For most hardcore PES fans the year’s iteration of their beloved series is make or break, especially when you take into account the well documented shortcomings of PES 2014. Various patches have been released, making the game somewhat more playable, but losing the essence of what PES is all about in the process. Player individuality, team styles and the ability to create flowing moves all pretty much gone. More than all that though, PES 2014 lost the important thing that was present in every single PS2 release. Fun, that’s what. At its core, every top quality PES game has been exactly that, and that’s what I was looking for going in to my time with PES 2015 at E3.
Obviously, it goes without saying the code we were given access to in the City of Angels was far from finished. That said, I can only give impressions based on what I played despite the early nature of the game, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
With the code being on the PS4, I was expecting some top notch visuals and animations given the words about doing next-gen properly coming out from Konami last year. To my disappointment, purely from a visual point of view, PES 2015 was very underwhelming. The player faces are astounding, like photo realistic good, but the rest is disappointing to say the least. I heard the words ‘PES 2014 HD remaster’ thrown about, and I wouldn’t exactly argue with that too much. New animations are present, but the way they tie into one another during gameplay is rigid and somewhat unnatural. There are visible stops and stutters when one animation is attempting to transition to another. Hmm. It’s very hard not to look at what EA are doing with FIFA 15 on next-gen and then come back to PES 2015 only to be disappointed. The power of the Fox Engine is not being fully utilised here. Is it a case of the PES development team still getting used to Kojima’s masterpiece? Probably. This is most evident in the way the stadium and pitch are lit, one of the first things I noticed when playing PES 2015. It’s all very dull, resulting in an unrealistic, cartoon style look. Simply put, the lighting is unnatural, not doing the on-pitch action any favours. This might sound harsh, but if I didn’t know it was PS4 code and someone told me I was playing on the PS3, I would’ve probably believed them. Yeah, I’d think ‘high end PS3 game’, but the reality is that it’s on the PS4. Menus are much better though, but the ones present in the E3 code are subject to change. Hopefully they go with a similar, more simplistic design.
Moving away from the visuals, because the gameplay is where it’s really at, on the pitch PES 2015 at this early stage is best described as a frustrating but ultimately fun experience. There are more obvious negatives than positives at this stage, but I moved from being utterly frustrated on day one to actually kind of enjoying what I was playing by the end of day three.
I’ll go into it, shall I? Cool. You might not be shocked to learn that the goalkeepers are still shocking. More than a few goals that I conceded and scored were purely the fault of the man between the sticks. Only two teams (Bayern Munich and Juventus) were present in the code, so with Buffon and Neuer the goalkeepers weren’t exactly non-league standard. Yet the mistakes they were making we exactly like that of an amateur shot stopper, pushing the ball out into the box unnecessarily, just standing there as the ball goes past them and totally avoiding crosses like Dracula. It has been a well-known Achilles’ heel of PES for a few years now, so it’s worrying that the development team has yet to rectify the issue.
I’m going to go into comparison territory again and point out the fantastic ball physics present in FIFA 15, having a profound effect on how the game plays. You have to play it to understand what I mean. Now, this is not me saying the ball physics in PES 2015 are awful, but they do need some work. As it stands, the passing is a little too predictable. You can pretty much judge the path or trajectory of a pass around 90% of the time. There’s little variation in the way the ball moves, when it should be the exact opposite depending on where the ball is touched and how it is played. Slightly less, but this applies to shooting as well. It’s a marked improvement over PES 2014 as you now feel the power of the shot as you hit it, but a little variation in the way the ball moves wouldn’t go amiss.
Response times, a big talking point with PES 2014, are thankfully much better. This is mainly when you’re walking (yes, you can now walk) or jogging with a player, with each slight movement of the left stick being an utter delight. When you start running or sprinting though, the response times become a little off. I don’t expect to be able to turn on a dime whilst sprinting, but with the top players like Robben or Ribery you expect a certain amount of control even when going at full pelt. The former has shown this in the World Cup, so why should his virtual representation in PES be any different. Kind of linked to this are the player reaction times – not as bad as PES 2014, but still crop up more often than not and end up being utterly frustrating. I’m still unsure if this is down to poor AI, response times or poor animation transition/stitching, but if I was pressed I’d say it was more of the latter. Imagine being a defender facing up an attacker, winning the ball, but you are unable to gain possession of it due to the player not reacting. You press the forward to go to the ball and you can half see your player react, but he just stops there and the attacker frustratingly regains possession. It’s something that was present PES 2014 and is more than prevalent here. This happens in the six yard box too many occasions as well, resulting in cheap goals against or for you.
All the above said though, there are positives to take away from PES 2015. It’s great to see you can now create a move from back to front without it being a similar experience to pulling your teeth out. No, I kid you not. I have my issues with the ball physics, sure, but the sheer fact that I can pass around nicely and create a nice move (goal or not) is great, satisfying even. Combine that with the player individuality and team styles, two signature aspects of PES over the years so it’s good that they are still present. Sure, the code only feature Bayern Munich and Juventus (would’ve liked more teams), but you still got a feel of the two different styles. Funnily enough, I preferred playing as Juventus due my possession football style of play. I used players like Pirlo and Marchisio to use the ball around the pitch and create moves, giving it to the likes of Pogba and Tevez to burst forward with. Speaking of Pogba, he is an utter beast in the game. Pretty much all his attributes (strength, physicality, pace etc) all shine through when you play with him in PES 2015. The same applies to other players like Pirlo, Tevez, Robben, Ribery, Kroos etc. A few other things like the improved heading (yes, you can actually score with your head now) and crossing (still needs some variation) stood out as well the more I played.
It might sound weird, but that’s exactly one of the main things I took away after spending near enough three days (games in between other appointments) with PES 2015. From being frustrated and disappointed after the first day or so, I began to have fun with the game by the end of day three. Don’t get me wrong, the negatives I’ve pointed out were still there, but that element of fun began to shine through. For some, just that statement alone might be enough to believe in PES 2015, even at this early stage, especially given the quality of PES 2014. For me, with the jump to the PS4 taken into account, it is and isn’t enough. I’ll be honest, I expected a bigger leap both visually and gameplay wise. At this stage, PES 2015 feels like a slightly improved/fixed and somewhat better looking version of its predecessor, which given the claims about the jump to next-gen is disappointing. Still, I was very pleased to see that Konami (both Adam Bhatti and the development team) were very open to all honest feedback, so I’m hoping to see a much improved version when I next play the game in July. It should provide a better indication in regards to which direction it’s going. For now, I’m left with a hopeful feeling that Konami can build on the elements of fun in the E3 code and deliver something that truly reflects their “#thepitchisours” motto with PES 2015. Enough of the “foundation is there” chat, it’s time to deliver now. At least on the gameplay front.