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    PES 2015: Giant killer

    INVARIABLY, WHEN YOU hear fans of the PES series tell you what they love so much about those games, their stories will be tied together by a common thread: variety. They might tell you about a specific goal that they remember, but the reason it’s able to stick out in their mind is precisely because each goal before and after seemed unique, allowing that goal they've singled out to feel like it’s special.

    They might regale you with a tale about how they scraped a draw in a scrappy, hard-fought match, but again, that someone’s created a story based on the character of a match relies on the fact that each game feels distinct enough to facilitate that. WhenPESis at its best then, it’s all about fostering the sense that every moment is unique just as in the sport on which it’s based and we’re delighted to report that PES 2015 does just that.

    As a football game that encourages a thoughtful approach to build up play, PES 2015 can be intensely rewarding when you pull off an attacking move successfully. There’s a real sense that every passage of play is crafted entirely by you, that the game will only fall into predictable patterns of approach play if you decide to force it to. The tools are there for you to attack the opposition in a variety of different ways, using a variety of different techniques and that keeps it feeling constantly fresh and exciting.
    That sense that you’re always in control of how you approach a game is somehow maintained despite the fact that each team has a certain character as to how it plays, just as in the real word. You might be playing as a team that prioritises possession and high pressing, like Bayern Munich, for example, and will of course have players with a natural tendency to make certain kinds of runs, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t radically impact how a game plays out. If you choose, you can accelerate the pace of a game and favour a direct style of play, getting the ball out wide and using the control that PES 2015's dribbling gives you to drive into the box with the likes of Robben and Ribery, with a couple of tricks and feints thrown in for good measure. Or, you could slow the game down, control the midfield and carefully draw the opposition out before kicking into gear and cutting them apart with a clinical passing move and yes, PES 2015’s AI facilitates this, notably making an effort to give you viable options, more often than not.

    Despite being almost uniformly excellent in how it plays, though, PES 2015 is not perfect. The game doesn't quite get things right when it comes to physical confrontations, with collisions and tackles too often descending into farce as players periodically trip and stumble on and over each other, as if partaking in a spontaneous slapstick routine. Those moments can be frustrating and do punctuate the sense of realism somewhat, but, thankfully, only represent a minor blemish.

    Speaking of realism, some compensation for the lack of licensing is provided to football fans courtesy of the way that star players have been animated to be instantly recognisable. Sure, that a Ronaldo or Ozil will sprint, weave and dribble in the style of their real world counterpart doesn't really impact on the act of playing the game, but it’s a lovely touch nonetheless.

    If there’s one area where PES has consistently lagged behind its competitor, it’s in terms of modes and presentation (external to what you see on the pitch). PES 2015 takes some encouraging steps to address that.

    Sure, online seasons and Ultimate Team rip-off My Club have both been poached straight from FIFA, but we’d be lying if we said we’re not pleased to see their inclusion. In some aspects, too, there are improvements to PES’ interface, but the likes of Master League still remains a case study in clunky design.

    When you’ve got a core game of football that’s as good as what’s offered by PES 2015, though, those criticisms matter little. PES 2015 is an exceptional football game that makes a legitimate claim to be regarded as the best released this year.

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