Month: November 2015

The Expendables

Season 5 of Master League on PES2016. This is where things should be taking off – and they are.

Last time I mentioned getting a ‘name’ player and making do with Youth Regens to bulk out the remainder of my squad. I’ve gone ahead and done that.

So who did I get? I got another ageing striker, that’s who I got. I’m building a kind of Dad’s Army, in some ways. My very own Expendables.

Here’s the kind of picture you see filling up the PES forums every year during the weeks between the demo and full release::

Cavani forum-style photo PES2016

There are people who absolutely love looking at player faces. I know this and accept this. It’s a valid lifestyle decision. Hey, it’s a small world, and we’ve all got to get along.

Cavani is the ‘name’ player for Season 5 that I was talking about the other day. Cavani: the other Uruguayan, the one who’d get all the attention if Suarez and Forlan had never existed.

Cost: £22,000,000. Fine, he’s not that big a name, perhaps not even in the second rank of names, but he’s another big, powerful striker. It seems I’m making a theme of them in PES2016. He’s also over 30 in this ML world and about to go into decline. Another thing I’m doing different this year.

I like a big striker in PES (nods at Crouchy) and in real life — how is Peter Withe not on the Classics list? Mark Hateley? — but it might be argued that with Dzeko already on the books (and staying put), I don’t need another big man up front.

But when Cavani popped up in my searching around, I was instantly – instinctively – sure that this was the way to go. Cavani and Dzeko up front. Castledine behind. Arcas wide on the right. And wide on the left…

I sold a few players and scrimped together enough cash to spend on Rakitic. I snapped him up for a low-seeming £7m from Barcelona. He’s got the most astounding hair.

PES2016 Rakitic debut

Which doesn’t bother his manager as much as it probably should. I’ll share this secret with any men out there going bald and hating it: you soon get over it.

PES2016 pensive manager

Cavani and Rakitic are both over 30. I might only get a few good seasons out of them before they become bench players for a further season or two and then sold. It’s not something I can really explain. But something about this path calls to me and I’m taking it.

I had a new crop of Youths and helped myself. I picked up Berbatov and Valencia and Domizzi and Julio Cesar.

My Season 5 starting XI and squad:

Season 5 squad and First XI

New-style PES doesn’t really do players rated over 90, so the 80s are the new 90s.

My remaining weaknesses are the DMF and LB positions. I’ll live with these weakness areas for now and look to plug them in mid-season, or maybe even next season, depending on how things go.

My current LB, Marin, hasn’t developed as expected. Cambiasso as a DMF has never really taken off either – he’s one of new-style PES’s identikit players, sadly. What I mean by this is that his cocktail of stats and attributes and animations don’t produce anything that feels truly individual. He moves and passes and shoots and turns-on-a-sixpence just like 95% of all other players. You could swap him out for just about any of those other 95% and you’d never really notice. How times have changed in PES. My quest for big, lumbering centre forwards is a quest for the other 5%.

Let’s see the new boys in action and scoring goals. This clip actually starts with an established player, Giorza, scoring a great goal – the type I call a Big Dipper. The other goals are all bread and butter types.

Check the blatant handball from Cavani right at the end there. I dislike game niggles when they benefit me too. Granted, it’s problematic to program handball into football games, but that kind of handball should definitely be called.

These goals might give the impression that I had a great start to Season 5. I didn’t.

Here was the table after the opening few matches — this might amuse readers who thought my confidence last week was somewhat misplaced:

PES2016 Season 5 after 4

Rock-bottom of the league. My own stupid fault, mostly. I streaked into a 2-0 lead before half-time on the opening day against Villa, but lost focus and let them peg me back to 2-2. That’s the only point on show above.

I did get a grip eventually, and started knocking in plenty of goals with Cavani and Dzeko. Here’s a delightful little compilation, if I may say so myself:

First Cavani nets a classic header from a viciously direct Giorza cross. I love the way he cuts in front of the defender to glance the header into the net. And then comes a classic hat trick from Dzeko. Right foot, header, left foot. The header is an unusual sort of goal that had me grinning.

