The latest installments of FIFA and PES are just around the corner. Ben Wilson explains what needs to change for both games as the two titans seek to win this year's annual virtual footy face-off...
It won't be long until the new FIFA and PES hit the pitch. With just over a month to go until the full release of both (the PES demo is out now), we've compiled our wishlist of upgrades that we hope both games make from the last editions: FIFA 16 and PES 2016.
1 Home crowd momentum (FIFA 17)
A key factor in Leicester’s title win last season was the cauldron of noise (including, alas, clackers) made at the King Power each fortnight, which drove Claudio Ranieri’s side to victory after victory. Influential crowds at Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Anfield have also been vital in helping to secure trophies in previous years. Yet in FIFA, everything is neutral. There’s no intimidation factor whatsoever if you’re a League Two club travelling to the Etihad – and it shouldn’t be that way. A stats boost for the home side for, say, the first 20 minutes of every game would be an intriguing way of mimicking home advantage – and for the sake of balance, it could be turned off for online games.
2 Better keepers (PES 2017)
Clone a hybrid of David James, Rob Green and Brad Guzan at their most calamitous and you seemingly have every PES keeper ever. In 20 years, Konami has never got the balance right between spectacular fingertip stops and nonsensical six-yard box spills. Thankfully, we played PES 2017 at the start of August and found Hugo Lloris and Manuel Neuer in imperious form, with a flood of new animations improving their decision-making skills and overall shot-stopping ability. Whether that transfers to lesser netminders remains to be seen, but it’s a promising sign.
3 Unique styles of play (FIFA 17)
Barcelona’s success in recent years feels particularly special because no-one has been able to properly emulate their patient but effective brand of tiki-taka. Yet in FIFA 16, every team from Barca to Boston United attempts to play the same type of glue-footed, incisive football, dampening longevity in the process. Modern tech should be capable of implementing unique team styles: Leicester being organised and trying to ship the ball to Mahrez and Vardy as fast as possible; Tottenham neatly working possession until Harry Kane shoots on sight; Burnley, Hull and Sunderland playing an attritional, conservative game but pouring forwards at set-pieces. And it needs to work at all levels: start a career mode in League Two in FIFA 16 and you’ll abandon the idea within an hour, as every opponent attempts to pass you off the pitch. No more Plymouth vs Barnet-lona please.
4 Proper set-piece options (FIFA 17)
PES makes a huge deal of set-pieces this year, enabling you to choose which players to send up for attacking corners and to select between various marking systems when defending them. In FIFA 16, you could define your taker (as ever), but the game decided who attacked or defended any set-piece. And that feels like a primitive system. Scott Dann was Palace’s joint top scorer last season with five goals; Lauren Koscielny, Steve Cook, Ramiro Funes Mori, Toby Alderweireld and Craig Dawson all contributed four in the league alone. It’s maddening to have to hope the game sends such aerial threats upfield for you, rather than command it yourself.
5 More international teams (FIFA 17)
The FIFA series has always made club football its focus, but with international management now a major element of career mode, it’s time the list of national teams was expanded beyond FIFA 16’s 48 sides. (Euro 2016 finalists Albania, Croatia, Iceland, Slovakia and Ukraine were all missing last year.) Real kits for every such team are a must, too: it's plain weird to select, say, Belgium and Portugal only to have Eden Hazard and Cristiano Ronaldo trying to outdo one another in strips that’d be laughed at on Wandsworth Common of a Sunday morning.
6 Updated international sides (PES 2017)
Pro Evo does international football much better than FIFA – witness the entertaining highlights of Burkina Faso vs Lebanon in the video below – but with one caveat (okay, two if you include the inevitable kit issues): line-ups never get updated. Despite Konami having the Euro 2016 license, jump into PES 2016 right now for a match as England and the default starting line-up includes Luke Shaw, Fabian Delph, Jonjo Shelvey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, none of whom travelled to the tournament. It’s an Adebayo Akinfenwa-sized immersion-killer.
7 Reserve and youth matches (FIFA 17)
With a maximum senior squad size of 42 and an additional youth allocation of 16, you can be managing up to 58 players at any given time in career mode – and the odd League Cup match is an inefficient means of blooding peripheral squad members. Comprehensive reserve leagues are likely too much of a push, so how about this idea: one optional game a month where you can field reserves and youth prospects, with – say – the top three performers receiving a small ratings boost. It’d be a slightly artificial means of replicating real training, but you’d be able to trial all members of your squad across a season, as well as getting a small-but-useful reward for taking the time to play those matches.
8 Regularly updated squads (PES 2017)
October 2015’s transfer deadline day update for PES 2016 made some staggering omissions, the most notable seeing Anthony Martial’s move to Manchester United ignored entirely. That categorically cannot occur again – and PES boss Adam Bhatti says his team knows this: “Lessons have been learned – we rightly took flak [for that].” He insists transfer updates will be made weekly during the upcoming season, beginning with a release-day patch. “There will be a day one update, and the game will be updated on a weekly basis with all transfers implemented and player performances within that time reflected.” Phew.
