The PES 2015 E3 build was a strange experience, somehow managing to combine the sublime and the ridiculous in a way that would make Nani proud. When I wrote about it I noted that it was improved over last year's showing, with shooting being particularly excellent, but it still had glaring problems in midfield play. Having played the latest build, I'm happy to report that the most worrying issues have been addressed, if not eliminated altogether. It's not perfect, but the over-animated dance-offs of 2014 are largely gone, letting players get on with focusing on quick passing routines and their actual tactics and strategies.
"Getting back to PES" is how it was described by European brand manager Adam Bhatti, and on PS4 at least (no sign of the Xbone version, of course) that has been achieved. The series has always been famed for its quickness, in terms of both general game speed and the animation routines for players, and last year's version lost that, going to FIFA levels of 'realism' (cough) that made it difficult to play by instinct. Instead, overly-elaborate animations made it near impossible to play a fluid game, slowing everything to a crawl. Not so here.
Players get into and out of their routines at a pace that's approaching PES 2013, my favourite of the recent iterations, and are generally swift to follow instruction. Shooting, too, is responsive and pleasingly situational: in my five or so hours with the game there didn't appear to be a FIFA-style finesse exploit, and the variation in goals – wonder volleys, satisfying mid-range strikes, and tidy side-footers – were all in evidence. Goalkeeping animations and AI helped to make the most of the striking, too, with a range of stops giving goals the authenticity they deserve.
Naturally there are still issues, even if they are nowhere near as prevalent as they were before. Players still sometimes get caught up taking unnecessary touches, pass the ball to the wrong player, run 'on rails', or just leave the ball entirely and run past it. It's frustrating to have a move break down because of these faults, but given the strides that Konami has made I'm hopeful it will be if not eradicated, then at least minimalised.
Goalkeepers, despite their prowess, also need some work. It seemed too easy to beat them at their near post, and they were prone to dropping lofted through balls, leading to easy goals. Considering the two teams in the demo – Manchester United and Juventus – boast two of the finest goalkeepers in the world, this needs to be fixed.
Those issues aside, this is PES getting back to its very best. Competitive multiplayer is as tense and exciting as it ever was, and co-operative play is nearly as fun as in 2013: those that prefer to play PES as two players on the same team will be glad to know that the slow, telegraphed mess of 2014 is largely consigned to memory.
Tactically, the build was also leagues ahead of FIFA. PES has always had the edge in this regard: playing FIFA, you're expected to always be going forward. Here, as ever, you've got to work out the other team's systems: Juventus play counter-attacking football, and as such will invite the opposition on to them, whereas Manchester United – themselves no stranger to counter-attacking – have a slightly more offensive mindset. It leads to games becoming as taxing mentally as they are physically: you can't just dial it up to 'ultra attacking' and pour forward.
Sadly, there were no substitutes in the build, and several other tactical elements were missing, but this was already a vast improvement on last year's game. Let's hope Konami can iron out the remaining issues.