In the world of football videogames Pro Evolution Soccer is usually considered the Europa League to FIFA’s Champions League – but this summer the underdog has snagged the top prize: official rights to use the Euro 2016 name in its game.
Already got a copy of PES 2016? A free download update is all that lies between you and a Euro 2016 campaign. Buy the game new and the official tournament mode will come with it.
But how easy is it to win the trophy with England? And who does the game think will emerge victorious in Paris on 10 July? FFT played through it to find out.
The Group Stage
When Roy Hodgson arrives in Marseille on 11 June he might be a little surprised to learn his starting midfield three will be made up of James Milner, Fabian Delph and Jonjo Shelvey. We certainly were. PES 2016 suffered from out-of-date squads when it launched last September and with Roy yet to confirm his squad for the tournament the game’s maker Konami has had a go at guessing it – and its selection leaves a lot to be desired.
PFA Young Player of the Year, Dele Alli, is the most glaring omission (despite recently having his in-game ratings tweaked to reflect an outstanding season) but his Spurs teammates Eric Dier and Danny Rose will also feel aggrieved to miss out, while Arsenal’s Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain get the nod ahead of Danny Welbeck. Daniel Sturridge will also be watching at home with the rest of us, leaving Kane, Vardy and Rooney as the only three striking options.
It’s probably those that are included – rather than those that aren’t – that are most surprising, though. Phil Jones, Kieran Gibbs and Luke Shaw find themselves available for selection, the latter in the starting 11, but there’s no Eurostar ticket for John Stones. Jack Butland and Tom Heaton travel as back-up to Joe Hart.
This can all be changed via the game’s editing system, which lists every single English player on the game and requires you to scroll through the whole lot until you find the one you want to call up. The process is so long-winded you’ll give up after adding the most conspicuous absentees, or realising your dream of seeing Bobby Zamora finally play in a major tournament.
But FFT decides to take what we’re given, so we take the field against Russia with a 4-4-1-1, Kane operating just behind Jamie Vardy, with Jonjo and Delph dropping to the bench to allow Sterling, Barkley, Milner and Walcott across the midfield.
Pro Evo is well known for its slightly obtuse crowd banners and Euro 2016 doesn’t disappoint. “Victory or nothing” reads one at the Stade Velodrome, suggesting that Che Guevara’s taken over the England Supporters Club in an armed coup. If it means an end to the band perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
In the game, a horrendous mix-up between Joe Hart and his centre halves allows Russia to go ahead but Kane pulls one back with the kind of edge-of-the-box curler he's delighted in scoring this season for Tottenham. That’s the thing about PES – it loves a worldie and we suspect this won’t be our last. The game ends 1-1.
A scrappy, scoreless draw is a rarity in PES land but that’s what we get against Wales. Pro Evo is a game that loves goals and with tackling so haphazard and inconsistent that’s usually what you get. Slide tackles rarely result in winning the ball and the foot-in challenges are often about as effective as a written request asking your opponent for the ball, so maintaining your structure and controlling the space is often the best you can do.
That makes for a game that does feel quite engaging without the ball, but when computer-controlled players are prone to just wandering off and neglecting their defensive duties you will sometimes find yourself wondering what the point is.
Where it has improved is with player likenesses. There’s still something of a varnished look to many of the most recognisable players but, combined with a more noticeable range of physiques than FIFA, a football game has probably never come closer to recreating its stars, with the way they move also spot on.
After two games each, all four teams in Group B are on two points, meaning the last match against Slovakia is make or break.
After failing to score against Wales FFT ditches the 4-4-1-1 for a 4-3-3, dropping Vardy to the bench for late impact, even if it is just to scare the opposition with his dead-behind-the-eyes, zombified Albert Steptoe appearance. Harry Kane puts us ahead within 10 mins, with a neat turn and finish from just inside the box.
From then on Slovakia dominate the ball with 71% possession but rarely threaten. Vardy comes on and very nearly makes an instant impact when a Delph through ball puts him one-on-one with the goalkeeper but Kozacik makes a great save with his legs. Rooney makes a cameo appearance but doesn’t touch the ball.
The final whistle blows and we’re through to the knockouts.
Wales finish third having drawn all three games 0-0, so there’s something for fans of Y Dreigiau to look forward to.
