In My Head: Can PES Ever Overtake FIFA?

Welcome to the first edition of “In My Head”, a feature where I ramble on about gaming issues that come to my mind. This week I want to talk about a rivalry between two of the biggest gaming rivals that there are: FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer (PES).

Over the last 10 years, despite what many non-fans will say, football games have changed a lot. More realistic graphics and ball physics, new game modes, and crucially not being limited to moving in one of 8 directions to name just a few. With all these changes, it’s no wonder that football games remain one of the highest (if not the highest) selling sports games.

Firstly, I want to state that I play both games, a lot. I’ll also say that whilst I dabble in other game modes, I am nearly exclusively an Ultimate Team (FIFA) and myClub (PES) player. For those that don’t know, the short version of how this works is to build an elite team of the world’s best players, regardless of the real life teams they play for. And it’s oddly addictive. Whether it’s opening content packs in Ultimate Team or trying to get the elusive black balls in myClub, seeing your favourite players as a reward is fantastic, especially when you’ve slogged through divisions and tournaments to earn enough currency to buy them.

It’s fair to say that FIFA has dominated recently, with only PES purists picking up the latest iteration of Konami’s football franchise. However, that could all be about to change for a number of reasons. For a start, PES is starting to look as good as FIFA, both on the pitch and in the menus. At the moment, FIFA is crisper and brighter when the EA servers aren’t messing about (a point I’ll get to), and the stadiums look vibrant. PES has stepped up its game for the 2016 iteration. The players’ game faces are streaks ahead of FIFA, and on the pitch it’s improved as well, with choosing celebrations after goals now being an option. This may not seem like much, but being able to do dozens of celebrations on FIFA, and then having to just watch my players in PES after I scored was odd.

Away from the graphical side and onto gameplay. FIFA is faster and prone to exploits. If you know how, you can defend with little effort and irritating effectiveness, as well as attack viciously without the best players. Player ratings seem to evaporate if you know how to play. While many say that would be fair, saying that just because someone hasn’t put as much time or in some cases money into the game, doesn’t mean they should be walked over, it does ask the question: Why not? If Barcelona played Shrewsbury Town, you would expect Messi and Co to annihilate them. However, I’m all up for a bit of game balancing, it keeps inexperienced players coming back for more.

PES gameplay is more rewarding. Build up play is a must, and being able to pull the strings of your opponent’s defense and score a well crafted goal is just gravy. The gameplay also feels more realistic, with referees prone to less ridiculous decisions, player AI is seemingly more sophisticated than FIFA, meaning there are less controller smashing moments.

When it boils down to it, however, the main reason PES is catching up is because EA are slowly pulling FIFA apart. They tinker with gameplay mechanics to pander to the people that are most vocal on social media. FIFA 16 started off excellently, with build up play through the midfield being exciting and rewarding, with the more patient players truly excelling. The new Draft mode was a revelation, and seemingly well balanced for rewards. But soon the complaints came through. ‘Its too hard to score/defend’. Certain players didn’t like that they couldn’t play how they used to, demanding change but wanting everything to stay the same. Then everyone realised that the Draft had poor rewards for slogging through 4 challenging games, and that the same elite players were being cycled through the draft picks, meaning nearly every team featured the same players. Originally this is an exciting aspect, using players you might never get your hands on, but where’s the fun when it happens all the time?

Naturally, the infamous EA servers play their role. Lagging menus, cutting out of games, and booting people out of game modes is something PES doesn’t do. They may be fractionally slower, but they work without fail. In addition, PES put legend players for both consoles and PC, whereas Legends are an Xbox exclusive with FIFA. Also, PES makes it easier to obtain them, with higher game rewards meaning more frequent trips to ‘Agents’ to have a chance at getting elite players. Unlike FIFA, this means that its easy to obtain top tier players through playing the game alone, without gambling coins on packs or spending extortionate prices on FIFA points. A vast amount of time, luck, or money is required to get the best team in FIFA, something not many people have.

FIFA is definitely not all bad. The ‘in-form’ system for Ultimate Team is fantastic, as is Pro Clubs and Career mode. All very well polished and enjoyable. Additionally, Ultimate team is more customisable, being able to build an enormous club with kits and badges to switch though, and the consumable system is vastly superior to PES. But Ultimate Team is FIFA‘s flagship, and there are far too many complaints to be made about it. MyClub is becoming more and more popular on PES, and Konami will keep tweaking until it’s perfect. EA Sports will tweak Ultimate Team until it’s lying broken in the gutter. This could see more and more people try the PES version of Ultimate Team, and finding that they like it.

Despite the flaws, EA Sports have a trump card. They have the licensing for the English Premier League, PES do not. While they have individual teams such as Manchester United, until Man Blue becomes Man City, and North London becomes Arsenal, FIFA will always have the edge. It’s just not the same seeing the generalised badges and kits of teams that are so popular, and as the UK has an enormous football fanbase, it’s easy to see why it puts some people off.

So, can PES ever overtake FIFA? Of course it can, and Konami are on the right track. Licensing aside, PES is already ahead in some aspects, and sales are getting better for them. In a few years, it could be neck and neck. All I hope for is that the rivalry helps create better games.

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