"The pitch is ours". Konami’s current marketing slogan is a bold statement, but when PES was at its best, that’s what the game was all about. The quality of the presentation and lack of licenses didn’t matter because on the pitch it delivered. That feeling of unbridled joy upon smashing home a screamer, or devastation when you lose to a last minute goal, was akin to the ups and downs of supporting your own club. So, it’s great news that (after last year’s comparative disappointment) more time with the FOX Engine, and a move to the PS4, has helped bring those PES moments back. Believe it or not, Konami’s bold statement is actually filled with plenty of truth.
Where it matters, on the pitch, PES 2015 is head and shoulders above FIFA 15. That’s not a bad Joe Hart joke by the way. Although, ironically, it’s probably the best place to start as goalkeepers have been a massive weakness since PES 2008. Gone are the unreliable shot stoppers of the past, and in come keepers that actually mimic their real-life counterparts. For instance, Manuel Neuer will close down shooting angles by making himself big, whereas de Gea is more likely to make stunning aerial saves. In fact, the difference in styles is evident in pretty much all the teams and players in PES 2015. The numbers behind the players actually mean something, impacting the gameplay with stunning effect.
Big names such as Ronaldo, Messi, Robben and Neymar play just like their real-life counterparts, with strengths and weaknesses standing out. When you take control of these stars, you’ll instantly know and feel the differences between them. That’s not to say it’s a chore to play with lesser teams and players. Far from it. You’ll just feel the difference, and that’s the beauty of PES 2015. Playing as Stoke City (known here as 'The Potteries') or another side at that level, you’ll have to play to their players’ strengths. It’s not about free flowing, attacking football or deep tactics (see Tactical Fluidity) with these teams; you’ll have to stick to one game plan and grind out results, especially on the harder difficulties.
The other reason why players feel great to control is the left stick dribbling. PES 2015 is brilliantly responsive, which in turn makes dribbling an utter joy. The top attacking midfielders and forwards stand out that bit more, but you’d expect that. After all, someone like Fellaini doesn’t have the technical ability to move the ball around like Sneijder (I found out the hard way). The effectiveness of the left stick dribbling makes the use of tricks redundant. You’ll have to spend time mastering it, but when you do you’ll have a quite lethal tool at your disposal. There’s no better feeling in the game than intricately weave past a couple of defenders and smash the ball home.
New to PES 2015, adding more tactical depth to the gameplay, you have fluid formations. Accessed via the game plan menu, you can set up different formations at kick off, when in possession and when out of possession. If you know your football, and fancy yourself as a mini-Mourinho, be sure to experiment before starting up a match. It’s a great little feature that works seamlessly during gameplay. Pro tip: it works best with teams that have adaptable, higher rated players. Try with Stoke City at your own peril.
And that’s where the improvements to core elements such as shooting, passing and defending come into play. Last year, they were all average at best. Shooting felt like kicking around a beach ball. The same sentiment could be applied to the passing as well. Improved ball physics mean both elements are much better, especially the shooting. When you hit a shot in PES 2015, you feel the weight and power as the ball flies towards the goal. Whether you’re playing on default settings or full manual, you also have a bit more control in terms of the direction. Passing is suitably better too, but the physics could still do with some work to make it look and feel natural. It lacks that element of unpredictability, meaning you can kind of guess the trajectory of a pass before it’s completed.
The defensive side of PES 2015 remains largely the same as its predecessor. Applying pressure while holding X (on PS4) works a bit differently though. If you’re close enough to the opposition and initiate the action, your player will go into a tussle and attempt to win the ball. Whether you’re successful or not depends on the player’s defensive ability, borrowing a system from the PES games of old. It’s a welcome addition too, as the AI is as sharp as it’s ever been. Teams attack and defend just like their real-life counterparts, which is humbling at times, especially when you’re taking on the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Concentration is key.
It’s clear to see the PES team is getting used to the FOX Engine. Although commentary is still awful, the game looks great. Some of the player models and likenesses are astounding, with the likes of Neymar, di Maria and even Welbeck looking scarily good. My personal favourite? Blind, mainly because of the dreamy eyes and luscious hair. Thanks to some fantastic lighting, most of the pitches look great as well. It’s just a shame that day matches look quite a bit better than night ones. The animation count has also gone up, but the transitions between them aren't as fluid as they could be. It’s not exactly game breaking, but can detract from the overall match experience.
There is much to get stuck into in PES 2015. All the usual modes return, along with a brand new option called MyClub. It’s Konami’s take on FIFA’s Ultimate Team, but with a focus on agents to acquire players rather than packs. An in-game currency and (uh-oh) dreaded microtransactions govern purchases, so it will be interesting to see how the mode evolves once the game is released. Hopefully it’ll stay balanced rather than be overrun by teams with identical players. The concept is decent and different enough to work, but ultimately a lot will rely on PES 2015’s online stability even though the mode is also playable offline.
The PES bread and butter, Master League, is still present. A slightly improved albeit flawed transfer system is (disappointingly) the only real change. For a game that at its core is about delivering about an authentic football experience, Master League needs an overhaul. The set-up is outdated and illogical, forcing you to miss ten days at a time without having done any management bits at all. The fantastic gameplay is the saving grace, as the match to match experience is wonderful. Each contest plays out differently depending on the team you’re playing; keeping you going in what is a pretty basic mode.
What a difference a year makes. Konami has finally stepped up and delivered a game that’s worthy of the series’ heritage. It’s PES, but on the PS4, looking great and feeling suitably responsive. Work still needs to be done on updating modes such as Master League, and the overall presentation could be better - especially as FIFA 15 is so strong in that respect - but without a shadow of a doubt PES 2015 has delivered on its bold marketing tagline. The pitch does indeed belong to Konami.
This game was reviewed on PS4.