Some thoughts on the PES2017 Demo

My best goal from my first few sessions on the PES2017 demo. This was Germany-France, with me as Germany.

This match also saw me enjoy a match with a high foul-count for the first time in many years. I haven’t seen a post-match stats screen like this one in a long old time:

PES2017 demo post-match

This match was, quite simply, a brilliant experience. Thanks in no small part to a much more realistic officiating environment that kept both teams on the straight and narrow. There has to be a balance between what people call ‘fun’ and the serious simulation business. Recent years has seen much too much emphasis on fun. And I’m not entirely convinced, as many seem to be, that things are fixed now, but more on that to come, no doubt.

The demo has gone down superbly with the majority of PES players, and justifiably so. I wasn’t expecting a great deal from PES2017. I now do expect a great deal from PES2017.

After I went 1-0 up, France started jumping into challenges, snapping at my heels (and being penalised for it), and just generally playing really dirtily. I loved it.

The seeming return of fouls in PES2017 is a nice surprise in some ways – but is it a mirage?

I should point out that the above was 1 match out of about 11 I’ve played on the demo at the time of writing. The other 10 matches were all standard low-fouls matches. 1 or 2 fouls. In a couple of cases, 0 fouls.

But it is a good game. I could live with low-fouls (and occasional high-fouls) matches, if PES2017’s gameplay is as good as this demo hints it might be.

I like the new/old-style, slow-turning big men – Mertesacker handles like a sack of cement, and so he should. I was never comfortable with PES2016’s ninja ballerinas, as I called them.

Also, intriguingly, I sense a whiff of PES2014-style nerfed long-range shooting about PES2017. I watch every goal replay video I come across, and I’ve yet to see a 30+ yarder. If there is a nerf in place, it might not be a bad thing, as such. Scarcity breeds value.

I’ll park my cynicism for now and just enjoy what is one of the best PES demos we have seen.

Thinking back over the years, I tend not to enjoy demo versions of PES to any great extent.

PES3, PES5, and PES2010 – these are the only demos I remember being so enthralled by that I could hardly stop playing them.

I recall the PES3 demo disc being handed to me in GAME along with another purchase at the time, in 2003. After playing it for two days solid I lent that disc to a fellow PES enthusiast at the office where I worked at the time. We agreed that nothing could ever be better than PES. Those were the days when PES’s greatness was axiomatic, assumed, natural. Those days have been a millstone around the series’ neck ever since.

Onward and upward. I rarely play demos for longer than a day or two. I doubt I’ll stick with this demo for much longer. Just long enough to get a long-ranger, maybe – if they exist…

PES2016: my end-of-year review

PES2016 athe end of time

I won’t beat about the bush here.

PES2016 is, in general gameplay terms — assessed purely as a footballing video game — probably a worthy 8/10 football game. If I’d never played a Pro Evolution Soccer game before, or any football game, I’m sure I’d think PES2016 is the greatest thing ever.

I played more than 8 full seasons of Master League. PES is a friend I thoroughly enjoy having a reunion with every year.

At the end of the day, though, here in the cold light of August, I have to assess my feelings towards PES2016 in the light of it being a PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER game, and everything that means.

A different standard applies to PES. A higher standard.

By the franchise’s own standards, PES2016 is a

6/10

game. That is my final score.

There are two reasons why this overall-decent football game is, in the final analysis, only an above-average PES game.

Those reasons are:

  • no fouls
  • no player individuality

And that’s it. Those are the reasons.

That’s effectively the end of my end-of-year review. You don’t have to read any more. The rest of it, below, is mainly just an expansion of those two bullet points.

Captain Castledine lifts the trophyThe first reason — no fouls — is quibbled with by some, but it is an undeniable fact that PES2016 is deliberately programmed to feature very few AI-committed fouls, and often none at all.

About half my matches would end with literally no fouls at all. That’s an entire 10-minute PES match with NO fouls against whatsoever.

The other half of my matches would have a sprinkling of fouls. 1 or 2. Sometimes 3.

A free kick in shooting range was a rarity. Maybe one per 5-match session, on average.

In 700-odd Master League matches, I never had a single penalty kick.

The only people who moan about ‘too many fouls’ in a football game are people who should never be listened to. I’m completely comfortable with discounting their opinion. What a shame Konami weren’t.

The second reason — no player individuality — might be more subjective, and thus more debatable.

But not really. Not if you were weaned on the likes of PES3, PES5, PES2011, PES2012, and others.

In PES2016, I doubt there is anyone who felt much difference at all between, say, Raheem Sterling and Thomas Rosicky. Or between Thomas Rosicky and Jeremy Mathieu. Or between Jeremy Mathieu and Mario Gotze. Or between Mario Gotze and Franck Ribery. Or between… well, you get the idea.

Most of the Master League Defaults were potential superstars, too. Another personal bugbear.

‘Arcade’ and ‘sim’ are much-abused and woolly terms in football gaming discourse, but as general shorthand they will suffice. We all know what we mean by them.

