E3 2014: PES 2015 Hands-on Preview – One in the Onion Bag
Written Wednesday, June 25, 2014 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
It's not even over yet, but already the World Cup has seen a number of unexpected, unceremonious exits, whether it's the departure of previous champions Spain, or England crashing out scoring only a single point or Uruguay sending Italy home. Meanwhile, back in football video game land, FIFA 14 had next-gen consoles all to itself last year, enjoying a whole 12 months completely unchallenged. Until now, that is. Pro Evolution Soccer – or PES, as it prefers to be called these days – is back with PES 2015; the first instalment in Konami's footie series to hit Xbox One and PS4.
The second Pro Evo to utilise Kojima Productions' FOX Engine, PES 2015 is the first on 'new-gen' consoles, and so for all intents and purposes is completely brand new and built-from-the-ground-up. However, PES 2015 is looking to return the franchise to its roots, which we're hoping means something akin to the brilliant PES 6; arguably the last genuinely great Pro Evolution Soccer game. Picking up the controller, early impressions are good, as player likenesses and the electricity of a real-life football match have been greatly enhanced.
Not only does PES 2015 look pretty smooth, but it handles in rather slick fashion too. Close control makes dribbling feel more responsive, while through balls seem to find their intended targets more often than not. Of course, it's this kind of thing that should be all present and correct in any self-respecting football game worth its salt, but in PES 2015, it all feels just right. There's a greater fluidity to proceedings and passing play is robust, with players making intelligent runs into space when they're supposed to.
PES 2015 does a great job of replicating that all-important match day atmosphere too, with fully-realised crowds and all of the requisite detail that you'd expect from a new-gen football game. PES certainly cuts a striking figure on PS4 – the console we're sampling the game on – but once again, for another year, you can't help but feel that FIFA still has the edge with all of the big licenses sewn up and visuals that get about as close to broadcast television as it's possible to get on the current crop of consoles.
Yet on the strength of this first showing of PES 2015, that gap could well be closing. During our hands-on match playing as FC Bayern Munich against Juventus, we see a pre-bitten-by-Suarez Chiellini looking eerily close to his real-life counterpart and Tevez looking just like Tevez. Franck Ribéry is another uncanny likeness, as are Boateng, Robben and Van Buyten's in-game faces. We could list all 22 players and how good their likenesses are, but we won't. Suffice it to say, Konami has made a clear effort to deliver in the authenticity stakes with some of the best player faces we've seen.
Which leads us to those pesky licenses. Apparently, PES has secured a bunch more this year, and presumably we can expect the ever-reliable UEFA Champions League gubbins to be in the mix too. Regardless, PES has never really been about the licensing guff. It once ruled because it played a sublime game of football, but as you'll well know, FIFA has gone from strength to strength, outdoing PES at every turn. The onus is on gameplay for PES this year, as Konami looks to go back to its roots, doing away with the extraneous fluff and honing in on what once made PES the connoisseur's footie game of choice. Hopefully, we'll get to indulge in the all-encompassing Master League again too.
PES 2015 isn't quite there yet, but it's getting closer. Elements like free kicks, goal kicks and corners have all benefitted from an overhaul too, with a bendy dotted line controlled using the analogue stick, filling in for the comparatively simple aiming of previous games. Now you actually have to hold the position of the ball's arcing path with the analogue stick, making long balls from spot kicks seem more skilful rather than straightforward hit and hope affairs. This new system works especially well for free kicks, as we're able to hold a swooping arc that swings a screaming shot in towards the Juventus goal that unfortunately pings off the top of the crossbar. We think that you might actually be able to score from a free kick this year, which in and of itself is a massive deal for PES.
As a first look at the future of Pro Evo, PES 2015 looks promising enough and plays a fine game of football that's every bit as solid as its predecessors. Yet, there's still a question mark over whether Konami can move out of the imposing shadow cast by FIFA, and whether it can deliver something that lives up to the franchise's past glories. PES 2015 seems to be on the right track, but may have a fight on its hands to clinch the win in stoppage time come September.