The best editions of PES and FIFA: The games that shaped football’s greatest (virtual) rivalry
Pro Evolution Soccer 3 (2003)
By now Konami’s dominance over EA – at least where critics were concerned – was so powerful that it received a free pass for featuring Italian ref Pierluigi Collina on the cover of this PS2 gem, despite him not appearing anywhere in the game. The decision was as bananas as the football was brilliant, with Master League expanded to four divisions and the on–pitch action once more tightly refined. Officials implemented the advantage rule correctly, while in addition to handling like their real-life counterparts players actually ran like them, with the unique gaits of Thierry Henry, David Beckham and Damien Duff all accurately recaptured. PES 3 served as a new high for the genre – and that would be a recurring theme over the next four years.
Pro Evolution Soccer 6 (2006)
Our choice for the second-greatest football game ever made (see our list of the best football games ever made here), and Shingo ‘Seabass’ Takatsuka’s finest hour. Pro Evo still couldn’t compete with FIFA on the licences front – Ligue 1 was newly added, but from the Premier League only Manchester United and Arsenal got the crests 'n' kits treatment – yet the gameplay gulf between the pair was so wide, no discerning fan cared. This was total football, its now-customary slick passing, tactile shooting and intelligent AI play complemented by lifelike subtleties such as quick free kicks. PS2 had never had it so good, and for some this remains the last great Pro Evo.
FIFA 09 (2008)
A landmark title, for two big reasons. It was the first fully overseen by new FIFA series producer David Rutter – a devotee of Leicester City and, more significantly, the Pro Evo franchise. His influence meant an emphasis on reality over gimmicks, with revamped ball and player physics showcasing the publisher’s commitment to leaving the series’ pinball-quick arcade stylings behind. Secondly, in December 2008 it saw the arrival – as a free download – of Ultimate Team, a new mode combining match-playing with the best bits of Top Trumps and collecting Panini stickers as a kid. Seven years later, it remains the most-played mode in any sports game, by an immense margin.
FIFA 15 (2014)
With Rutter at the helm, EA had overtaken Konami to the point of FIFA being considered the purists’ football game – unthinkable in the early-noughties. And with innovative features like true 360-degree movement now par for the course, the move to PS4 and Xbox One saw it refocus energies on providing an experience that didn’t only play believably, but looked exactly like a Sunday afternoon Sky broadcast. That meant partnering up with the Premier League in order to scan the majority of every English top-flight squad, and meticulously recreating all its stadia in-game. Hull vs Sunderland at the KC, with 22 authentic-looking players? In. No football game had previously offered such depth.
PES 2016 (2015)
EA’s current-gen excellence continues this year, hence FIFA’s latest iteration earning fourth place on our chart of the greatest football games ever. But Konami is approaching peak form again too. New PES goes back to the future, leaning heavily – and successfully – on the elements which made it so strong in the PS2 days. Precise passing and intelligent team-mate movement facilitate Barca-style tiki-taka, while the variety of goals – power headers, drilled volleys, deft side-foots and many more – recalls the late night Master League wonder years. PES still has work to do to keep up with FIFA regarding in-season updates (such as transfers), but after some down years its future once more looks tantalising. So long as it shies well away from considering Mark Clattenburg for PES 2017’s cover.