PES2016 is too much the arcade game.

When you analyse why this is, you arrive at the two factors I’ve identified: no fouls, and no player individuality.

When there are no fouls, there is no reason not to play as fast and violent as you please (and let’s not even get into PES2016’s Infinite Stamina modelling). There are no consequences.

When there’s little or no player individuality, every player handles like a ninja ballerina, contributing to the above problem.

An already fast and frantic game is, at times, a whirlwind of frenetic sprinting and sliding. Defending in PES2016 can be thoughtful and strategic if you let it. Unfortunately, if you just want to get the ball back quickly (and when don’t you?), then just sprint your players into optimum position for as many super-sliding tackles as it takes. Job done.

PES2016 season 6 a typical run of results

Also: inflated scorelines.

Regular 9-goal thrillers in the first season of Master League (that’s the FIRST season!) should have whipped up a storm of protest. It didn’t. I imagine myUltimateClubTeam is more important these days.

The high-scoring tendency settled down but never really resolved itself. Multi-goal ‘thrillers’ (which were rarely thrilling) were the norm. Low-scoring or scoreless matches were a rarity. Another decisive break with the traditional PES past. Remember the long-ago times when you couldn’t score in Pro Evo? Remember them? Do you?

And the overall experience of playing Master League itself — still my favourite way to pass the time — was underwhelming, once you got used to the new menus and presentation.

One of the major attractions of Master League was the experience of bagging a starlet and nurturing him through the seasons. It was something that would take weeks or months of real time, and at the end of it you’d feel almost as proud of that pixelated player as if he were your own son.

It’s been several years since I’ve had that experience, sadly. Every player is a starlet almost from the start now. And if they’re not, it’s completely straightforward to just buy one of the game’s thousands of generic attacking midfielders.

The best Master League setup remains the one from PES2010/PES2011. The one that was mysteriously dropped just as multiplayer was coming to the fore…

The great things about PES2016? Many great things!

This review is as much a moan about the general trend of Pro Evo (and all football games) as it is a moan about PES2016 in particular. PES2016 does a lot that’s good and right and satisfying. I wouldn’t have played all the seasons I played otherwise.

Graphics. I thought they were lovely. Crisp and colourful.

The Master League was another in a lengthening series of letdowns, for the reasons described above, but the fundamentals were all in place. It was always satisfying moving from week to week and getting new players (even if they were all basically the same player after a while).

I loved the shooting. This was sharply critiqued on the forums for being too easy, but I loved the feel of it. It’s probably the one aspect of the game that I felt was exactly right.

What was wrong about it was the fact that too many players were capable of the same kind of cannonball shooting, but that is again a problem with the game’s lack of player individuality, not the shooting mechanic per se.

I loved that big booming feeling.

And what individuality was on display came to the fore in the partnership of Arcas and Castledine. The latter was my player of PES2016 — the best incarnation of Castello since Castello himself, over a decade ago.

So there were great things about PES2016.

What a bloody shame the focus on multiplayer is now so obvious and obnoxious.

The focus on fun, flowing football — and on ‘balancing’ (that most groansome of buzzwords which essentially means making every player more or less the same) — completely undermines traditional PES values.

It’s clear that there is no returning from the path that Pro Evo (and FIFA) have embarked upon.

Everything is focused on pleasing the multiplayer crowd and satisfying the expectations of the way they want to play. Seabass is just a receding memory. The multiplayer die is cast.

Football games with fouls and player indviduality in them aren’t automatically great football games, but they’ve got a good chance.

Football games without fouls and player individuality in them can NEVER be great football games.

QED.

So it’s just a 6/10. Maybe it’d be a 7/10 if I felt generous, but I don’t feel generous at all. I feel downright grumpy about the way PES almost exists in name only these days. The recent PES2017 footage, promising more of the same, has annoyed me too much.

I have played PES2016 again with great enjoyment over the past week. It might be objected that this means the game was, in fact, a success.

So I will repeat myself:

  • no fouls
  • no player individuality

I played more than 8 full Master League seasons without taking a single penalty kick within a match.

Rarely could I tell the difference between most of my 10 outfield players.

PES2016 is so transparently un-PESlike that it’s embarrassing to have to articulate the case.

This review might seem unduly harsh, but I’m only doing what every single reviewer this time last year should have done. I’m calling out PES2016 for lacking two of the things that no football game bearing the name Pro Evolution Soccer should ever lack.

PES2016 athe end of time

6/10 – a decent football game with good graphics, great shooting and a fairly good Master League. Not a great PES game, though — and yes, this is a distinction that matters. PES2016 has a much-too-passive AI, and the barest trickle of player individuality.

Beyond Good and Evo

I’m getting ready to write my end-of-year review of the current PES game — PES2016 — for publication on Tuesday’s post.

As such, I’m back playing PES2016 for the first time in a while. With a lot of enjoyment, it has to be said. PES2016 is not a bad game at all.

