Soccer, more than any other sport, is the world’s game. Played by millions, it is unquestionably the most popular sport on the planet.
“The beautiful game” is simple at its core yet can be frustratingly complex in its execution, with zealous fans living and dying over what happens with their favorite teams and players on the pitch. It’s a harrowing task to replicate soccer’s complexities in video game form, and harder still to harness the passion that envelops every kick of the ball.
This year, game publisher Konami has taken up the challenge with “World Soccer Winning Eleven 2015 (Pro Evolution Soccer 2015),” the latest iteration of the company’s flagship soccer franchise and the first to appear on the current generation of consoles (PlayStation 4, Xbox One). It delivers on many levels.
“We’d been getting good feedback from the time the demo was released (to the public), so the entire staff is very excited about it,” assistant producer Kei Masuda tells The Japan Times at Konami’s offices prior to the game’s Nov. 13 release.
Authenticity was the goal for “PES 2015.” The production team pored over data from real soccer matches, looking at various numbers and scenarios, such as how many shots were taken in a game that ended with a 1-0 scoreline and so forth, and used that as a basis for fine-tuning the game, which puts the versatile Fox Engine, the proprietary game engine constructed by Kojima Productions, to good use.
The new-generation hardware also allowed the “PES” team to get more realism out of multiple facets of the game.
The gameplay, for one, is excellent. Movement is fluid and responsive to the left analog stick, and the passing system is a dream when executed properly, which is sometimes a challenge thanks to the refreshingly competent AI.
Instead of an arcade-style goal-fest, “PES 2015” delivers a more genuine and nuanced style of soccer, where the buildup to goals can require patience and strategy, and the payoff of watching Cristiano Ronaldo latch on to a perfectly placed pass and fire past the goalkeeper is that much more satisfying.
Players react to various situations of the field in the way their real-life counterparts would, and the dribbling system has been improved and updated with new close-quarters ball control moves, which come in especially handy in the opposition’s penalty area.
“The play in front of the net is the most exciting part of the real game,” Masuda says. “We were able to re-create this in the game.”
Tackling is also better, even if some of the collision physics are a little off at times.
Getting the gameplay right was just one piece of the puzzle. “PES 2015” also surrounds the pitch with an authentic atmosphere, complete with a roaring crowd that ebbs and flows with the action, reacts to great saves and belts out the occasional chant.
Player models, while not perfect, have a new coat of paint this time around, and overall the graphics aren’t jaw-dropping but are well done. Many players also come with their own special quirks, such as Ronaldo’s signature running style, with his arms flailing wildly at his sides, adding another layer of aesthetic depth.
“We did analysis on his arm movements and so on to get an idea about the patterns of his movement in order to express that in the game,” Masuda says, explaining part of the process, using Ronaldo as an example.
“PES 2015” boasts a sizable roster of real-life leagues, players and teams, but there are notable absences because of the licensing issues that have long plagued the series. On a positive note, the new Live Update system should import new data based on teams’ real-life results into the game on a weekly basis, to keep ratings as current as possible.
Also new is the robust myClub mode, seemingly a rival to the Ultimate Team mode EA Sports has unleashed across its library of sports titles, including its soccer game, “FIFA 2015.”
You start myClub with a team of randomly selected players from all across the soccer world, and play matches with them in order to earn the points needed to buy better players and managers, in hopes of assembling a soccer juggernaut to take online against other players’ myClub squads.
The drive to create an authentic environment came naturally for the “PES 2015” team, many of whom are soccer fans themselves — Masuda, for instance, is a fan of Urawa Reds, who have a chance to win the J. League title this year, while assistant producer Junichi Taya supports Yokohama F.Marinos. Their passion makes “PES 2015” a game for soccer fans, made by soccer fans.
“Because we love soccer, and we love games, it means there’s a good chance we’ll create good soccer games,” Masuda says.
Soccer has a sizable following in Japan, but still trails baseball in overall popularity. The national team draws fans in droves, and the J. League has done well at attracting younger fans. Even so, it’s nothing like the fervor with which fans in Europe, especially soccer’s birthplace of England, follow the sport.
But just as real-life soccer was taken from England and perfected in other parts of the world — England has won the World Cup only once, compared with Brazil’s five titles and Germany’s four — the biggest strides in terms of soccer video games have come in Japan, with the “PES” series, and North America, where “FIFA” is developed. Soccer is truly a global game, so it makes sense that it would transcend borders.
“My personal opinion is that people in the U.K. have been watching soccer since they were young, so it comes (too) naturally for them,” Taya says. “Japanese and Americans don’t really follow it as intensely as they do. So when it comes to creating a (soccer) game, we’re able to step back and make well thought-out judgments about what makes the game interesting.”
“World Soccer Winning Eleven 2015 (Pro Evolution Soccer 2015)” is out now for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Windows.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.