Pro Evolution Soccer Review
As Konami celebrates 20 years of PES we are treated to its finest, most in-depth version yet across all formats that you could own.
Find out how the PS4 and XboxOne versions compare and how the game plays, feels and if it can take the crown from FIFA as the ultimate representation of the beautiful game.
Fox engine games are much like buses it seems, you wait ages for one and then 2 come along at once. After the delight and as expected slightly controversial Metal Gear Solid 5 from Kojima Productions we now get a look at how the engine can be used elsewhere in new game types and less extravagant story lines. And with PES2016 it is a game that benefits greatly from its super-fast and fluid 60fps update, here I will only cover the XboxOne edition along with the full game review from the PlayStation 4 but all features, gameplay and essentially everything else are identical across both. I have not had chance to play or even see the PC release yet but I would imagine a pretty much identical game and visuals would be presented on that with extra options as per MGSV. It is and will most likely never be a game that will ask for high end power levels or indeed even require it.
Both platforms aim for the same locked 60fps update that covers all sections of the game from its matches and TV style replays and slow motion shots and not the 60/30 split that FIFA uses. The same split in resolution is in play here with the PS4 sporting a fully native 1920x1080 display matched with the same FXAA pass ala phantom pain, the XboxOne comes in with the lower resolution of 1360x1080 which is just a different way to use a roughly similar amount of pixels as Metal Gears 1600x900 bar a few thousand more pixels here and is thanks to the work on the engine to maximise its Esram usage and help handle the multiple buffers and therefore Scratchpads needed to deliver the visuals from its deferred rendering pipeline. This mostly presents itself reasonably well as the upscale is only one way, horizontally on the screen and other than a side by side comparison is not a game that strikes you as running a sub native display in play, some of this comes from the native PS4 still suffering from some heavy pixel shimmer on crowds, posts and in the Depth of Field effects within cinematics. But whenever these arise on the PS4 they are much more obvious on the XboxOne version and more so in the slow motion replays being the place you can spot the difference the most, the only other difference is the crowd resolution can look Lower on XboxOne at times but may be a symptom of the real-time replays as getting a like for like example of these is near impossible in play but this only shows in close up shots, aside this the entire visual features are intact on both, even down to the same and common split engine update process with crowds at points updating at half the framerate as the actual gameplay but this would only really be picked up in this kind of in-depth analysis.
This means you are treated to the same linear lighting model and Physically Based shading model on the areas, kit and players. But this is where the visuals start to lose some of their impact or at least are not treated to the same asset quality across the board. Some of the modelled players are pretty good with strong impressions on detail and likeness. Some are much, much better than others though with clear divides between the good and bad. Some of the issues with the features come down to its heavy reliance on Normal Maps to add detail rather than having high geometry models, this shows quite obviously in the shirt and kits with the engine not having a cloth simulation but rather using marvellous designer 2 to effectively pre-render the cloth wrinkles and style and then in game like the switching of normals to alter these, it flicks between LODS to emulate the movement and wrinkles, in gameplay it is hard to spot and generally looks great but with the game having such large close-ups and slow option replays this technique can stand out and with the switch plain to see as the players move.
Stadiums and less significant areas of the game also show some lack of polish seen on the players and kits. The walk in leaves you thinking at times this is still a cross-gen up-ported with much of the texture work looking very flat and some areas having incredibly low resolution maps used. Also it can look like it is not running the correct PBR shader passes (see complete) the DoF does hide this though which includes a nice bokeh at times but others in-game can be the same lower quality Gaussian blur, but although the game is very nice and the silky smooth framerate helps, it still stands in the shadow of FIFA when it comes to character models, fine detail at points and overall presentation. The pre-game anthem has only a few set animation routines that runs for each team/player and after just a few games it stands out and you skip, although FIFA is also guilty of this. Commentary has the same issues with not a vast wealth of variation in recordings and some robotic linking of names within play. But it is much better than before and within the licensed UEFA championship games with all relevant TV style, music and crane camera replays it really excels and captures the feel of the game very, very well. Intro for big games, weather and set-up all deliver a decent variation as the build-up begins.
But the commentary team do a good job and most purists will turn that off on both games anyway and just strive to get straight into the kick-off. Which at the performance levels here is another rock solid showing from the engine on both platforms, both in match and in reply the framerate never dips below its aim of 60 and some of the shortcomings in the visuals pave way to machines that are not stressed in hitting its performance targets, which is the single biggest factor in a game like this as it needs fine control and pinpoint accuracy at times which is always consistent and delivered with its stable 60hz rate as expected. The only dips you see here are the long still shots to mimic the TV style replay as the transitions graphics pass over or a dip of 1 maybe 2 frames as scenes load in from each other but these would never be noticed in play and effect nothing at all of the enjoyment. When in play across both platforms we see a rock solid dip less 60 even using the more stressful and closer 3rd person views allowing you to get right into the action it matters not a jot, a great showing again for the engine.