The knockout stages
As we progress to the last 16 the same cut-scene plays that introduced the whole thing. No expense spared, eh, Konami?
Our England team draws the Czech Republic who are probably as surprised as the rest of us to find themselves not on a plane home. Wales get Ukraine and Ireland play the free-scoring Swiss (8 scored, 1 conceded on the way to topping their group). Ireland finish third, with Italy propping up Group 5. Iceland come through undefeated behind a similarly sturdy Portugal.
Sterling has a stonker against the Czechs – the game seems to have really nailed his robotic chicken run – but they hold out for well over an hour.
FFT decides to bring Vardy and Lallana on and the pair make an immediate impact, the game’s snappy one-touch passing finally coming out to play. A flick out wide from the Liverpool midfielder plays the ball into Vardy's path, who bursts forward and delays playing his pass just long enough for Sterling to surge through the middle, taking a touch away from the defender and beating Cech at his near post. A fine counter-attacking goal.
But as soon as the passing clicks it quickly falls apart again, becoming laboured and lethargic. It’s one of the main things that lets PES 2016 down and allows FIFA to remain the first-choice for most virtual football fans.
As the Czechs push forward looking for an equaliser, the same three England players find more space in the final third, testing Cech a handful of times from distance but without success. The quarter-finals await.
After his contribution against the Czech Republic, Adam Lallana comes into the team in place of Walcott for the quarter-final against the much-fancied Belgians.
As the game gets underway Jim Beglin picks out Kevin Mirallas as his key man and it’s greeted by his co-commentator Peter Drury with the most insincere-sounding “OK, interesting” you’ll ever hear.
It’s one of a number of moments when the commentary is genuinely laughable. While the pair are nicely aware of the circumstances surrounding each game, too many relatively tame chances are met with OTT shouts of “KAAANNNNE!” or “STERRRRLING!”.
It’s the latter who tests Courtois early on with a fierce shot from six yards that’s straight at the Chelsea stopper. Minutes later he beats him but hits the post with an absolute screamer. England look up for it.
Neither team manage to score, although Ryan Bertrand of all people surges forward and, finding no opposition, unleashes a fearsome shot against the far post.
England survive a last-minute scare when a Belgium corner finds its way to Mirallas at the far post, but he flashes his shot across goal and narrowly wide. The game heads to extra time.
England keep pushing in an attempt to avoid penalties and look the team most likely to score after good work by Walcott and then Delph keeps the ball alive after an over-hit cross. A lovely turn and shot from 18 yards by Vardy isn’t quite lovely enough, though. We’re going to penalties.
Two misses each sends the match to sudden death and after Kevin De Bruyne blazes wide, Vardy puts England into the semis.
We draw France in the semi while Wales face Ireland. A home nation in the final is guaranteed. Who saw that coming, eh?
It’s at this stage of the competition that one of Pro Evo’s most infuriating, er, features makes a return – the bafflingly inconsistent goalkeepers. With Griezmann and Pogba always threatening, the last thing we need is Hart losing his marbles. But that’s what we get.
Barkley is dispossessed as he tries to break from deep and pass from Matuidi to Giroud just outside the box allows the Arsenal striker to play in Griezmann for a calm finish past the seemingly frozen Hart. The Man City ‘keeper looks like someone’s put him on pause. 24 minutes have been played, England are behind and yet to have a shot.
France continue to threaten but, knowing Pro Evo has a tendency to make through-balls overly effective, we look to play Kane in behind the French back four. Unfortunately Konami appears to have toned this down and our incisive passes either fall frustratingly short or run hopelessly long.
So we swing some crosses in. One from Lallana is headed on by Vardy and met by a fearsome Walcott volley but he can't keep it down. Another falls to him after Lloris pushes away a Sterling shot but the Arsenal man hits his effort tamely at the keeper.
It’s over. England are out.
So Roy and his brave lions are on the way home, but having beaten Ireland in the semis, Wales take on England’s conquerors in the final at the Stade de France. Bale and co emerge 4-1 winners in what is probably the biggest upset since, well, Leicester won the Premier League last month.
Perhaps England should have persevered with the Essex Pirlo after all, eh?
Top scorer: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Most assists: Paul Pogba
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