And it needs to learn fast…
I’ve had PES 2015 retail code for over a week now and after lots of time with it, the differences between what PES does really well and where FIFA annually lacks, are clearer than ever. In years past the PES series has been maligned to such an extent that it wasn’t even considered as a genuine rival to FIFA, but this year that’s changed, and in turn so must FIFA.
A few caveats before I begin. I’ll only be talking about PES 2015 gameplay, as at the time of writing the online servers aren’t live and Data Pack 1 hasn’t been released, which among other things updates all the transfers. So pure gameplay it is.
Time & Space
Quite simply put, PES 2015 has it, and FIFA 15 doesn’t, but the question is why? Both games are played with the same number of players, and within the same confines, yet PES 2015 feels open and free whilst FIFA feels comparably claustrophobic? The answer lies in the player physics and the AI behaviours.
PES 2015 has come a long way in its player animations, but it’s still someway off the visual fluidity of FIFA. In terms of creating time and space however, this works in the games favour because those split second delays between transitions, actually prevent the aggressive and super accurate pressure seen in FIFA. PES doesn’t feel sluggish by any means (as previous games have) but what it does possess is the feeling that actions, have consequences. If I sprint, I need to adjust before turning. If I’m stationary, my cross field passes need more power. It’s subtle, but those fundamental laws of motion allow you to buy your own time through clever decision making, while FIFA universally pressures you regardless of context.
The AI plays a part too because in PES 2015 the CPU doesn’t pressure unless it perceives there to be danger. It prefers instead to maintain the formation shape, as opposed to chasing the ball like a Labrador. So when you’re passing the ball around in PES 2015, you can do so far more expressively. You still need to be alert, but the overall flow of passing is much more akin to real football, and that feeling is created by the time and space the game affords you and that which you can create yourself.
This leads me neatly on to positioning, where again PES betters FIFA by doing the simple things really well. For example, in PES 2015 when a center back has the ball, his partner naturally drops a few yards deeper to become available for a pass. Your CDM then moves in to become an option for him, and your full back naturally creeps up to become an outlet for both. All of what I’ve just described can happen in FIFA, but normally it has to be instigated by the user. In PES it just happens, and these subtleties which are seen all over the pitch combine at times to great effect.
PES also wins the positioning war in overall team shape, flexing more naturally than FIFA’s rigid width which it stubbornly maintains regardless of ball position. In FIFA 15 this leaves huge chasms between full backs and center backs and it’s the root cause the games prolific through ball success rate. If the lines were tighter, defenders would intercept more, as they do more routinely in PES 2015.
When the ball is out wide in PES 2015, the whole team shifts over to accommodate which maintains positional structure, and if the play gets switched, they slide back across. These are the same kind of rules you teach kids, and yet FIFA has failed for quite some time to implement successfully these fundamentals. So what happens if you combine players being attracted to the ball too easily, with loose defensive positioning? Play any game of FIFA online and see for yourself.
Now for this one I don’t literally mean the speed things move (well I do, sort of) and either way PES is the more methodical of the two games anyway. But by speed I also mean how fast the engine reveals itself to you, and what effect that has on the feeling of longevity.
When I play FIFA 15 I feel like the game is in a rush. Not just in terms of pace, but also in terms of what the game wants to show me. The game is literally bursting at the seems to show-off its wares, overhead kicks, wondrous saves, deft flicks it’s all there and in your face from minute one. FIFA doesn’t want to take you out for dinner, get to know you, and then move on to some gentle petting. It bends you over and gets down to business.
In PES 2015 things are slower, more meandering. You might not see a 30 yard strike for 3 or 4 games, but when it happens, that memory sticks and it stirs something within you. The same goes for a great flick, or a wonderful passing move. They’re fewer and further between than in FIFA which could be perceived as a weakness, but it’s really not. PES 2015 slowly and seductively undresses itself, leaving you wanting more. And I’m now done with this analogy; you’ll be pleased to know.
EA made positive changes to FIFA’s CPU AI this year, and whilst not revolutionary, after years of neglect it was a welcome statement of intent none the less. PES 2015 however has blown it out the water with its offering and there are a number of reasons why. The first being that the AI in PES not only keeps the ball, but it does so intelligently and with purpose. It can find angles you didn’t know existed and it mixes things up too, playing short, long, wide and through the middle. It’s clever, and I both hate (because it’s cleverer than me) and love that at the same time.
But beyond the general football patterns PES’ AI quite simply does better than FIFA, the biggest thing for me is that it takes risks. It’s something our very own Xaor alluded to in a recent editorial, and its brought to life perfectly by these two games.
When FIFA’s AI attacks you it does so based on probability. If it has an option between shooting, and a simple pass, it follows the path of greatest probable success, even if shooting was the more natural thing to do. How many times have you conceded goals in FIFA 15 where the AI squared it, or passed when only a few yards out? I’ve lost count.
PES 2015 strikes a much better balance here even though deep down it’s probably governed by the same type of logic. Konami however have left enough room for creativity to exist so when that half chance arises PES takes a chance, whilst FIFA plays percentages.
Again FIFA 15 has been outgunned here after bringing in it’s own wave of new tactical options this year in the form of Player Instructions and multiple saved formations. But whilst FIFA has the better layout and navigation, PES 2015 contains more options than you can imagine, the best of which being it’s fluid formation changes which you can pre-configure to some depth. Being able to setup an attacking 4-3-3 formation, which switches automatically to a 4-5-1 when you lose the ball is so useful it’s untrue. And again that key word is ‘automatic’. In FIFA you’d have to press a button every time. No thanks.
There are individual player options, team styles and loads more too, and in all honesty it is a little overwhelming to a player returning after a leave of absence. But you’d certainly rather have the options available than not and it’s kind of telling that something EA have made a feature of this year, PES quietly does more astutely out of the box.
Final Word On PES 2015
This article by its very nature has been very anti-FIFA, but that was kind of the point to be honest. The reality is that there are many things which FIFA 15 does better than PES 2015, but when it comes down to core football gameplay for me, Konami have the edge this year. But PES 2015 isn’t a perfect game by any means.
The ball physics are a little one dimensional, the player physicality is rudimentary at best, and it shares FIFA 14’s ‘no-freekicks’ disease as the AI rarely engages aggressively enough to actually foul you. But in the grand scheme of things none of these issues detract too much from the experience and at its core PES 2015 is well balanced and consistently enjoyable.
It doesn’t share FIFA’s production values, or animation fidelity but it does play a very good game of football, which after years in the doldrums will be more than enough for the PES hardcore who’ve suffered for so long.
FIFA has been blazing a lone trail of commercial and critical success over the last three years, but it’s old enemy is now fighting back and it’s doing so with the sole aim of being the connoisseurs choice. A noble and idealistic cause you may say, but it’s one that will turn heads (as the reviews have proved) and provoke EA to make a few choices of their own.
I love FIFA to bits, and for me FIFA 15 still delivers in areas that PES can’t yet match, but that gap is closing fast, and if EA fail to learn these fundamental lessons sooner rather than later, next year could represent the turning of the tide.