The controls are different to FIFA players, it carries far more physical weight in its player movement and ball physics, controlling the ball and keeping it at your feet is harder and takes more finesse than its rival title. Again shots and passing allows more fine control as you hoof long balls you can curve the ball after you have sent it air born, like all actions in the game it needs time with pass strength, team runs, through balls and shots all having much finer control options making it harder to master but more satisfying when you do. But if you are new the game it has a standard a training section to teach you all the basics so that you go from not being able to hit a bus from 20 yards to smacking Bulls eyes and dropping balls in from the centre half in no time, cheeky cross bar dippers are also on the cards. And here the game starts to work and captures the feeling of the game incredibly well and better than previous releases, players move, look and trip with much more realism and mistakes are made and feel organic when they do, the ball physics play a large part in this and some heated and enjoyable games can and do happen regularly. Collison in the game is a high point with slides, barges and trips all feeling realistic and accurate, Air Play has been upgraded this year allowing you to unbalance other even bigger players using the stick. Actions are now faster and more responsive allowing feints, fast switches and megs'ing players becomes second nature with this fine grain control, pushing on the right stick allows you to tell a player to make a run, with a well-timed through pull or high drop in cross giving way to some great play that can look just as good to watch as play, well at least when someone better than me is playing anyway. As when playing as the god that is Messi you have to try some of his dribbling skills, which unfortunately fail more often than not for me but a fault of the player not the game.
All of this natural movement comes from its improved animation system (Konami boast 3xtimes the animation sets ) which adds a much greater repertoire of pushes, shimmies, falls and play along with the de rigour of player gesticulation at referee's, other players and the crowds from a selection of victory celebrations without forgetting the epic fingertip saves. With the full UEFA championship playable along with its presentation, fonts and music it certain delivers an authentic experience of the game well. Which only improves with a group of players either on the same consoles or online allowing many hours to just dwindle away. The procedural animation system in the game is really superb, watching replays or even close-up shots does really show off its epic detail of human movement. Mixing motion capture into kinematics at a level far in excess needed of other non-sport games, the way players lean into a run or the feet and ankles twist as they dig in. With all the great extra touches of players pointing as you play to receive a pass, or on runs looking up and across the pitch for space or a receiver. Even celebrations all look convincing and aside some heavy clipping in parts that effects both big games equally it really does deliver very accurate and convincing movement, weight and physics from the ball that immerse you fully in the game. Some of the great replay shots from cracking goals you just scored allow you to revel in your glory or claim pure luck if not your own handy work.
Team and leagues are all close enough to recognise which and who you are playing for, Some pop up like ManUtd, Barcelona and inter Milan that have their own licence plan but aside a real need for actual teams most of the players all look accurate, the option to download kits and import is still an option also, a faf but could help some make that mental shift if needed. A good selection of stadiums are available to choose from and these have various times of day and weather also. This is where the game can change between looking good and looking great, with the sunny days in open stadiums probably is strongest area aside the spotlight night games that can be very convincing at times. Rain looks ok with a rain drop effect on camera with a simple distortion but it adds to the gameplay more with players more likely to slip while running or turning and missing shots with turf and water kicking up but even here the game still has some areas of clipping and collision that can ruin the presentation slightly, but not as much as the clipping within the frustum which can cause objects and even players to just appear and disappear a weakness of the deferred only rendering as transparency's are not viable, This stands out more in the replays of what is otherwise a lovely looking presentation. Camera views are also plentiful from long crowd view to close up TV shots which replicate the action perfectly and where the games looks its best, even first person view can be used and allows you to play in the style and view that suits you best, all of this does not affect the games solid performance at all which is key.
It also has the hard-core taken care of with a full range of Pro Evolutions versions of FIFA's manager in Master League, be the player and full career modes taken care of. The amount of choice with full coaching options, scouts, managing contracts, transfer season battles, player morale, fitness and training all included within its vast selection of game modes. Added to with the aforementioned UEFA league and cup games really delivers it’s most authentic and accurate display yet of the big game. Up against FIFA it has reduced the gap on its presentation and animation is now much, much closer than before to the point where between the 2 they deliver a very equal performance but the locked 60 throughout PES2016 in both gameplay and replays helps it here. And again in the master league management mode it exceeds FIFA IMOP enabling the entire balance of teams and people to alter your teams cohesion, you have to make players fit in, manage introduction games, traits and not just the best player stats it genuinely is a step up from previous games and very well implemented. But where the game still needs work and loses out is within its assets and detail variation. Some pitches use very, very low resolution textures which also seem to run no filtering at all which stands out a mile within a football game, more so when other pitches have much better textures and grass with filtering. The pre-game sections highlight this best with last generation textures on signs and billboards really lowering what is very high standards elsewhere and with the game shipping across last gen and this gen it still shows that Konami need to get some much higher quality assets for all areas of the game and reduce the gap to its rivals and more importantly it's consistency within itself. Some heavy shadow aliasing and these weaker areas can reduce what is genuinely a strong and high quality showing.
The football is not as immediately satisfying and some would say not as easy as FIFA but it can be as rewarding or even more so and along with its rock solid and required performance that is appreciated it never allows this to hamper your enjoyment. I have had enough games online to test its performance most quick matches I have played have been quick to start and not laggy at all allowing them to play and feel very close to local games. Other more managed games can take longer to set-up and the login to Konami servers like EA serves can slow down single player games at times but you can opt out of auto sign-in which speeds this up. The only issue of on-line games is rage quits from opposing players that can leave you playing no-one for a few minutes before it disconnects but again not exclusive to either football games or online gaming at large, luckily these are few. With this now being the last bastion of Konami's AAA multi-platform games it has delivered its best and most comprehensive Pro-Evo yet that may convert even more over from the other side, with its next release hopefully dropping its last gen versions I feel if they concentrate on bringing up the visual presentation to match the level of its peers in that regard, now that it has many real players if not the team names is the only area where it can lose its shine on an otherwise solid, exhaustive, responsive and above all else highly enjoyable game that will keep hard-core football players well invested before the next release ships in 2016. With it now in a position to be titled arguably the greatest digital version of the beautiful game.