Let’s begin with the obvious. A large percentage of the football loving populace loves itself some FIFA. It’s how we bond and why we engage in banter. More often than not, an El Clasico is actually more exciting on your friend’s PlayStation 4 than it is in real life. We love replaying great fixtures and tweaking tactics, so as to prove that Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte got nothin’ on us. This is the unbridled and unmitigated love we have for Electronic Arts’ yearly franchise. FIFA is what makes the five-day break between match days bearable.
All of us also have that one friend in our group who swears by PES. The friend who tells us how it’s a slower, more nuanced game and how you have to dominate the midfield to dominate a match. He (or a really cool she) tells us how you have to play to a team’s strengths and break down a defence slowly. He tells us how FIFA is just bad graphics on crack. He even defends PES lack of licensing. “As long as you feel like playing with Liverpool, how does it matter if they have the real kit? All that matters is gameplay,” is usually the go-to line for these guardians of Konami, as they don’t realise that no one in the universe, let alone in Merseyside ever refers to the team from Anfield as Merseyside Red.
Presentation is key
They don’t seem to understand that presentation is important. It should feel like a matchday, shouldn’t it? You want to see all the signage at the Etihad and that beautiful reminder of what you are playing for in the tunnel at Anfield. It’s part of the magic. You want that Nike swoosh where that swoosh should be.
Also read: PES announce partnership with Liverpool
As followers of the beautiful game, we need a narrative, something that gets the adrenaline pumping and nerves jangling. We need it to look as close to the football we watch on the telly as possible. How do you play a game that doesn’t even do realistic faces beyond the most famous players on the famous teams? Forget Neymar, we need Charlie Adam and Robert Snodgrass to look as realistic as possible.
Now, for a confession. I am one of these aforementioned people. I play PES. Year in and year out, I watch the FIFA trailers and best goal montages on YouTube but still end up buying the game where the team I support is referred to as North London by the commentators.
I die a bit on the inside when I play Europa League fixtures against clubs that have been named after gibberish. Sevilla vs Mxectioafflim anyone? I cringe when I have to play as or against Chelsea because their kit resembles something a baby would throw up. I am limited to playing Manager Mode in Spain, Italy or France because they are the only three leagues with licensed divisions.
But it’s never been overwhelming for long. That’s because the moment that the game begins, the feeling is but surreal. I will say it. You probably won’t believe it, but I will still say it. PES 2016 is the closest thing to the real game there is. PES 2017 will be the new closest thing to the real game when it releases. But that’s just my opinion. And I gave FIFA a chance.
Cracking games between friends
I truly did. I played every iteration released from 2009 to 2014. Each one disappointed. Some years the passing felt off. Other years the weight of the passing was a letdown. The shooting animation vis-a-vis the power and direction of the actual shot has been abysmal for as long as I can remember.
The most frustrating thing is that the marketing team over at EA Sports made me believe that the next edition would be better. It never was. Sure, there were some changes here and there and bugs were fixed. But it always felt like an arcade-y look at a nuanced sport.
Here are some of the best goals scored in Pro Evo Soccer 16 from the last week
What made me change my mind forever, is when a friend came over recently and wanted to play FIFA. I have the 2015 version buried somewhere deep on my HDD and finally conceded to his request. We played a few games. Lo and behold it was the most fun I’ve had playing football for a while. It was end to end from minute one.
The pace of the game was breakneck and the fact that we are both highly skilled players who use tricks, fakes etc. (tricks are not PES’s greatest strength, to be honest) but also have a decent passing game, played a huge part. It was a brilliant slugfest. Each match ended 4-3 or 3-2 or 2-1 with a goal scored in the dying moments or deep into extra time.
This is when I realised that the games are not too different. PES is built for those who enjoy a slow buildup, who like to recycle the ball and unlock defences with a moment of magic. It’s greatest strength is that the AI of both your teammates and the opposition are brilliant. Reaction is fluid and dynamic and the goal scoring is dependent on imagination alone. There are fewer canned animations.
Here are some of the best goals scored in FIFA 16 from the last week
FIFA is the type of football we want to see all the time. It is about six passes and a shot on goal. You cannot rely on one strategy alone. A good FIFA player will never let you spam through balls or long balls. The game allows you to high press. Tactics and tweaking are almost turn based RPG good (even though the AI is far-far dumber than it should be in a good game). The game is about split-second reactions, much like it is in real life.
With a little practice, the ball can be pinged around allowing you to use the flanks with ease. Those with better reflexes can literally one-two their way into goal through the centre of the park. Tactical defending (something I am really bad at as PES is still all about the press spam) is a revelation as it really adds weight to the decision making behind tackling.
A lack of animations, a problem for FIFA
Where FIFA constantly disappoints is in its almost fanatical dependency on canned animations. It tries offsetting that but fails as the ragdoll physics make the players do the weirdest things sometimes. The balance between the two has not yet been found. Watch a striker vs defender aerial battle for a ball in PES and you will know what I am talking about.
I know I haven’t clarified anything. Those of you who love the pomp and pageantry of the EPL and the thrill of a match that is all action will always swear by FIFA. For those who don’t mind playing as Wearside or whatever they are calling Sunderland on PES these days and don’t mind every player looking as generic as possible as long as they can pull off something magical on the match will always stay loyal to PES. Why have I written this article?
Much ado about nothing?
Maybe I just needed to put it out there. Here’s hoping the two companies keep trying to outdo each other and eventually we get a game that is as good as the NBA 2K or the MLB:The Show franchises.