FIFA 18 will be released this week, and with it comes the inevitable argument over whether it or Pro Evolution Soccer is the better Football game. The truth is, we can never really tell straight away. No, in fact it is time that will be the true decider, and it’s only in 5 years or so that we can really tell which game had the biggest influence over virtual football.
But what’s the current score as of 2017?
Read ahead for the history of this long running rivalry, as we provide a Match Report for a game that has been playing out over the last two decades.
The Warm Up – 16-bit Era
The FIFA series is one of the oldest running franchises in video games. In fact, FIFA 18 is going to be the 30th entry in the series. The first entry, FIFA International Soccer, was released in 1993 for the SNES and Sega Megadrive, and took the world by storm. The game was the first to really make the isometric perspective work for a Football game, which distinguished it at the time from top-down games such as Kick Off and Sensible Soccer. Furthermore, due to the success of their other sports games, EA were able to sign a 5-year contract with football’s governing body, FIFA. This made FIFA the game to buy if you were looking for the most authentic virtual football experience possible. The game made history, sold huge amounts for the time against tough competition and laid the foundation for the football videogame genre we have today.
PES too has a prestigious and fabled history however. Whilst technically the first Pro Evo was released in 2001 for the PS2, the series can trace its roots to both International Superstar Soccer from 1995, and the ace Goal Storm, released in 1996 for the PS1. Known as World Soccer Winning Eleven, in Japan, the games were produced by Konami, and act as the spiritual successor to the Pro Evolution series.
Whilst FIFA had the licenses, and could market itself as the official choice of the football association back then, the original ISS was (and still is) known as the best football game available in the 16-bit era. Its lifelike approach was innovative at the time, and didn’t rely on the same cut-and-paste sprites for each individual player. Instead, each player had their own individually modelled avatar that even included a number on the back of their shirts. Revolutionary.
The very first ISS game only included 27 different international teams playable in game. This was a relatively paltry amount compared to its closest competitor FIFA 96, which had 12 different leagues with over 100 different teams, including some of the most famous domestic sides such as Manchester United, Ajax and AC Milan.
A commercial early lead for FIFA then, however the critics go for the PES-predecessor, giving it a quick equaliser.
FIFA 1 – 1 PES
It All Kicks Off – PSX Era
As we heralded the beginning of the PSX era, the competition got real fierce. The near ubiquity of the PS1, as well as relatively small development costs, meant that there were a number of football games that flooded the market. For every FIFA, there was an Actua Soccer. For every ISS, there was a Striker. Adidas Power Soccer, David Beckham Football, Sensible Soccer, This is Football and more; there were a huge number of games out there all competing for a piece of the football video game pie. (Anybody remember the combat-football game based on a Nike advert?)
But all of these games were looking to replicate FIFA’s massive commercial success of the previous Generation, and hoping to cement themselves as the next big football game (or just make a quick buck). They began to use 3D models to accurately display their players. The games started to accurately incorporate set pieces into the game and what started as arcade-like experiences, began to become increasingly focussed on simulation.
FIFA looked the part this gen, turning up to the kickabout in the full kit; socks and all. Their commitment showed, and it takes this round.
FIFA 2 – 1 PES
An Early Substitution – Gen 6 Era
With the new power of the PS2 hardware, and the jump in graphical quality that came with it, football games began their golden era of innovation. In 2001, ISS would spin off in to Pro Evolution Soccer, a huge hit with critics, that would kick off one of the greatest rivalries seen in videogames until Battlefield 3 took on Modern Warfare 3 in 2011.
Pro Evolution Soccer received near-universal acclaim from critics. Eurogamer declared it the ‘best football game on any console ever’ whilst BBC Sport (who wrote game reviews back in the early 00’s apparently) called it ‘essential’. The game was a huge hit, demolishing the competition critically and the reviews would only get better. Pro Evo 2 wasn’t a huge innovation, but again hit the highs of the first, with an impressive 93/100 on Metacritic. Pro Evo 3, 4 and 5 were all the same. PES were the Invincibles.
The game made timing and build up play important. No longer could you hold the sprint button and watch the ball stuck to your players feet. Now, the ball began to have a mind of its own, bouncing off of shins and ricocheting away after a bad tackle. Building up a string of 11 or 12 passes in an attempt to tempt a defender out of position became an important way of splitting open defences, and nailing that cross at the right moment became an art form. Whilst the competition did start to catch up towards the end of this Generation, PES1 became the model of which to follow.
PES were so confident in this era, that instead of putting a hugely famous player on the cover of PES3 to help increase sales, they used a referee. A referee for god sakes. It was cocky on another scale entirely. Admittedly he is the greatest referee to ever officiate, but still.
