Trying to pin down exactly what's changed in an annual football series is like trying to put a finger on exactly what very specific simile I should have used to finish this sentence. The minutiae of animation speeds, team AI or how Honduran midfield brutaliser Wilson Palacios' face should be arranged definitely change over the course of years, but they're glacial in pace - you only notice well after the fact.
But after last year's landmark entry (both in feel and "oh my God, it actually works" factor), Pro Evo returns with genuine aplomb, with the feeling of something new to offer. That mainly comes down to how much heavier the players feel - last year's game featured skipping, fleet-of-foot wisps, tearing around the pitch like frightened deer. It leant a welcome sense of speed to proceedings, but there was something very slightly off about feeling no resistance to piloting what is essentially 10-14 stone’s worth of raw meat and bone at high velocity.
PES 2016 counters that with a real feeling of place. If a player is standing still, other players will move their body away from them if possible, or bounce off them if not. Corners gain a little of the argy-bargy feel of real life, as defenders root themselves in the ground, and diminutive foxes in boxes lean against them to try and angle for a possible header.
In fact, that detailed animation is a big part of the effect, not least when it's all gone wrong. As a fairly poor - if enthusiastic - player, I had the behemoths of France attempting headers from all the wrong places, leading to odd, straining neck extensions as they tried to obey their giggling idiot of a player/god. When I let a storming Neymar through the back door, my valiant goalkeeper Mandanda made a save, crumpled to a heap and, amazingly, deflected a rebound with a one-handed punch while still on the floor.
After a few years of trying, it finally feels as though the FOX Engine is pulling its weight behind Konami’s second-string soccer game. Those old cutscene stutters are long gone, day and night lend a tangible difference to proceedings, and when Roma’s Francesco Totti pulled out an iPhone 6 (FIFA can’t steal that license, it seems) to take a selfie after scoring a goal, beads of sweat glistened disgustingly and brilliantly against the well-tanned brow of the Italian maestro. I’m sure it’s how he’d like his legacy at the top of the game reflected.
Apparently, those cosmetic changes lead to gameplay ones, too. Although I didn’t see it, I’m told that playing over the course of a season in Master League will bring with it the effects of real life weather, as players’ studs dig into softened turf during storms, or cope with less friction in a frozen winter.
As with any football game, it’ll be impossible to measure the true effect - good and bad - of these changes until I’m a few hundred matches in, but it’s no stretch to say that the thing feels better, more natural, gratifyingly out of control at times. That’s more than you can say about most games of the type.