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PES 2016 vs FIFA 16: a friendly comparison

Early impressions ahead of review.

In some ways, I imagine writing about football games is a bit like writing about wine. Make a quick judgement, pluck arbitrarily from the glossary of established terms and - as long as you express yourself with conviction - most readers will be happy to follow your lead.

One year FIFA is more "realistic", the next, PES is more "fluid". We may as well be talking about oaky bouquets and hints of pencil shavings, given the inexactness of such terms.

What can be said with some clarity is that both EA and Konami appear happy with last year's vintage. For the first time in a fair few years, FIFA 16 and PES 2016 offer only incremental improvements to their match engines rather than drastic rebalancing. This makes for a pleasingly gentle transition for those who upgrade - little relearning is required - assuming, that is, that they are as happy with the state of play as the developers seem to be.

I'll do my best to spare you the marketing spiel - FIFA apparently offers "Confidence in Defending" this year, which, as a Liverpool fan, sounds right up my alley, while PES offers "Celbration Control" [sic] - and a focus on what's most apparent after kicking off in both games.

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PES 2016 cover star Neymar takes a moment to reflect on his genius. He's a shining example to us all.

PES' biggest change is the manner in which players physically interact with each other. Last year's offering was sorely lacking in a collision system of any sophistication, which made defensive blocking and tackling unpredictable and unsatisfying. This has clearly been a priority for PES Productions, and the result makes for a much less chaotic playing experience.

There's a clear improvement, too, in attacking AI, with much less prompting required for your teammates to make clever runs off the ball. But the general feel of the game remains relatively unchanged - one of quick transitions and spectacular goals, players gliding across the pitch as if on ice skates to volley a ball that floats, tantalisingly, in a way that seems to reflect a world with a different gravitational pull and weather system than ours.

FIFA, meanwhile, has barely changed at all. Defenders seem slightly more agile, which helps when faced with tricky dribblers, and I noticed slide tackles are easier to control, making them less of a last-ditch option than has previously been the case. But it remains a slower, more patient football experience, one of working angles and grinding down opponents to create chances, of finding gaps between lines and knowing when to best to pass or shoot.

The question, of course, is which of these two interpretations of football is "best", or at least best for different kinds of players. The full reviews, to follow next week, will take into account the whole gamut of game modes, graphics, online options and licenses, but when the whistle blows what is it that sets them apart?

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FIFA 16 has an in-game trainer that suggests actions to take. You can turn it off.

To my mind, the reason PES was so well-received last year, and the reason it will also be this, is that it's a freer, looser experience than its rival. When selected, players switch on just that little bit more quickly than in FIFA and, perhaps with some sacrifices made in terms of animations, you feel less constricted, particularly when passing through midfield, by the angles in which you receive and then turn with the ball.

The ball itself also feels more within your control - whereas a long pass in FIFA often feels like activating an AI pass mechanic, particularly when it goes to the wrong man. In PES it almost seems like you're guiding it through the air.

In FIFA's defence, though, here's that word again that I'm trying not to use - realism. PES has a higher frequency of spectacular goals, and higher-scoring matches. But FIFA will seem to many like a closer approximation of the real thing - particularly in higher level matches, where games are often decided by one mistake, and YouTube-worthy highlights are something of a rarity.

So, PES perfect for a quick match with your mates, FIFA better for hours and hours of competitive online play? Perhaps. As ever with games with such finely tuned mechanics, it's often not until weeks, or months later that their real personalities reveal themselves. For now, we can take comfort in the fact that both games were great last year, and both have been improved. Which you'll choose is simply a matter of taste.

Eurogamer's PES 2016 review will go live next week after we've tested online functionality.

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