Almost two months ago, I ended my E3 2014 preview of PES 2015 stating that Konami need to stop the talk and deliver something that reflects their ‘the pitch is ours’ tagline. A somewhat harsh statement, but at that point the game was just wasn’t up to scratch. Going to the Old Trafford event a few weeks after didn’t fill me with confidence either. If anything, that code was worse than what was on show at E3 2014. With all that taken into account, it made PES 2015’s showing at Gamescom 2014 a make or break moment for the game. I mean, if it wasn’t decent by then, chances are it wasn’t going to be at launch either. Thank the gaming gods then that it was decent, and then some.
Being close to Brand Manager Adam Bhatti, I was hearing that PES 2015 had come on leaps and bounds since E3. I was being told the game was responsive, shooting was good and even the keepers were fixed. I took it all in, but with similar statements being made over the last few years I was more than sceptical. It was a case of I wanted to play the game for myself and make a judgement, see if what I was being told was true. Picking up the PS4 pad that Wednesday morning on the Gamescom showfloor, I was expecting the worse, but came away utterly blown away by the progression since E3. It was like a completely different game. In a good way, of course.
One of my biggest gripes with the E3 code was that it wasn’t a big enough visual jump from the PS3 to the PS4. The words “PES 2014 HD remaster” were used, something I still stick by when it comes to the E3 code, but I couldn’t say that at all about what was shown at Gamescom. The feedback I provided back then might’ve seemed harsh, but it resulted in a huge improvement in the visual fidelity so I’m more than pleased. The pitch actually looks like a pitch now (marks and scuffs present), with improved lighting adding to the more realistic look of the game. If I’m being completely honest, I still think the lighting could be a bit more natural, but it’s undoubtedly a huge improvement compared to what was in the E3 code. Having been tweaked further, player faces and models are simply great. Some of the likenesses are just scary and the way the movement/mannerisms of certain players have been captured is just awesome. The little animations that portray the way Andre Schurrle or Arjen Robben runs are just delightful to witness, adding to the immersion level of the game. That said, the stitching or transition from one animation to another could be smoother, an issue you might have seen in some of the Instagram videos I posted. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does movement looks a tad jerky when really it should be one smooth motion. With a November release now pencilled in, I’m hoping the PES team can iron this issue out. Either way, I’m just happy it actually looks like a credible PS4 title now rather than a high end PS3 one. Looks like the team are getting used to the Fox Engine then!
Moving onto the gameplay, the action on the pitch… You know, where it matters. This is where PES 2015 truly excels. Just after one game I could tell the difference compared to the E3 code, it was night and day. Being the guy I am, I proceeded to play several more (lost count how many) to the point where we (Gari and I) had to be kindly asked to leave the PES area at the Konami business booth. That’s dedication! Point is, it felt as good to play PES 2015 at Gamescom from the first to the very last time, and there are a number of reasons behind this. One of the main ones? Keepers. They’ve gone from shocking to very good. No, I’m not joking. The keepers are actually solid now. I played plenty of matches at Gamescom and not once did a keeper error ruin a match or result in a cheap goal. That’s right, not even once. At E3 and Old Trafford almost every match was impacted by a keeper error, so the work the PES team have done since then is astonishing. From error prone and shoddy to solid and reliable. Not just that, each keeper now has traits of his real life counterpart. So Manuel Neuer for instance makes himself intimidatingly big in one-on-one situations, something which I found out when I tried to dink the ball over him a few times. On the other hand, someone like Jasper Cillessen is more agile and prone to some stunning point blank stops, a fact Gari found out when he thought he was sure to score with Neymar in the box! The transformation is actually incredible, almost hard to believe. It’s true though, PES finally has solid keepers. Spread the word!
Shooting is another area that is fantastic; it’s had some real attention paid to it. Floaty and frustratingly inconsistent in previous codes, it’s now got some real oomph behind it and generally the result is exactly what you’d expect from your controller input. Floaty shots are a thing of the past, unless you’re in an awkward position and it makes sense for a fluffed shot to be the result. During my time with the game, I hit some real crackers from range that were either saved, hit the bar, went wide or thumped the back of the net, and each one felt great no matter the result. That’s what PES has been good at doing at its very best, and that feeling is back in abundance now. Shooting, by default, also feels more manual now. By that I mean you really feel like the ball is going where you’re aiming it, so much more than before. I’m not a newcomer to manual shooting so I got to grips with it quite easily, but if you’re used to heavily assisted shots then it might take a game or two for you to get accustomed. Once you are, you’ll embrace the freedom and wonder how you ever lived without such a shooting system before. One area, in terms of the shooting, that could be improved is the strength and power of R2 shots. They’re a bit understated and slow at the moment, even when you think you’ve nailed a shot, so hopefully the feedback is taken on board. But, yeah, apart from that shooting is pure football gaming sex.
