Pro Evo Plays Better Than FIFA, But That's Not Enough

Pro Evo Plays Better Than FIFA, But That's Not Enough

Pro Evolution Soccer 2015's motto is "The Pitch Is Ours". It's a rallying cry to purists, fans of the sport who want their game to play like the real thing, not just look like it. It's also accurate: in almost every respect, Konami's game plays better than EAs. But that doesn't matter.

For the past few years, I've done a fairly extensive breakdown of the two big football games, in an attempt to decide which one was "better". This year, mostly because Pro Evo launched two whole months later than FIFA, I decided against that single piece, instead reviewing FIFA on its own.

I won't be reviewing Pro Evo, because I think that's missing the point.

There's a bigger issue with Pro Evo 2015 than what it does right (or wrong) as a single game. And that's how it represents the state of the battlefield between Konami's series and EA's annual juggernaut.

Ever since FIFA retooled itself six years ago to become the dominant force in football gaming, Pro Evo - the former title-holder from the PS2 era - has been scrambling to respond. Year after year it tried to retake its position as top dog, and year after year the series became more of a muddled mess, the developers seemingly unsure on how to both tackle FIFA's strengths while not losing sight of their own.

FIFA got bigger and bigger, and Pro Evo, once the favourite of both critics and fans, slid further and further into the background, becoming increasingly irrelevant in the eyes of the massmarket consumer.

Then last year, you got the sense things were changing. Pro Evo switched to a new engine that in parts played fantastically (though it broke down in others), and its player models looked lightyears ahead of FIFA's ice-skating cartoon characters. There was a feeling that, in a year or two, Pro Evo might actually be back on track.

It only took a year. Sort of. This year's Pro Evo is the best football game since FIFA 09. Almost everything about it just feels right: from the weight of passes to player movement to shooting, when you play Pro Evo 2015 alongside FIFA 15, it feels truer to the sport its trying to recreate. Slower, more artistic, more open to interpretation and expression. It never feels like it's on rails, or that the AI is waiting to spring a bullshit equaliser in the 90th minute. It just feels like football.

Pro Evo Plays Better Than FIFA, But That's Not Enough

It's a shame, then, that this somehow isn't enough. There's so much more to a sports game than how it plays on the field. Stuff like how its careers are structured and how it's presented are just as important as how a shot travels or how a keeper reacts.

While Pro Evo has finally nailed its on-pitch action, almost everything else about the game remains ancient and unwieldy. Menus remain clunky, like something from the PS2 era. Commentary is an embarrassment. EA's wildly successful Ultimate Team concept has been copied, but as you'd expect, it's a hollow and shameless facsimile.

Most damning of all is that Pro Evo's licensing, one of the most critical aspects of a sports game, seems to be getting worse, when it needs to be getting better. A big part of FIFA's dominance isn't just down to EA's marketing spend, it's down to the fact that FIFA can boast things like Premier League licenses and stadiums, then make use of them using slick TV-like presentation.

Pro Evo tries to keep up - it has the Champions League, Italian and Spanish leagues, along with a few other minor comps - but when it comes down to it, it's getting blown out of the water. Not only is it missing two of the best leagues in the world (England and Germany), but many big national teams aren't properly represented either, including England and, bizarrely given the game's origin, Japan (my Socceroos, long a Pro Evo mainstay, don't have their authentic strips either).

What this leaves us with is a game that plays better on the pitch, but isn't a better game, because as much as I love passing the ball around during a match, the thought of spending hours in the Pro Evo's bogged-down menu system just so I can see West Midlands Village take on Merseyside Red, only to be subjected to the same three lines of commentary over and over and over again, makes me wonder if it's worth it.

If this was just a temporary hiccup or misstep, it wouldn't be that big a deal, but I'm getting the sense with Pro Evo 2015 that this is as good as Konami can do. That even with a new engine and a year off (there was no PS4/XB1 game last year), they didn't have the resources to tune the gameplay and do something to improve the game's commentary, menus or career structure.

That makes me worry for the future of the series, and its current position as the only thing keeping FIFA from descending into the Madden-like levels of complacency a sports game can afford when it's the only game on the market.

Am I doomed to repeat the same words every year, from now until eternity? That Pro Evo is forever destined to play development whack-a-mole, able to only fix or improve one part of the game while leaving the rest languishing behind EA's juggernaut?

I'm starting to think I am. Which, given just how well Pro Evo 2015 plays, really bums me out, because the best recreation of the sport on the market deserves a better game around it.


Comments

    I'd disagree with this pretty strongly. I played the demos of both FIFA 15 and PES, and this year's PES craps on FIFA from a very great height. I spent more hours playing the free demo of PES than I spend playing a lot of full priced games that I buy.