Enjoying unusual moments is why we play football games, I think. On the face of it, most football gaming is rather routine (another reason why we love it), but those periods of patient ordinariness are often punctuated by moments that have you grinning and watching replays.

That resurgence in form brought a few wins and that shot me up the table:

PES2016 season 5 after 9

My goals-scored column is very healthy there. If I can staunch my leaky defence, I can get into the top 6, and possibly even into the title race. All Master League players will know that it’s entirely possible to storm up the table from almost any position, thanks to the famous/notorious rubberband effect.

For once I’ve got some players appearing on the top scorers’ list:

PES2016 season 5 top scorers after 9

The game on Superstar is very tough, but enjoyable. I think I’ve hit a sweet spot where the game feels good and tough in exactly the right proportions.

Getting results against the lesser and middling teams (teams like myself, in other words) are essential, and I’m doing that.

PES2016 season 5 October results

Visual representation of PES2016 pressure

A great month apart from that result against Stoke, which annoyed the hell out of me. The pressure from the AI was obnoxious.

The image on the right is a visual representation of how Stoke play.

They are totally my bogey team.

There’s a bogey team for me every year. For some reason it’s usually Sunderland, but this year it’s definitely Stoke. I’ve had a few results against Stoke, but the relentlessly physical way they play suggests that Konami have been taking the real-life Stoke’s reputation a touch too seriously.

All the niggles and gripes and grumbles aside, over the past few sessions I’ve really been having a good time with PES2016.

Nope, the franchise isn’t what it used to be. Online multiplayer has had a terrible numbing effect on PES. The series has gone soft on player individuality and soft on fouls (or ‘interruptions’).

But… like many of the PS3-era PES games before it, PES2016 does seem to have a depth and playability that exceeds the sum of its parts. I’m enjoying PES2016 far more than I’m not enjoying it. My modest skills at the game should make it last a few seasons longer for me than for many others. There’s a reasonable chance I’ll still be playing PES2016 in the actual year 2016.

A stomach-churning moment of absolute horror

Season 4 has ended with me finishing reasonably strongly to secure 9th position:

PES2016 season 4 final table

Going into the last fixture I had a chance of overtaking Sunderland and Hull to finish 7th, but it didn’t happen. If the season had lasted another couple of matches I definitely would have overtaken them and secured a Europa League spot, I am sure. But looking at my meagre goals-scored column, 9th place is arguably more than I deserve.

I skipped the Old Boys’ testimonial match for the first time. My policy on simming matches is that I never do it, but I made an exception here. I always used to play pre-season friendlies in old-school PES, but I never have in recent editions and for all the novelty value of the Old Boys match, it’s just a tarted-up pre-season friendly. I simmed it. The player was Casillas. We won 1-0.

The post-season club ranking was somewhat realistic:

PES2016 post-season 4 club ranking

I’ve won nothing yet. Season 3’s Championship play-off trophy doesn’t count as a thing. I barely managed a goal per game in my maiden Premier League season. Being ranked 152nd in this ML world at this time is exactly right.

The news ticker in the period between the Old Boys game and the start of the new transfer window gave me a proper shock:

PES2016 Castledine transfer shocker

You wot mate? You wot? You having a laugh…?

My blood froze. The hair on the back of my neck prickled. My stomach turned somersaults. I almost spewed a sky-blue-hued stream of panicky vomit all over the fluorescent yellow vest that I always wear during every play-session of Pro Evo.

As I’ve remarked before – half playfully, but half seriously too – Castledine is a large part of the enjoyment I’m getting out of PES2016. I cannot lose him to another team. I routinely turn down (or simply ignore) bids from other teams in the region of 15-20 million quid. There have been about four such bids in recent memory. In some versions of Master League, turning down bids from bigger clubs would prompt player rebellion, but so far this doesn’t seem to be one of those versions. Or is it? Could there be a line of code somewhere in this made-up world that is going to make me cry?

I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one.

I started to look around in the transfer market and see what I wanted to do. I had quite a bit of cash to play with:

PES2016 season 5 healthy finances

As we all know, that almost-£23,000,000 is barely enough for one good player plus wages, so it’s rather deceptive.

