I am an ardent football fan, almost as much as I am a video game enthusiast, so it's natural that football games will fill a good portion of the time I spend with a controller in hand. Over the past decades, through various consoles, I have jumped between FIFA and PES (or ISS as it was known back in the day), each year choosing one of the two in order to quench my thirst for virtual football. Since the PS3 era this choice has fallen mostly on the side of the EA Sports simulator, though I always had my eye on Pro Evolution Soccer.
This year, however, I must admit my displeasure and frustration. After spending many, many hours with both FIFA 16 and Pro Evolution Soccer 2016, I have come to the sad conclusion that neither of the two games are for me. Both have their faults, which in my opinion are becoming unacceptable for games that year after year funnel rivers of money from players around the world into the pockets of major publishers. We deserve better than that.
FIFA 16 - Lost in the field
If you had the opportunity to read my FIFA 16 review, you may know that I consider this year's game and an improvement over FIFA 15. Gameplay is stronger and is more stable, to some extent at least. While it is undeniable that FIFA 16 plays better than the previous edition, EA Sports continues to introduce new mechanics and remap controller layouts. This year the big news were body simulations, and a faster type of pass, and these added a new layer to the passing game and brought nuance to attacking plays when dribbles with the ball.
With so many options that overlap each other, FIFA is starting to become too complex and confusing at a control level. While during the previous generation FIFA has always seemed a game with a well-defined path, at this time it is difficult to see which direction EA Sports intends to take the game. This at a time when there are still some wacky animations and problems with the physics engine. More than receiving new functionality, FIFA needs to be refined and tuned.
Even still, the gameplay in general has improved since FIFA 15 (the worst game of the series in many years, in my humble opinion). That was particularly evident in the online modes, where I could explore my footballing creativity without resorting to dirty tricks. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for the offline modes, which are the ones I prefer to play in football games, particularly Career mode in FIFA and Master League in PES.
Since the ISS times, even on the PSOne, I have always played football titles on the maximum difficulty setting, but I could not do that in FIFA 15. This year the situation has become even worse. This is a problem shared with Pro Evolution Soccer 2016, since both games, rather than seeking to find a realistic difficulty, try to become increasingly tricky, and to some extent almost unplayable. The difficulty of the artificial intelligence on FIFA 16 creates an absurdly frustrating game, but that still manages to make winning no more rewarding.
There is no clear difference between different teams and players' various attributes, as the AI often seems relentless, no matter the team's quality. They always seem to run faster, defend better while covering all spaces, and tend to exchange the ball with infuriating ease. It is rare for a game of FIFA 16 to finish with more ball possession on the player's side, and that's a very frustrating experience - especially when we are playing against much weaker teams than our own.
Yes, you can adjust the difficulty with Sliders settings, and we even created a guide that aims to make the artificial intelligence more tolerable (you can read it here), but EA Sports (and to some extent Konami), have to seriously rethink the way they address difficulty. How about instead of World Class and Legendary settings, they created a Realistic difficulty setting, so that the player could know is intended to represent a balanced and realistic behavior from the AI?
PES 2016 - Stuck in the PS2 Era
Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 has received much praise in this year's review, and justly. Gameplay was a clear jump forward from previous games and it's genuinely more fun to control the ball on the pitch than previously frustrating experiences we've had with the series. Not that it's perfect in terms of gameplay, since the PES 2016 AI is also unbalanced, and there is still some on-the-rails behaviour exhibited by players that can be too obvious to more attentive adversaries.
But if on the pitch things got better, everything else leaves much to be desired. Menus continue to look like they came out of the 128 bit era, with crude, ugly and archaic styles. The choices for the tactics and training of the teams, although broader than those of FIFA, are unnecessarily complicated and confusing. Konami does not need remove tactical options, but it is urgent that they explain more effectively how everything works in this part of the game.
FIFA will always (unless something changes radically) be the best game in terms of production values and presentation, and this is something we can live with and forgive. We can't, however, accept that the difference is so great. Pro Evolution Soccer continues to suffer from the absence of official licenses, and this year does not even include the German league. At least there is a great gaming community working to exhaustion to create ways to work around the situation, with many alternatives to non-licensed teams, but it is a frustrating hurdle to have to overcome year after year.
PES 2016's greatest sin comes from post-launch support, particularly in the update of transfers. Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 was launched on September 15, 2015, fifteen days after the transfer market closed in most leagues, and included the roster from the previous season. A very unfortunate detail, but one that could have been removed if Konami were at least to release an update with correct team sheets. Obviously this was not what happened. This update came only towards the end of October, and even then it was inaccurate and failed to include the transfers that took place on August 31, with the final business of the window included in a subsequent update.
If the issue of licenses is unfortunate but understandable, the downgrade of the squads is harder to accept, especially after all these years. Konami is not inexperienced in this field, and has to anticipate this situation every year, but somehow they managed to scuff their shot spectacularly this year.
Football games are among the top-selling games, every year, and considering the time that EA Sports and Konami already spend making these games, it's hard to accept the state that FIFA and PES find themselves in at the moment. After many hours the with both games, I can conclude that neither of this season's offerings suits me and my style of play (offline mode), because, simply put, they are not good enough.
EA needs to sharpen up its gameplay, resolve the difficulty problem, and work on other modes besides the popular Ultimate Team Mode. As for PES, Konami needs to raise their game in terms of presentation, the same way they did recently in terms of their performance on the field. Fun gameplay is not enough after all these years.
As for me, I will return to FIFA 14 because although it is far from being a perfect game, is still the best one on the current generation in my opinion. I hope the next round of the great football battle yields up better results, either that or I'm going to jump ship and check out Kick Off Revival or Social Soccer when they finally emerge from the tunnel and take their place on the field of play.