    What this leaves us with is a game that plays better on the pitch, but isn’t a better game, because as much as I love passing the ball around during a match, the thought of spending hours in the Pro Evo’s bogged-down menu system just so I can see West Midlands Village take on Merseyside Red

    Actually, I'd argue that PES is a vastly better game, but FIFA is a better piece of official FIFA merchandise. While I don't mind the sport of soccer, I don't actually follow it in the sense that I don't have a favourite team that I go for, so the lack of all the real-life licenced teams doesn't bother me in the slightest - all I care about is how it plays once it gets out on the pitch.

      I do follow soccer and concur that "the lack of all the real-life licenced teams doesn't bother me in the slightest - all I care about is how it plays once it gets out on the pitch."

      A better game is a better game. In fact I'd say it's better not to waste precious development money on stupid Fifa licences. In fact I'd say that less money going to Sepp Blatter is a major selling point.

      You evaluated which game is better based on their demos? And then you liked the PES demo more, claiming to have spent more hours on it than a lot of full priced games you buy, yet you didn't even buy the full game in the end?! Then you try to rebut the author's analysis of the two games, only to claim you don't mind the sport, but you don't actually follow it in the sense of not having a favourite team?! Sorry man, but for obvious reasons, I don't think I can trust your critique of this genre.

      Other than that, great article. I think it raises a worrying point in the end. Konami are likely to always be playing catch-up at this point, and if they can't seriously improve at some stage, how much longer PES will hang around for? EA needs a competitor to make them try harder each year, and without that, who knows what they're capable of producing.

      Last edited 20/11/14 2:54 pm

        nd then you liked the PES demo more, claiming to have spent more hours on it than a lot of full priced games you buy, yet you didn't even buy the full game in the end?!

        Where did I say I didn't buy the full game in the end? I pre-ordered it and got it on launch day and have been playing it since. I mentioned that to make it clear that the only basis for comparison I've got is the demos - I played both and chose to buy the full version of PES, not FIFA.

        And why do I need to follow a specific team to be able to enjoy the game itself as a neutral observer? I'm just making the point that it doesn't bother me that PES doesn't have my favourite team officially licensed because I don't have a favourite team, so the difference in licensing between PES and FIFA is a non issue for me.

        And ultimately, why does somebody even have to enjoy the sport at all in order to like a video game? Watching golf bores the living shit out of me but that doesn't stop me playing and enjoying golf video games.

          Link me a photo of your copy of PES with your Kotaku name written on a piece of paper next to it. I'll then believe you bought the game.

          Last edited 21/11/14 12:06 pm

            Apart from the fact that I don't really care if you believe that I bought the game or not, why would I not buy a game that I loved the demo of and have purchased multiple times in the past?

    I think the on field action more than compensates for the clunkiness elsewhere in this case. The best Pro Evo since 2004, and light years ahead of Fifa on the pitch. Would I like all the bells and whistles? Sure. Is it a deal breaker? Not when the gameplay is this good.

    Option file mods is where PES shines. Shame that it's not possible on current-gen consoles.

    Last edited 20/11/14 12:33 pm

    FIFA just appeals to more people than Pro Evo. People clearly want an arcade soccer game where they can play their favourite players and teams. Pro Evo does not offer that. On the other hand if you want an accurate soccer simulation, Pro Evo offers that perfectly

    Yeah nah I'm finding PES infinitely more playable.
    We've been having a lot better games online in PES 15 than we did in FIFA 15.
    FIFA always just seems that there's always around 16-17 people in the box whenever you get forward.
    PES is more rewarding for playing that killer ball.
    Not to mention actually being able to round the keeper in PES.
    FIFA's tactical defending is still broken. Forcing everyone to use it online, even if you're just trying to play against friends, is silly.
    Also, PES has lobbies for online.
    Also, PES so far hasn't taken 4 or 5 goes to attempt to play a game against a friend.
    The only negatives for PES this year are commentary (as always) and the fact that the servers went down on Tuesday afternoon right as I had played a through ball to get a freshly substituted player in behind the defence deeeeeeeeeeeep into the 2nd half of extra time after coming back from 2-0 down at half time.
    It would have put me ahead by 2 in the series with my mate, however it has provided us an awesome discussion point of "yeah I would've won" vs "nah my defender was catching you"

    EA’s wildly successful Ultimate Team concept has been copied, but as you’d expect, it’s a hollow and shameless facsimile.
    Not really, it's more of a combination of Master League and Ultimate Team.

    The most surprising thing about how good PES is this year is when compared to how bad it was last year.
    Both EA and Konami really made up for lacklustre 2014 games.
    But PES takes it easily this year.

    It has to be a marketing problem. I don't get a PES game every year. More like every three or four, similar to how I treat Madden. When I go for a soccer game, I go for PES, just for the way it plays.
    The FIFA juggernaut is becoming ingrained. It's like the COD of football. I don't mean that to bag either franchise. I just mean they have a stable foothold on the market.
    Even if Luke's (mainly good) points are addressed, I doubt it would help much against the established brand. It's quite sad to think about, and not just an issue in this genre of gaming.

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