A bit like English football; terrific at home, a humiliating struggle when you try to go abroad
Fast-paced, responsive and with all the unpredictable thrill of a real football match (well, any match that doesn’t feature Aston Villa), Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 plays a great game of football. Judging solely by the on-pitch action, this is the best instalment of the franchise in years, and it gives eternal rival FIFA a real run for its money. It’s just a shame that shoddy production values and a terrible online experience mar the fun.
I had to stifle a sigh within about two minutes of installing the PC version of Pro Evo 2015. For some reason, the developers in their infinite wisdom decided it would be a good idea to make the game initially run in a windowed 1024x720 resolution, and then omit graphics options completely from the in-game menus. Yo have to head into the game’s folder to customise things. This, Konami, suggests from the off that you don’t give a stuff about your PC port. Come on, guys, make an effort.
Ibrahimovic has one of the game's better facial models, which range from impressive to monstrous and horrifying
I’ll get this out of the way at the start, because when you get down to brass tacks the visuals are the least important part of the Pro Evo experience – this is not a good-looking port, and it’s clearly been knocked up half-heartedly while the developers concentrated their full attention on the next-gen versions of the game. It lacks the PS4 and Xbox One enhanced lighting system and other bells and whistles, and mixed with the series’ trademark terrible presentation, it combines to make Pro Evo 2015 look like a game from about six years ago. I know, I know, graphics and shiny (legible?) menus aren’t so important when your match engine is this terrific, but it would be nice if Konami looked like they gave the briefest toss about the PC experience.
Rant over, for the moment. Let’s head down to the pitch, where Konami do their best work. Pro Evo 2015 is a beautiful recreation of the beautiful game. Largely abandoning recent editions’ clunky skill moves and increasingly haphazard defending, this year’s incarnation feels like a definite attempt to capture the responsive, zippy counter-attacking football that the series captured so memorably in its heyday. Dribbling is again all about momentum, speed and control, not about fancy tricks, and slaloming past a defence with Messi brings to mind the endless days I wasted with friends playing PES4 and PES5, destroying their defences with the lightning speed of Thierry Henry.
In full flow, Pro Evo 2015 features some of the best video game football on offer.
Finally harnessing the benefits of modern physics engines and clean, smooth animations, by combining them with responsive controls, it’s the first time for about five years that I haven’t been horribly disappointed by Pro Evo as a series. It’s not perfect – passes tend to be pinged around more slowly and inaccurately than I’d like, and block tackling, while improved, can be frustratingly ineffective – but by and large this is an excellent engine that provides a million equally satisfying ways to score goals, from an Ibrahimovic 30-yarder into the top left corner to an intricate Arsenal-style passing move that tears through your opponents’ defence like a hot knife though butter.
Of course there’s the by now expected paucity of licensing options, which this year omits all but Manchester United from the Premier League, and does away with the German league apart from Schalke and Bayern Munich. Several club competitions such as the Asian and European Champions Leagues are licensed, so there is a tiny glimmer of FIFA’s glossy production values, but ugly menus and baffling design choices continue to hold the game back. The tactics menus are a clunky mess, and the new MyClub mode which apes FIFA’s Ultimate Team is like some kind of exercise in player-alienating impenetrability. All power to you if you can be bothered to learn its various bizarre sub-systems and jargon. And you’ll doubtless enjoy sitting there for half an hour waiting to connect to a server. More on that shortly.
Master League is as simultaneously cumbersome and addictive as it ever was
Luckily Master League is on hand to (somewhat) save the day. It’s as maddeningly addictive as ever, and combined with the inevitable edits and option files cooked up by the loyal Pro Evo community, it’ll keep you occupied for days. When you’re done with that you can dig into the interesting Become A Legend mode, which has you control a single player and unlike FIFA’s similar Be a Pro mode doesn’t feature friendly AI so infuriatingly dunderheaded that it could claim a starting position in the Man Utd defence.
So singleplayer-wise, you’re all sorted. I just hope you don’t plan to spend too much time battling friends online, because the game’s multiplayer service is simply atrocious. This is essentially Pro Evolution 2015: “Establishing Communications” Edition. That thrice-cursed message pops up at every opportunity, from the very moment you boot up the game to your inevitably fruitless attempts to connect to an online match-up. When you do connect you’ll either suffer crippling lag or be disconnected completely five times out of ten. It’s a pitiful and embarrassing effort, and it ruled out online play as an option for me. Second rant over.
PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER 2015 VERDICT
So; if you’re in it for the offline solo play, you’ll find an excellent game of football here that’s the best this series has served up in recent memory, with lots of different modes including the ever-present and devilishly addictive Master League. If you’ve got your heart set on competing online, however, I’d advise you to stay far away. I’m torn here, because while the on-pitch action itself is great, the shockingly bad connectivity issues and general feeling that Konami rushed out this port without due care and attention are both blatant. If you have a console, get Pro Evo 2015 on that. If you’re a PC-only football fan, this is a functional if lacklustre port of a great match engine with broken online support.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Finish a slick passing move by dinking a cute chip over the onrushing keeper, and it’s easy to temporarily forgive any flaws with the game.