I always have the option of getting a few lesser-but-still-good players, but are they going to be any better than what I already have? I’ve already got Reyes and Rosicky and other Youth Regens from a few seasons ago, and they’re starting to come good. They’re 18 or so now and starting to be actually useful on the pitch.

So my thinking is like this: I’ll get one new ‘name’ player, and treat myself to another few Regens from the Youth team, and build for the future rather than buy from without. PES2016 is a different experience and this is the route that seems enticing to me.

I still think this will be a short Master League compared to most recent years (although, actually, now that I think about it, PES2015’s longevity was something of an anomaly. PES2013 and PES2014, for different reasons, were both short Master Leagues. PES2014, of course, represents unfinished business).

This transfer policy – only a few new names, and nurturing young Regens – is where I want to go with this ML. It’ll extend the Master League by a season or two, at least.

That’s the theory anyway. We’ll see on Friday what this theory has resulted in in practice

Arise, King Castledine

Castledine, superstarThere he is. The main man. My very own Bryan Robson, Kenny Dalglish and Roy Race all rolled into one. The Myth incarnate and actually real, for once.

The above screen popped up in February of Season 4. My first superstar-level player is the man I’ve stuck with when it would have been very easy to cash in. In the current season’s January transfer window alone I had a £17,000,000 offer. I turned it down – just as I turned down all the ones before it, and just as I’ll turn down all the ones that come in after it.

Castledine’s superstar status comes with a raft of bonuses:

Super CastledineI instantly made Castledine the captain again, having given it to Schneiderlin at the start of the season on account of the latter having the Captaincy trait. But it seems Schneiderlin has done very little, in truth, apart from be a decent DMF (all you can ask, really).

Still super Castledine

Castledine’s got the best ‘whipping hammer’ style of left foot that I’ve seen in PES since Schwarz. In an edition of dubious player individuality, Castledine’s one of the few true individuals I’ve come across. When he’s missing from the team, I struggle.

PES2016 could be described as PES2013 in new clothes. PES2013 was the Year of Coynborough. PES2016 is the Year of Castledine.

This hasn’t been his greatest season – my promotion season, last season, was that – but he’s starting to re-remerge as I find my on feet on Superstar in the Premier League. I think we’ll be seeing Castledine holding aloft the Premier League trophy before too many more seasons are past.

I didn’t buy anyone at all in January. I’m saving my money for a couple of top players who’ll provide the extra pizzazz needed for a title challenge in Season 5.

The table after 32 matches:

PES2016 seaons 4 after 32The game’s started being quite kind to me. I’ve been on winning runs. I’ve started concentrating properly and grinding out results when needed. I’ve started being able to cope with the top teams. I got a 1-1 against Chelsea at Chelsea. It’ll be strange if I’m not in the top 6 at least next season, and I plan to go all-out for the title. Perhaps this confidence is misplaced and it’s still a couple of seasons too early, but it pays to aim higher than your reach.

I’m in no hurry to get to the end of PES2016. It’s only just November, after all. But I don’t think this is an edition of the game with true longevity.

With not long to go until the end of Season 4, and taking everything into account, and looking at my progress… I wonder if I’ll reach double figures on the seasons in this game.

Lingering questions remain about PES2016, and it’s time to acknowledge that the questions will never truly go away for me. No-fouls football is this game’s first and greatest sin. Next, and related, is that monstrously overpowered slide tackle. The dodgy keepers come in third. They all add up.

Here’s a short clip of an awful, immersion-killing, groaning moment, whose title says exactly what the state of affairs is:

I deliberately framed the referee in the replay clip to show that there was no ‘false advantage’ given either. The game’s much-praised physical battling model is nicely on show there, isn’t it? What a shame that nothing actually happens because of it.

No, I don’t think I’ll ever stop going on about PES2016’s damned stupid and insulting no-fouls gameplay. It’ll never not be an issue for me with this game. I was incredibly kind to PES2015 on this front, which if anything had a no-fouls gameplay system that was even worse than PES2016’s.

Looking back, after the gap-year of PES2014 – which didn’t become truly playable IMO until very late on (April-May time) – I was just happy to get a decent-feeling, playable game out of PES2015, and I was accordingly charitable. So PES2015 got a contextual bonus.

