I apologise in advance for a very long review, but, in attempt to get away with it, I’ll call it in depth.

Pro Evolution Soccer is a game series that has been one of the big dogs, but now it’s one of the smaller dogs trying to be a big dog again. But there’s a pesky FIFA in the way that doesn’t want to give away its place on the throne. However, PES 2015 gave everyone something to think about: is PES worth buying over FIFA every year? The answer is maybe.

The thing is with Pro Evo, is that it is a series that is something of the past, something that people will associate with the ‘glory days’ of the PS2; and, moreover, with fake players, teams and hard controls that need to be mastered to be enjoyed. You can probably guess that these factors will put people off taking the big step of buying a PES game over a FIFA for either the first time in 7 or 8 years or for the first time ever.

But Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 gives everyone some reasons to consider taking that step.

One thing I want to get over and done with at the start of this review is that player faces have improved. No player now looks like a humanoid alien and there are hundreds of players with more realistic faces now; with some of them looking scarily realistic…

Looks pretty real to me.

Now, I played the demo for this game, and I was swayed into buying it over FIFA 15 by it. The reason I was swayed was because of how fantastic it feels to play. Its abundance of new animations makes it look and feel far more realistic than the floppy 2014 game; and the improved graphics, lighting and addition of rainy weather makes it look, and, you guessed it, feel even more realistic, even more! A football game feeling realistic is important, though, considering it’s a simulation game, but most of all because it makes it play better. Floppy animations with a lack of variety in the previous installment made the game feel far less responsive than this new one, and the rubbish animations made you feel frustrated more than anything. Whereas in this game a larger amount of variety in animations and ball physics makes every pass, shot and cross feel and work different than the one before it; and doing these things when your player is in different positions or has more balance on the ball makes it more likely to have accuracy or power, which adds to the realism of the game and makes it harder to shoot, cross or pass on target with power — which is a good thing.

Furthermore, the game includes the midfield in the match, giving centre and defensive midfielders an important role. This is done through making physical battles and possession an important factor in the game — something previous football games haven’t been able to achieve. Also, defending well wins you matches. There are many techniques to defend effectively, you can use your full-backs to block crosses and remove threats from the wingers, or you can ignore them and make sure you deal with crosses and incoming shots through sliding in front of them from a good position – which you have moved to yourself – and clearing the ball away. Making sure every defender is in the right position is important, because if you let a player rush through a gap… The goalie is your only hope. The thing is with the defending in this game is that you can’t just leave it and hope the other team doesn’t score, or just sliding tackle to get the ball in the box like you do in FIFA 12; because you will concede and concede again, and let in a good lot of penalties. This is achieved through the aforementioned improved physicality and a slower pace that forces you to think about every player, involve every player and actually think about tactics: and I love it because it makes it very rewarding when you defend well, and it makes it actually feel like it’s a real football game.

Alright. What do I do? Go in for the tackle and risk giving them a free-kick and an extra man? Or do I ignore him for now and block the gaps for incoming attackers to get through?

Then there’s the shooting. How good it feels. You can boot the ball into the back of the net, curl it into the back of the net, head it into the back of the net, chip it into the back of the net etc… You got my point. There’s a lot of ways to score on this game. Normal shots, finesse shots, chip shots, headers, volleys, chipped headers, chipped volleys, own goals. You get the jist. But yeah, choosing which kind of shot you take can effect whether you score or don’t score, and there isn’t really a sweet spot — except from maybe the finesse shot from aside the goal, but you need to carefully adjust the power and position from which you take the shot, and consider the player’s balance on the ball if you want it to be a goal. The sheer variety you can do with shooting, passing, through balls and crossing gives the game a huge extra-layer to master; which you need to know about to truly be good at the game – like a real football player needs to learn how to do particular things at their best, you need to do the same in this game to be the best at it. But, it’s not like you have to be a master to be able to win anything, as a game against an opponent who doesn’t own the game remains very fun and you could lose or win all depending on your decision making and use of defending and varied shots.

One more thing is that every team feels unique. This is achieved through improved tactical options and the importance of player ratings. Some teams are slower and work better with possession, some teams are quick and can counter at will, and some teams are more of a physical presence. This gives you a harder choice of which team you choose, and actually makes it so that some teams work better against particular opponents; for instance, Atlético Madrid will be hard to beat if you are another possession based team, like, I don’t know, Bayern Munich: but they are easier beat by counter attack based, quicker teams like Real Madrid.

And one final thing: goalies are actually good in the game. In 2014, goalkeepers would slowly dive after the ball has gone past them into the back of the net; and they would mean your defeat. And then in this game, goalies can either be what you depend on for a clean-sheet, or something you have to protect: depending on how high there ratings are. So if you’re playing as Tottenham, you know that if you let an opposition player through on goal, you’ve got a good chance their shot might get saved – because you’ve got Lloris in goal. But then if you’re playing as, I don’t know, Millwall? Well, any team with a weaker goalie, you know that you have to stop attackers before they manage to take a shot – because they will be more likely to go in. And that’s exactly how it works in real life — which adds to the realism and dynamism of the game.

Yes! My goalkeeper can actually save!

So, the gameplay is pretty damn amazing.

However, the game’s not perfect, as only having good gameplay doesn’t quite make a good game. First and foremost, the licensing. Predictable, I know, but the licensing is an important factor in a sports game; especially if your favourite team isn’t licensed. Because playing an ‘English League’ match between ‘Merseyside Red’ and ‘West Midlands Stripes’ doesn’t feel like the real thing (… because it isn’t) and it takes away the authentic aspect that FIFA has so well: with the Premier League, the teams in it, their stadiums and the rest of the football league fully licensed it makes it feel, I don’t know, more real, and more – it’s that word again – authentic. And an atmosphere that just isn’t as effective as in FIFA games makes the matches a little less exciting; although I’ll give Konami that it is the best it’s been in years.

Resorted to editing the teams did you? Well, I did too.

With the game’s presentation, I’ll give it that it’s better than in 2014, and it is more clear cut and the home menu is better than before… But it still strikes me as boring, especially in Master League. Master League, though, is improved from before, with more buying and selling options and more realistic prices. But I want players being unhappy about not being played and sending me messages in which they call me ‘gaffer’ like in Career Mode; and most of all I want to be able to actually sell my players — because as it stands I can’t. But Master League remains a very addictive mode and one I have spent probably over 150 hours on – it just isn’t as good as Career Mode on FIFA.

And then there’s myClub, Konami’s attempt to recreate Ultimate Team… It’s pretty good, but not a mode that is particularly addictive — it’s too complicated for that. And I haven’t spent that much time online, as the servers aren’t brilliant and if you go on quick match it takes ages to find anyone and you either have to be the same team in every match you play, or wait ages and choose a different team each time. But at least Konami tried with myClub.

Verdict:

Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 is a game that evolves its series, and gives it new found life. This is achieved through massively improved gameplay; with fantastic physicality, an abundance of improved animations and new found responsiveness, improved variety of shots, passes and crosses, improved goalkeepers, more detailed tactical options and an intuitive slower pace that makes you involve every player on the pitch and think about every pass you make. It is the most realistic football game I have ever played, and is one with a good learning curve – but you don’t have to master it to enjoy it. Nevertheless, licencing issues remain, the online isn’t brilliant and Master League feels a little lazy – although still a very addictive mode: so flaws remain. However, the massive improvements on the pitch make for a fantastic football game – and one of the best I’ve played – and one that will make consumers consider the possibility that PES is worth buying over FIFA, finally.

So I give it: 88/100.

– Speedy.

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