Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 review: the equalizer

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform 360, PS3, Win, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Konami
Developer PES Productions
Release Date

Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 should call the bluff of every message board idealist who says gameplay, and not licensing or faux broadcast window-dressing, matters most in a sports title.

Ask yourself, honestly: Do you really love your favorite sport? Or is the league what you really love? Think about it, and if you need help answering, play Pro Evolution Soccer 2015, which has caused me plenty of soul-searching over the real value offered by a sports video game. Its smoothly authentic depiction of the pace, the balance, the tension and the constantly evolving strategy of a soccer match rivals EA Sports' FIFA franchise, and that is a tremendous come-from-behind victory for the series.

Last year's Pro Evolution Soccer 2014 was a lumbering first run under the Fox Engine, Konami's proprietary physics package seen in titles like Metal Gear Solid. But this year, PES feels like it finally has its feet under it. Passing and shooting animations that seemed a step behind in PES 2014 are almost telepathic in Pro Evolution Soccer 2015, thanks to a generous window in which to pre-load that pass once the ball is received, or blast it at the goal once the striker catches up to it. Lofted passes are made useful by a nifty command in which the receiver steps out of the way of the ball, rather than stopping it with his chest, and picks it up on the run. The overall effect is a great passing system that gives players more than one way to create and sustain momentum, and reminds them to use all of their tools.

pes review

On defense, you can't simply slam a defender into a ballcarrier to dispossess him. Tackling, whether upright or sliding, is also very likely to result in a foul, if not a yellow or red card. This places a priority on calling for help (the square/X button) rather than engaging one-on-one, or using the X/A button to apply pressure with the controlled defender, slowing the attacker down enough that AI teammates can step out into passing lanes and intercept the ball.

Players in Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 are much better spaced and AI teammates take more initiative to start a scoring run. Though the game supplies some one-on-one tricks to break down or slip by a defender, passing is the key to victory, and PES 2015 supports it well with physics that create genuine panic or anticipation when a through-ball skids by the defense.

I remapped FIFA 15's controls to mimic Pro Evolution Soccer's 2015's basic structure and then played a game in it, and the lack of feel and command I had underlined the difference. FIFA, for all of its authenticity elsewhere, is geared toward big moments and maintaining a puncher's chance for even the weakest teams or players. Directly compared to PES 2015, its pace feels hectic and its outcomes arbitrary. Pro Evolution Soccer still pressures relentlessly on both sides of the ball, but provides better tools either to advance it safely or push it into an area where it becomes a scoring opportunity.

PES player

Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 did for me what many other sports titles have not: put me in a frame of mind where I felt an instinctual understanding of winning gameplay. Many sports simulations are, bluntly, a collection of background calculations made visually acceptable by animations or forced occurrences. I never got that feeling with PES. I throttled Juventus, a top Italian club, with Hellas Verona by three goals by playing a step ahead of the defense and never losing that diamond-hard focus. There's a much greater sense of accomplishment when you emerge victorious from a tough match in PES 2015.

This makes for a great short-term experience, either in a single game or one of several international tournaments — including UEFA's Champions League, the lone showpiece PES has been able to lord over FIFA since 2008. Given the choice of playing a single game with any current sports simulation, I would take Pro Evolution Soccer 2015, over Madden, over FIFA, over NBA 2K or MLB The Show.

Unfortunately, the longer-term experiences with Pro Evolution Soccer 15 suffer either from a lack of licensing, a somnambulant virtual broadcast or sludgy, cryptic menus that turn player management into a pen-and-paper chore.

Germany's powerful Bundesliga is absent from career modes because of licensing, and in tournament play only three German clubs will appear. The Premier League, the most important football league in the English-speaking world, is 19 ringers and Manchester United for the same reason. With only eight real-life venues, a lot of matches are played in "Konami Stadium" or, worse, the fictional "Estadio de Escorpiao" even if the teams are Italian. PES 2015 does add lower-division leagues in several nations, and really doubles down on South America (Argentina is fully licensed, and Brazil's professional league appears only in PES), a stronghold PES market. your underpowered club early on can be easily overwhelmed

MyClub, Konami's stab at mimicking FIFA's Ultimate Team cash register, is set back by bad menu interfaces that make placing a newly signed player into the lineup a needless multistep process. It's also where novices will really feel the demand PES 2015 requires that FIFA does not. There's no variable difficulty setting because users may play one another. Unfortunately, your underpowered club in the mode's early stages can be easily overwhelmed by AI opponents or users with better ratings.

Players in MyClub are acquired through "agents," basically markers one earns for completing a match win-or-lose (providing incentive to stay in to the end). There are two tiers, one for workaday players and top agents that offer a shot at higher-level players. The opportunity to spend real money is there, but I never got the urge, partly because the rest of the mode seemed so bland and my proto-club was so frequently overmatched.

Master League and Become a Legend, the other two career modes, don't get much polish and their value, again, is driven more by the quality of gameplay in the matches. Neither gives much color to the story of the season you're ostensibly creating. While the Brand X clubs in England have real players, there's nothing appealing about playing a season with "Merseyside Red" instead of Liverpool, and when ringers showed up on the schedule in exhibitions or tournaments, my first instinct was to skip to the next match.

Wrap Up:

Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 is smart and balanced

This series is back, no doubt. I feel like dirt for caring so much about league licensing and broadcast presentation when the action PES 2015 offers is this intelligent and well-balanced. FIFA 15, after all, did not keep me up to 3 a.m. playing for the Copa Sudamericana, whose participants, at least, are all bona fide. Things like licensing, broadcast presentation and even menu interfaces may not help a game, but they're much more easily addressed if the rest of the game is fundamentally enjoyable. PES 2015 is. I would much rather play soccer in this game than in FIFA 15.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 was reviewed using a PS4 download code provided by Konami. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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