although they haven't advanced quite as far as we would have hoped.
Unfortunately we didn't have the opportunity to test the game online against other players, so we have been forced to focus on what is happening on the pitch - without being able to navigate what it are typically cumbersome online menus.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 looks really good, at least compared to earlier editions. It runs on the same graphics engine as last year (Fox Engine), but the developers at Konami's football division have obviously become better acquainted with the engine in recent months.
The result is that the game looks almost perfect (even in replays), the players look like themselves, and they no longer run like a bunch of Super Mario brothers. The movement of a player with the ball is more life-like, and passing and shooting animations have taken a big step in the right direction. Short, quick passes or sweeping crosses, they all feel accurate and correct. This is what PES is all about, and it's all been improved - naturally to varying degrees. It is nevertheless sweet that the passes or shots are executed as we press the button, not a few seconds later. It's just very responsive.
Last year we stopped using assisted through passes as it rarely led to anything meaningful. This has been tightened up in PES 2016, and by watching the runs, there is now a much greater chance that the play progresses the way that we imagine it in our mind's eye.
Defending has also been made more enjoyable (for those who think defending is fun). In PES 2016 it's easier to control your player in front of the opponent and take the ball from him without having to resort to extra pressure or a tackle. The ball is thus not glued to the player in the same manner as before, and that is a very positive change.
These improvements do come with some unfortunate drawbacks. Take through balls first, they're not as fun when playing with friends on the same team. The receiver slips into an automatic movement, and this can spoil many of the best laid plans. The recipient can't decide the direction of the run himself, and this often leads to frustration when you both had agreed on something different. Still, you can of course use manual passes if you have the skills needed.
The ability to steal the ball from the opponent without having to press the tackle button is certainly welcome, but sometimes the player tackles anyway. We don't know if it's necessary, but we'd like to point out that this can have catastrophic consequences if you don't have a teammate providing support. It's sad that Konami feels like it has to automatically help us out in these situations, and this lack of control is certainly not welcome.
Sliding tackles have received a little overhaul, and correct angles and sound timing lets you do so-called possession tackles. Sliding tackles are still dangerous to use before you find the right balance, but perhaps it wouldn't been PES without heat seeking sliding tackles. Lucky then that the referee is as lenient as last year. Inconsistent, but generally lenient.
The AI also seems slightly sharper. We often feel like we have a good range of passing options, and the goalie does a better job this time around. It's actually very nice to have a goalkeeper who picks up a ball that is heading over the line for a goal kick. Overall, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 has very few stoppages, something we appreciated especially when compared to the FIFA series.
Unfortunately there are also things to pick on when it comes to the AI, but we'll keep it to a few examples. Firstly we want central midfielders who want the ball (like Rakitic) not to storm up the field when he can also stay back and remain more accessible for the pass, yet he still runs off in the hope of getting a through ball from Busquets. It does not make much sense. And the goalkeeper is good until the first shot is saved. After that he enters panic mode. We've stopped the ball on the goal line before only for the keeper to run up and kick it into his own net. These moments stick with us, and that is not a positive for PES.
We still have to put FIFA 16 to the test, but PES 2016 has placed the bar high. I still wish that Konami had applied even more love, especially in a year where the game turns twenty. All the improvements seem half-hearted, or at least not wholehearted. As if they held back on the improvements when at 80 percent. For example, all the submenus are still bad and a pain to navigate - even after all these years.
After Konami introduced a new mode called My Club last year, they have not expanded it any more in 2016. They have made improvements to the Master League, and those of you who prefer this mode can look forward to more useful statistics, but also the ability to upgrade individual players in different roles on the pitch.
We really hope that the following will be fixed in an update on day one, but for now this is the game we've tested: Di Maria plays with Man Utd, Pirlo provides passes on the Juventus midfield, Schweinsteiger fights on for Bayern Munich and Xavi is stuck on Barcelona's bench. It's not particularly fun to play Champions League with last year's squad, but this will most likely not be an issue come the full launch and the inevitable day one patch.
Regardless of how you look at it, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 delivers an overall football experience that betters the one offered by its predecessor. Some of the flaws still irritate from time to time, but this is another step in the right direction for Konami's football series. There is certainly no doubt that this is our game of choice when trying to recreate the delights of the beautiful game in a video game.
Unfortunately we were not able to test PES 2016 online for the purpose of this review.
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