FIFA 16 might still be parading most of the silverware but Tom Wiggins believes this year PES 2016 offers a genuine alternative for the first time in a generation…
Some things never change. No, we don’t mean Arsenal’s Champions League campaigns, we’re talking about the annual FIFA-Pro Evo bust-up.
As usual, FIFA’s slick presentation and rabid fanbase has won it most plaudits but this season PES has run it closer than ever. We've put in the hours to extensively test both games and our findings? Here are eight ways we think Pro Evo is actually better than its eternal rival...
1. Goals, goals, goals
While FIFA 16 is quite happy for you to see out a nil-nil draw, PES is repulsed by the idea of not scoring any goals. Almost every shot is struck sweetly and hits the target, or at the very worst misses by less than the thickness of a Rizla as the ball sails just wide of the posts.
Almost every shot is struck sweetly and hits the target, or at the very worst misses by less than the thickness of a Rizla
Paul Pogba has a suitably venomous strike (and similarly dangerous-looking hair) and practically begs you to shoot with him. It also helps that the goalkeepers tend to be slightly on the, er, haphazard side. Sure, it means you’ll concede the odd goal through no fault of your own, but equally it increases the chances of a last-minute winner sailing into the top corner from 30 yards out - and when we’re playing a computer game, those are odds FourFourTwo can get onboard with.
PES in action: a great goal we scored in testing.
FIFA in action: EA's first goals of the week compilation. Take your pick of play styles/aesthetics.
2. It’s a pass master (except the through-balls)
FIFA’s slower, more considered passing style means it’s great for patient build-up play, but if you’re looking for the crash-bang-wallop football of Klopp’s Dortmund, you might want to give PES a go.
Stringing together first-time passes is a joy, with a feeling of controlled looseness around the way the players move the ball. It’s by no means magnetic - overcook a pass and your team-mate might struggle to keep it under control - although the AI assists on the through-balls are still way too generous.
Still, that does mean it’s often possible to split teams open like Andres Iniesta chopping up watermelons with a hot axe. And who in their right mind would fail to enjoy that?
3. Who needs real names anyway?
Gone are the days of Roberto Larcos and Ronarid but PES still can’t manage a full roster of real team names. The ‘English League’ continues to be contested by North London and West Glamorgan.
Bayern, Wolfsburg and Borussia Monchengladbach aside, the entire Bundesliga is absent, and the less said about the Championship the better.
But none of that matters anymore. Some argue it never has (it did and does). Console owners can now download patches to update all Pro Evo’s invented kits and badges. It’s time consuming (once you’ve uploaded the image files you have to manually assign each one) but the end result comes pretty close to matching that Sky Sports sheen that FIFA fans have always lauded over their rivals.
4. It’s got the license to thrill
What PES lacks in real team names it makes up for in exclusive, official competition licenses. Phwoar. In all seriousness, a couple of these represent a gaping hole in FIFA’s Sky Sports sheen. Want to walk out to the operatic strains of the Champions League anthem? There’s no point playing FIFA.
Fancy recreating those glamorous Thursday evening kick-offs from places that sound like territories on an ITV knock-off of Game of Thrones? PES is the place to be, with a full Europa League license to its name. Not niche enough for you? There’s also the Copa Libertadores and Sudamericana.
5. It looks better
Pro Evo’s graphics are powered by the same tech that runs the latest Metal Gear Solid game, so the way players move and collide with each other on the pitch is worthy of a sneaking special forces operative.
The Agueros and Neymars of the game skip and glide across the turf, gently nudging the ball this way and that to keep it just out of reach of the opposition. It helps with collisions too, as does the fact that referees tend to be more lenient than an internal FIFA disciplinary investigation, so sliding tackles often have a hugely satisfying crunch. There’s also the dynamic weather, which means it can start raining or dry up during a game rather than being the same from the first whistle to the last.
6. It’s an amateur tactician’s dream
While FIFA’s computer-controlled players have a decent tactical awareness, blocking off passing lanes and covering runners, its scope for strategic tinkering is pretty limited, with little more than a few pre-set game plans and nebulous strategic sliders available.
PES, on the other hand, allows you to really get your Guardiola on. At the very basic level you can adjust in-game how far up the pitch your defensive line ventures from the goalkeeper. But setting two different formations for when you’re in and out of possession gives you far more control over how your team plays.
It’s also simple to completely rip up the rulebook and put players in exactly the position you want. Time to try tucking those full-backs into midfield a la Bayern?
7. It’s got better celebrations
Like it or not, the selfie is here to stay. How do we know? Because Rome’s greatest Emperor, Francesco Totti, took one with an iPhone after equalising against Lazio in January - and you can recreate the whole thing on PES.
In general PES’s celebrations have far more character than FIFA’s, more often involving other team-mates for high-fives, impromptu group photo shoots in front of paparazzi, and even Luis Suarez’s famous wrist-kissing routine.
You can even jump up onto the advertising hoardings and revel in the rapturous adulation of your loyal fans. Coming to PES 2017: an elaborate selfie-stick routine involving Ahmed Elmohamady and Hull’s entire starting eleven wearing masks of Ronnie Pickering. Maybe.
8. It’s just more fun
Before football games started to become obsessed with recreating every single blade of grass on the pitch they just tried to be, y’know, fun. That’s how Pro Evo made its name. It’s why so many people still switch to ‘Pro Evo buttons’ even when they’re sitting down for another marathon FIFA session.
PES 2016 feels like the best combination of fun and realism for some time
PES 2016 feels like the best combination of fun and realism for some time. You’ll score late goals, you’ll score great goals, you’ll score away goals to take you through to the next round of the Asian Champions League. It’s often end-to-end and exciting, and when you really think about it there’s probably more quality to be found elsewhere. But it’s lots of fun. Remind you of anything?