FIFA on the other hand really struggled to find its feet this generation. Whereas PES was graceful in its simplicity, FIFA began to try and incorporate gimmicks into its gameplay. The Free Kicks became an arcade-like minigame within itself, with power gauges and spin counters to put on the ball. FIFA 05 brought in the ‘First Touch’ system designed to allow players to perform tricks and skill moves with the flick of an analogue stick. It wasn’t great. Does anyone also remember the Off The Ball feature from FIFA 04? With the click of a button, three players off the ball got highlighted with a separate button icon, and a quick press would ping the ball directly to that player. It was basically Madden, turning your central midfielders into quarterback-like playmakers.
Unfortunately however, these gimmicks never seemed to enable FIFA to offer any real competition to the now all-dominant Pro Evo. It wasn’t until FIFA really began to simplify its game mechanics, and concentrate on the basic play-by-play football that it really began to make a comeback.
Pro Evo were playing total football this generation, and bamboozled FIFA with its Brazilian-like confidence.
FIFA 2 – 2 PES
A Divisive Booking – Generation 7
Whilst the early days of PES showed a clear critical leaning to that game over its EA counterpart, FIFA still had a significant public appeal. Since its inception the series has had no trouble obtaining licenses to use, and whilst Pro Evo were still able to get the odd Premier League team here or there, it was only falling further and further behind in these stakes.
As the seventh console generation came around in 2006, and graphical capability began to show a concerted attempt at realistic graphics, this authenticity in Player and Club licenses would really come into play. FIFA’s monopoly over many of Europe’s domestic leagues became incredibly important here, as player likenesses began to travel further down the uncanny valley. For the consumer who always wanted to live out their lives alongside the footballers they see play week in, week out, they were now able to accurately tell who Cristiano Ronaldo was by a quick glance over his player model. As such, if he was not wearing an authentic kit, it showed.
EA caught on to this, and doubled down on its presentation. One relatively successful innovation was the Be A Pro mode, an attempt to really immerse the player in the game, by only offering them a single player to play as; a definite predecessor to the current Alex Hunter focussed Story mode. Not only that, but constant improvements to the Season mode and its commentary team meant that playing a game of FIFA came very close to watching Super Sunday on Sky Sports.
Unfortunately for PES, its domination had ended. No longer was its gameplay unique in its clever understanding of football mechanics. FIFA had caught up, offering a fast and smooth experience that felt much more accessible that Konami’s effort.
To really solidify their win this generation, FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode blew up, inserting its card based gambling system in to the game has given it a huge replayabilty, and has made EA quite a bit of pocket money too. Pro Evolution’s recent equivalent of Ultimate Team, MyClub, unfortunately just does not compare.
FIFA’s solid defensive display of its licensing only shows one part of the puzzle, but it definitely enabled its playmakers like Ultimate Team and Be A Pro to fully take over from Pro Evo this Gen.
FIFA 3 – 2 PES
A Late Equaliser – Current Gen (So far)
The move to current generation consoles seems to show a balancing out of the 2 franchises. FIFA still holds all the licences, and its roster is increasing year on year. It has kept its focus on presentation with the aforementioned Story mode being at the forefront of much of the recent games’ marketing.
PES’s move onto the FOX Engine famously used for Metal Gear Solid 5, really provided the boost that the game needed however. The game has become snappier, faster and feels as responsive as ever. PES has a depth in its gameplay where it now feels both simple to pick up, but devilishly complicated to master. The AI is as clever as ever, making a run just at the right moment as you try to ping a through ball down the flank. A strong defense will remain disciplined as you try to break it apart with your passes. As long as you’re not playing the game on PC, then it feels wonderful.
The licences may still be a slight problem for PES; it still struggles with gaining many authentic kits and team names. However, thanks to the stellar work of modders, this is becoming something of a non-issue. PES has always excelled on the customisation front, and now some dedicated people on the internet have showed that they are able to unofficially recreate kits from all across the globe in near perfect detail.
Konami have cleverly caught on to this, and have now fully incorporated the modding system into the game itself. All it takes is a little bit of work, and to download a few files off the internet, to have a fully functioning and authentic Premier League or Bundesliga in your Master League mode.
FIFA on the other hand have looked to make incremental changes year by year, without the drastic engine change of PES. Whilst this makes each iteration feel comfortingly familiar when you pick it up, it has meant that they’ve rested on their laurels somewhat, not offering and game-changing innovations in how the game feels. So far, it’s not bad. But if you’re not interested in the Story mode or Ultimate Team, it’s beginning to look a little stale.
PES’s move to the FOX Engine has enabled it to tap in a last minute equaliser to even out the competition.
FIFA 3 – 3 PES (For now).
Time for A Team Talk
FIFA is still the commercial behemoth that it was when it first started back in 1995, and now, with the inclusion of the new Story mode and Ultimate Team, it shows no sign of slowing down. However, recently PES has once again become the critical darling, even with the rocky current situation of its developer Konami, and with modders helping to cover over the licensing cracks, can once again be proud of its overall presentation.
Looks like this match might be going in to extra time.
Golden goal anyone?
Follow Cleon on Twitter. He’s an Arsenal fan, however don’t hold it against him.