9 Player position changes (FIFA 17)
Gareth Bale is left-footed, broke through at Southampton as a left-back and became one of the best players in the world on the left side of Tottenham’s midfield – so it’s baffling that in FIFA 16 his only position is… right-wing! For scenarios such as this, the career mode option to train a player for a new position would be hugely welcome; it could even happen automatically if you placed someone in a particular spot for, say, 450 minutes across a season. Pros move positions throughout their career – look at converted full-backs Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia at Manchester United – and it’s time FIFA reflected that.
10 Retirement negotiations (FIFA 17)
Another small but important career mode tweak: the option to talk players out of retirement. There was no fun in taking control of New York City in FIFA 16 and being informed that any (or all) of David Villa, Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard were quitting at the end of season one, with no means of dissuading them.
11 General presentation (PES 2017)
Pro Evo has always – rightly – been lauded for prioritising the on-field action over off-pitch trimmings, but most football fans still care about having the right kits, stadiums and league structure. And while PES fans have long accepted that Konami is unable to compete with EA in that regard, it could at least dress things up a little more tidily. In 2016, menus were a clunky, unimaginative afterthought (“establishing communications… establishing communications…”), while describing the commentary as amateur would be kind. “Knocks it towards the front”? When is that line ever used in a real broadcast?
12 Bring back creation centre (FIFA 17)
Most of the best features from PS3 and Xbox 360-era FIFA have now made the generational leap to PS4 and Xbox One, but there’s one glaring omission: creation centre. It enabled you to make any team, player or tournament in a web-based browser, then import them into the game proper. Want to test your real-life bunch of club-footers against 1980s Liverpool? No problem. Modern Leicester versus Gary Lineker’s equivalent? Easy. You’d have to live with generic faces – perhaps the reason EA hasn’t carried this over, given new consoles’ souped-up visuals – but it was nonetheless a neat inclusion, whose return would expand the already massive team database still further.
13 Stadium editor (PES 2017)
Barcelona’s Camp Nou is exclusive to PES this year – a massive boost for the series and huge blow to its biggest rival. Even so, its 2016 edition featured just 10 generic stadiums, and for the game to feel continually fresh over the next 12 months it needs at least double that. If Konami doesn’t have the resources to painstakingly design them, let us make our own; options could include a bowl or traditional stands (and their size), whether to have a running track and where to place the tunnel and dugout. Even if kept simple, it’d still enable basic versions of grounds ranging from St James’ Park (Newcastle) to St James Park (Exeter) to be made.
14 In-game kit updates (FIFA 17)
Career mode improves markedly with each passing year, but a big realism-killer is having to wear second-tier kits after promotion to the Premier League. For instance, mirror Hull and Middlesbrough’s real life achievements last season and you’re forced to have Championship numbers and arm patches on your shirts. A great way to resolve this would be enabling you to design home and away strips from season two onwards, using the correct fonts and patches for the league you’re in. It might mean fictional manufacturers and sponsors, but better that than the current headache of using 2015/16 kits even when you’re a decade into the mode.
15 AI fouls and more balanced officiating (PES 2017)
In PES 2016, computer opponents were both too nice and too proficient at tackling; free kicks in dangerous positions were tough to come by. Yet when your team conceded fouls, refs proved infuriatingly card-happy, with even innocuous trips earning a flash of yellow. Both of these elements require tuning. The AI should be a bit more aggressive in the slide tackle department, but officials need to take the opposite approach – keeping notebooks in pockets unless a foul is particularly late or malicious.
16 Real referees/option of strictness (FIFA 17)
Three years into FIFA’s official tie-in with the Premier League, we have pretty much all we could wish for in terms of visual authenticity: real stadia, kits, faces and – at last! – managers. Which only serves to add to the surreal feel when you kick-off a critical Merseyside derby to the whistle of a generic-looking Mark Clattenburg. In baseball game MLB The Show, refs not only have their real faces but personalities too. Imagine having the same in FIFA, with Mike Dean dishing out cards like confetti and Michael Oliver seeking to wave play on wherever possible.
17 Master League classic players (PES 2017)
PES 2016 saw the series return of Nigerian forward Tijani Babangida – a videogame legend whose real life career never matched his Pro Evo exploits. He was available for a brief time in MyClub, the PES equivalent of Ultimate Team, and the move surely paves the way for further favourites from the 2000s: specifically, Master League ‘originals’ Ximenes, Valery, Espinas and Castello. These fictional guys became cult figures in the PS2 era, and would act as an additional temptation to any lapsed fan thinking about stepping back across the FIFA-PES divide.