(Pocket-lint) - To the casual observer, the pending release of a new PES game is greeted in similar fashion to hearing the news that a band you liked in the 90s is still touring. There it is though, with garish pitchside billboards heralding the latest coming, replete with a near meaningless slogan - Love The Past, Play The Future - alluding to the claim that Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 represents the 20th anniversary of PES, something that spotters may take issue with.
Vive le difference
The last version of PES was, of course, one year ago, and to the untrained eye there isn't a great deal of difference in PES 2016, give or take some enhanced animations and weather effects.
However, a swift dabble reveals a key development in that the players seem to have learned how to pass the ball, and most of the time will even deliver it to the intended team-mate. It's a small but significant improvement, and one that enables you to retain possession of the football for more than a couple of seconds at a time.
It's still largely harum-scarum stuff though, and 20-pass moves are an exception, with opposition players snapping at your heels rather than sitting back and allowing the play to develop. It's an approach that makes for an overtly physical game, with the size and strength of your players proving to be key attributes in wresting the ball from an opponent.
Even at international level, PES 2016 does occasionally resemble a schoolyard match, with a clutch of players chasing the ball, something that can make getting a shot away a long and drawn-out process.
E for England
Football games can live or die by their tackling mechanics, and PES 2016 strikes a decent balance, enabling you to get a foot in and come away with the ball. Furthermore, the slide tackle – once an express route to an early bath – has been refined, and with decent timing can yield favourable results.
In fact, sometimes you don't even have to tackle at all as simply buffeting the player in possession will enable you to nick the ball off him. It's all above board though, and the referees are almost conspicuous by their absence, enabling play to flow for all but the most heinous of assaults. As such, free kicks are few and far between, which is no great loss as they are largely ineffective.
There's a lot of turnover of possession, and it can become a battle, both on the pitch and in your clammy hands as you grapple with the controls, which are myriad. Thankfully, you don't have to memorise them all, as a simple pass and move game can still prove effective, particularly if you throw in the good old-fashioned lofted through ball.
On TalkSport recently, professional bellower Stan Collymore opined that around 80 per cent of goals come from crosses, and that seems about right in PES 2016. To quote John Barnes, you can be slow or fast, but you must get to the line.
But for those keen on joypad gymnastics, there are all manner of feints and flicks to learn and use, adding greater depth than initially seems present.
While a simplistic approach may be effective in single player mode, online is a different story as you are swiftly handed your arse by more dextrous opposition. There are a wealth of online options with which to humiliate yourself, from one-off matches to ten-game leagues and further bespoke tournaments.
Elsewhere, there is a vast suite of modes, including the traditionally life-sapping Master League. Revamped this year, it now resembles a German PC management game from the mid-90s.
It is traditional to slate the commentary in Pro Evo games, and while it may not be the worst, PES 2016 is still some way from the best, which is of course provided by FIFA. Again, Peter Drury and Jim Beglin are on hand, and as usual appear to watching a different game, if not a different sport. "Let's get ready rumble," says Jim, aged 52.
And as with all PES reviews, we are legally obliged to point out the lack of licensing for English teams, and select one of the more laughable examples to accentuate this: welcome to the big leagues, East Dorsetshire.
As much as we may decry PES 2016's legacy issues, it almost adds to its charm. This is Pro Evo at its finest for a number of years; it looks better than ever and plays better than the last few year's of releases.
Perhaps more importantly is that for the first time in a long time, Pro Evolution Soccer has elevated itself to FIFA standards, with its arch rival (and licensed) title not pulling its weight and finding the ball in 2016. Although not a perfect in every way, Pro Evo 2016 is the footie sim that puts it in the back of the net this year.