Just like the best PES games, build-up play and passing is a cornerstone of PES 2015. I felt this in the E3 code, but it’s more apparent now due to everything else tying in quite nicely. You can play a proper passing game, mimicking the real life style of teams such as Spain, Netherlands or Italy. Even the AI will do this, and I experienced this first hand as I got played off the park against Spain when I took on them with Brazil. Passing along their back four then moving into that mesmerising tika-taka style, taking my weak Brazilian defense apart like it was nothing. The top passers such as Pirlo, Xavi and Sneijder stand out too, with the latter being my personal favourite. Their passing and overall styles are portrayed with stunning effect in PES 2015. Just watch Pirlo hit a 50 yard plus pass with amazing accuracy and you’ll instantly fall in love with that side of the game. Dribbling, another key part of the build-up play, is utterly sublime. Responsive and sublime. There’s no other way to describe it. No tricks needed. It’s all about the use of the left stick. Get it, tame it, use it and you’ll have a very powerful (but fun) skill in your PES 2015 arsenal. As you’d expect, well-known dribblers such as Neymar, Ronaldo and Robben are a delight to control, each one moving with their own mannerisms and throwing in a few of their signature movements for added enjoyment. But, just like they should be, more understated players like Pirlo, Silva (especially him), Sneijder, Xavi and Iniesta are sublime in their movement too. No exaggerated movements of the left stick required with these guys, just caress it (okay, maybe not literally) and they’ll glide, moving gracefully across the pitch and leaving opposition stunned in their wake. It’s not an easy thing to do, but when you grasp it… Man, it’s glorious.
I mentioned it briefly above, but the AI is a step up from the previous code too. Your teammates will actively make space for you to pass to, especially if the strategy and tactics point to an attacking style. They’ll move back, forward, left or right just to give you more options and give you that space to work in. There is a real sense of awareness, something that was never really present in PES 2014 or previous iterations of PES 2015 code. As for playing against the AI, well, it’s challenging but fun. Just how it should be in my humble opinion. Thanks to the increased tactical depth and multiple home/away formations, AI teams actually play like their real life counterparts. It’s almost scary. I played about 5 matches on the superstar setting and was more often than not outplayed. I only lost once (drew two and won two), but I had to be (pardon the pun) on the ball for every single second. Playing against Spain as Brazil (the match I lost) I was completely outplayed and out-passed. I felt inadequate to them in comparison. The only relief I felt was when I got the ball to Neymar, Hulk or Oscar, which I imagine kind of how it would be if the match actually took place. I was pressed and harried to the max as well; it was uncomfortable but so much fun at the same time. Playing against Germany was a similar experience, but just found them to be way more clinical. On the other hand, I found myself having more of the ball against teams like Netherlands who played on the break, but had to be wary of that exact threat when I lost the ball. That kind of depth and thought you won’t find in many other sports titles yet alone another football one (yes, I mean FIFA), so high praise for the PES team there.
Defending against all of the above is pretty much on point too. Unlike PES 2014 and some of the other previous games, defending isn’t a complete guessing game. It’s actually about skill and learning the system. You need to know when to hold X to track and when to double tap it to actually make the tackle. It’s also worth knowing that when you’re defending in and around your box holding X tracks and eventually makes the tackle to, much like older PES games. It’s a system that worked well then, and the same applies here too. If you can master all these points, in combination with positioning your back four, then defending (like it should be) is an art. The best defenders like Mats Hummels, Giorgio Chiellini and Thiago Silva are beasts, so you’ll have to be clever to get to past them as more often than not they’ll win tussles. Other defenders like Jerome Boateng are suitably nimble, so much like the creative midfielders mentioned earlier it’s about utilising the strengths of these guys. Defensive battles are definitely a big part of the game as Konami’s focus on one-on-one proves, and they’ve (for the most part) done a good job at portraying it in the game. The physicality, more in terms of the way it’s displayed, could be better, but that might require a full-on physics/collision system. Another one for the team to work on as they get used to the Fox Engine.
So what a massive difference from my E3 preview, eh? Not even I thought I would be writing something this positive about PES 2015 at this stage after all that I’d seen and played before, but it’s genuinely shaping up to be very good. You know that PES feeling we all talk about and wanted back, it’s there in PES 2015. Even at this stage, just less than three months before release. It encapsulates what we love about PES games from the past and brings it out on the PS4. I think I said on Twitter it’s telling that the 0-0 matches were probably the most enjoyable ones, a point that was apparent in older PES games. There are still improvements that can be made, a few of which I’ve detailed above, but PES 2015 feels like an enjoyable, cohesive football game now. That in itself is something big, as it’s been hard to say that about previous iterations. I’m not going to say the king is back or anything like that as those would just be meaningless words to most of you. PES is back though, just play the demo on 17th September and you’ll see what I mean. If the PES team keep this level of work up until the game is ready to ship on 13th November, no matter what the competition does, the pitch will be theirs.