What does The Journey mean for FIFA and PES?

For the past few years I’ve gone through the same pattern when it comes to picking a video game. Get the FIFA demo, get the full FIFA game, rinse through it for a month and then get Football Manager. At this stage I’ll delve into Football Manager’s more immersive world, returning only to FIFA for a bit of online play from time to time. The ridiculous AI in FIFA 16 only went to reinforce my patterns.

PES? Maybe the odd demo download just for a bit of variety but that was it. Actually that’s not strictly true, last year someone bought PES 2016 for me as a gift on PC, I think I played around three matches on it.

This year is different though, once again PES have gone in hard with an early demo release and a full game release two weeks ahead of FIFA. No-one does hype like EA Sports but PES have secured some pretty impressive partnerships and I was tempted enough to get the demo this time around.

On Tuesday the FIFA 17 demo came out and whilst I haven’t had as much time with the two demos this isn’t a review so it doesn’t really matter however I’d like to give you some of my impressions.

Transitioning back into PES after a multi-year absence was difficult and at times unforgiving, the AI wasn’t afraid to rip me apart with killer balls if it felt necessary and I quickly was forced to adopt a ‘defence is the best form of attack’ approach.

However after a couple of games I found my rhythm and I was honestly blown away by what was lurking within. PES 2017 is fluid and responsive, whilst some of the play I was able to produce had me smiling in a way that only football can and best of all it felt like I had genuine control.

What I mean by this last point was highlighted to me when I played my first few games of FIFA 17. Even with the new Frostbite Engine and the changes made to the gameplay it felt like all I had to do was go through the usual motions in order to score a goal, even on a harder difficulty. Of course against humans it will be trickier but given how toxic the FIFA community can be at times this was a year I longed for an AI I could spend hours with offline.

However it just doesn’t feel like EA have worked too hard on it, it’s the same as before with a few bells and whistles on, happy to pass me into oblivion even when losing. In my first my Chelsea team had 28% possession of the ball, ironically against Jose’s Manchester United, yet I won 2–0. The second came on the counter after the AI kept passing outside the box rather than take a shot or force an opening, this wasn’t simply me defending well.

Full disclosure here I was at EA’s unveiling to journalists back in June and actually wrote a pretty positive piece off the back of it. I can’t tell what’s changed, whether the game doesn’t feel the same as it did back then or whether the PES demo has had that big of an effect on me.

Something’s different though and when I was playing FIFA I kept thinking about jumping back into PES to play the Superclasico derby.

Well except when I booted up the jewel in EA’s crown, The Journey. The new story mode is a real game-changer, it’s what fans have been crying out for and from what I’ve seen of it there is enough here to do for FIFA what FUT did a few years ago. The detail is remarkable and it’s everything Be A Pro was supposed to be all those years ago. The scary thing is that it is only going to get bigger as EA are given more time to give it more variety and depth.

Despite picking up licenses for Barcelona, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund (except Marco Reus) PES simply cannot compete with that sort of thing. Yes the Champions League is a nice feature but it’ll be way too easy for it to be knocked by casual players because it has Manchester Blue etc. The one thing I would say is that PES is an ridiculously pretty game, the player faces are fantastic and playing a game in the rain is a truly wonderful thing.

These differing approaches may not necessarily be a bad thing, and I think I now actually believe EA producer Nick Channon when he told at the event that he doesn’t see PES as a rival and they only focus on themselves now. They may be the two dominant football games on console but they could actually live together in harmony.

PES is a game for the purists, it’s a joy to play and they will always focus on making the gameplay as good as they can. FIFA fits in better with football in today’s world, in particular the Premier League. It’s fast, it’s chaotic and when it gets everything right there isn’t anything that can compete. But sometimes you will have to trade quality for that frenetic style and the Premier League’s development into a soap-opera, where social media activity can seemingly be as important as on the field activity, suggests it is what a lot of fans want.

FIFA will still outsell PES, that isn’t changing for some time but for me this is the first time for over a decade where Konami can look EA square in the eye with a game to be proud of. I’ll probably end up buying both this year, and Football Manager to boot of course, but I’ll be getting something different out of all three games, and that can only be a good sign for the industry.