But the context has changed, and this year PES2016 will feel my wrath.

There is no way that no-fouls should be just accepted and shrugged off. A football game that regularly does the above – and PES2016 regularly does the above – can never, ever be seen as great. No matter how otherwise good PES2016 is (and it definitely is otherwise good), it’ll never gain admittance to the upper ranks of football games. Flow? Flow? To hell with this ‘flow’ business that no-fouls football is supposed to promote.

Okay, setting aside the nasty stuff, here are two goals from that same match – against Stoke – that pleased me for different reasons.

Dzeko has started knocking them in. Even a few headers. His goal above was was a bread-and-butter centre forward’s goal. That’s followed by a classic right-back strike from Giorza – a player who, along with Castledine and Arcas, comprise the Big Three of the Defaults this year.

Edin and volleyin

Season 4 of Master League on PES2016. I’m in the Premier League at last. I’m playing on Superstar, at last. And I think I’ve finally got past the stage of routinely doubting PES2016, at last.

The game’s not home and hosed yet by any means. If I was doing an end-of-year review right now, I’d still struggle to give it more than 8/10.

‘No fouls football’ is stupid and unforgivable. Defensively, the multipurpose slide tackle (combined with no fouls) promotes a relentless, churning, hurdy-gurdy gameplay that is often reminiscent of turn-of-the-century FIFA at its worst. To name just two of the game’s many issues.

But I have found myself playing the last few sessions just enjoying the things that feel right and proper, without thinking so much about things that are wrong.

I might even be believing that the October 29th update changed the gameplay slightly for the better.

I can’t be sure it’s not my step up to the Premier League and Superstar, but the game often feels slower and heavier. I’m noticing more midfield play, more individual battles, more of everything that I tend to regard as good and desirable in football gaming.

My first season in the top flight marks my permanent move to Superstar. I was braced for the worst, but it’s not going too badly. I think I’ve got my transfer signings right.

Here’s my First XI and complete Squad for the first half of the season at least:

PES2016 season 4 squad and First XI

I got Aimar and Marquez from the Youth team. That’s Schneiderlin sitting in my DMF hole, missus, with the captain’s armband on. Jese is a loan player with the Pinpoint Crossing trait. (I’m keen to road-test crossing and heading, which seems weak in PES2016.)

I did indeed sell on my great Youth keeper, Friedel. He was one of my heroes of PES2015. I’m looking for new heroes this year, so he had to go. Using the money he brought in — £5m, not bad — I got the experienced Cassio. My other Youth recruit, Weidenfeller, might turn out to be my long-term keeper this year, who knows.

The headline signing there is my £17,000,000 man, one Edin Dzeko. He’s 32 and in decline in this world now, and has already dropped a point of OPR in his short time with me, but he remains the big, skilful striker that he is in real life. I might only get one or two good seasons out of him, but they’ll be worth it, I hope.

He’s also something of a litmus test for PES2016’s player individuality. It’s a grim fact that too many players feel far too similar in this game, to me. You could swap nearly all of them around and I’d barely really notice.

I’m pretty satisfied with Dzeko up to this point. Only one goal so far, but he’s starting to gel with the team, and I’m starting to learn exactly what he can and can’t do. Such a refreshing change from the identikit strikers that PES2016 seems to throw up.

PES2016 season 4 rivals match hype

After a couple of indifferent opening matches, I met my big local rivals, Birmingham, in the Cup, and promptly lost.

PES2016 season 4 early results 2

Manchester City were almost unplayable and I did well to keep the score to 0-3. I also did well to hang on for a 1-1 against Liverpool.  At this stage I started to ‘get’ Superstar, and it felt just like slipping on a pair of comfortable old trainers.

PES2016 season 4 early results 1

The rest of my results… haven’t been at all bad. I’m holding my own in the Premier League. For now. I’ve already met a few of the top sides and sensed the gulf in quality that separates us. Mid-table is likely to be my final resting spot for the season. But wouldn’t it be good to get into Europe in my first season back in the big time?

PES2016 season 4 after 8