I don’t want to anticipate Tuesday’s final verdict, so I won’t go into too much detail of what I’ve been up to and how I’m finding the game after 6 months away from it.

I played 8 seasons (or was it 9) before stopping, all passion spent, back in January.

A criminally short time for a PES to hold my attention, but these are not regular times in the PESverse. This is 2016. Every generation gets the PES it deserves.

Like I said, I don’t want to anticipate Tuesday, so I won’t say much. Tempted to, but I won’t.

Here’s a goal I scored. I can reveal that PES2016’s shooting comes in for no direct criticism from me. I love me some of this thunderous stuff (a 1-minute clip here):

Giorza and Castledine will stick in my memory long after PES2016 itself has faded. There’s a reasonable chance I’ll remember those two Defaults in 10 years’ time.

In other news, the PES2017 goodies continue to drop thick and fast.

After watching a dozen or so vids of the AI in action, it is now 100% certain that PES2017 will be a no-fouls game once more.

I knew this all along, for the reasons I’ve so often stated. The needs of multiplayer supersede the needs of single-player, every time. It’s a stance that annoys me.

I sometimes think that any PES fan who believes multiplayer is the most important aspect of the game has never really been a PES fan. Then I scold myself for thinking that, because it’s wicked and evil. Fucking true, though.

I’ve played a touch more PES5 in recent days. BEHOLD! A Sreenshot of Majesty:

PES5 stats

You can surmise from those stats what kind of football game I experienced.

The gold standard of football gaming, right there. Many more fouls than there were shots on goal. This is standard for PES5.

We’ll not see the likes of that ever again. But whatever happens, they cannot take the old games away from us.

Speaking of the old games – I was going through my videos folder last night (prepping for the long-promised talky compilation) when I found the below. A certain AI-scored goal from PES2014 that some readers may recall. But it never looked or sounded better than… this:

The really peculiar thing is that I have no memory of putting that clip through that filter and adding that dramatic music. I have a faint recollection of maybe messing about with a phone app one night, long ago, but no memory whatsoever of doing this specific thing.

It’s all evidence of growing old. I’m angrily shaking my walking stick at PES2017. I’m forgetting things I’ve done. It’s over for me.

Evo, be thou my Good

FIFA16 is at an end. No point being playful and leading up to it. That’s it.

Yesterday morning I played a decent 1-1 draw, on Legendary difficulty, using some custom slider settings suggested by a regular commenter — thanks, Shed — and while I didn’t hate it, I didn’t get anything out of it either.

And just look at the calendar. August the what now?!

This is the wrong time of year to be exerting myself to get any deeper into a football game.

The only reason I would ever continue playing FIFA16 would be out of some sense of ‘providing fair and balanced coverage’ on the blog.

The thought of that always makes me smile. It would only happen if this blog was some kind of journalistic enterprise, which it isn’t.

It’s a hobbyist’s personal blog. I play and do exactly what I would play and do if the blog wasn’t running. That’s the main — and indeed only — editorial stance I take.

I might not even do an end-of-year review of FIFA16. I don’t feel I’ve played it enough. I’ve only played about two seasons’ worth of Career Mode. That’s still a hell of a lot of matches. A lot more matches than most games reviewers ever play.

There was no one breaking point. There wasn’t even a breaking point. FIFA16 remained interesting and engaging right to the point where I laid down the controller and knew that the game was over for me.

Before I quit — probably for the last time — I had one last mess-about in the Practice Arena.

You used to be able to set up full 11-vs-11 or 11-vs-5 practice sessions, or any combination thereof. I have no idea why they removed this very useful feature. Baffling. Maybe people weren’t spending enough time in Ultimate Team.

I discovered a surprise way to at least get some 1-vs-1 one action…

PES2017 will be here in 5 weeks and before that time comes I have a few other things to do — No Man’s Sky among them, plus some distracting work-and-life factors right now.

The PES2017 demo should land sometime next week. I’ll want to play and talk about that.

We already know it’s going to be another no-AI-fouls football game. All football games are no-AI-fouls football games these days.

What I don’t already know is whether PES2017’s general pace will be the same ‘fast frenetic flowing fun’ stuff that simply ISN’T to my taste.

So there’s no place for FIFA16 in my busy schedule. Once again, the summer holiday has come to an abrupt end. Same every year, right? Same every year.

Overall, a good game, probably better than FIFA15, but just as probably about the same. I gave FIFA15 a 9/10 score last year. If I did do a FIFA16 end-of-year review, I’d probably go around the same.

What next football game-wise?

Maybe some PES2014 — I really enjoyed the odd match I played on it last week.

Maybe some PES2011. The old ‘disc is still in the drive’ thing…

Maybe even some PES2016. Or some PES5.

Whatever happens from now on, it’ll be PES.

The lesson of this year’s summer holiday into FIFA is a familiar one. In any given footy game year, FIFA has to happen first, or it really struggles to happen at all.

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