I know what you're thinking: "Hey, that looks like FIFA!" I thought the same about PES 2015 when I noticed it out on Steam, but let's not jump to conclusions. Yes, it's shooting for the same sort of real-time tactical action which I found in FIFA, but playing the demo that arrived a few days after launch shows it's quite different. While the FIFA demo was heavy on lore, pomp, and flash, PES's demo skips the fluff to create a more slimline, irreverent, and slightly retro take on the ritualised combat of goalzones and bombwarders. Kinda.
The name itself, PES 2015, is a wink to ye olde games set in the then-far-flung future of the 21st century, but here the future's within arm's reach. The menu music's a flashback too, calling in '00s rap-rockers Linkin Park. I'm just not sure this nostalgia reaches back far enough to pull this off. Look at the graphics: they're less fancy than FIFA, but not retro enough to really pump nostalgia glands; they just look scruffy. I found this problem across the PES demo.
This lack of commitment, this unwillingness to really follow through on the idea, is in the humour too. The team selection suggests you'll be chortling away, with some great names. One is named Athletic Club - because they run around, geddit? And I dig the idea of Spanish city Madrid split in two, resolving a civil war in ritual combat. The republican AT Madrid's crest is all stars and stripes and, inexplicably, a bear scrumping apples, while the royalist Real Madrid (not like those frauds AT) top their crest with a crown. Yet these jokes don't carry over into the ceremonial combat.
Combat is very po-faced in PES, beyond the men sometimes cantering like they're pretending to be horses. Just like FIFA, it's a melee-only take on Bombing Run. You have a squad of eleven warriors but only control one at a time, with an AI babysitting the rest. You're trying to kick, headbutt, and shoulderbarge a defused bouncing bomb into the opponent's goalzone to score points. Most points at the end of 90 decimal minutes wins. But that's the problem: PES follows the same rules as FIFA. No subversion or even playfulness, it follows the exact same rules.
It even has special moves with names like 'flip flap' and 'boomerang trap' but they're mostly other ways to kick the bomb. Just imagine: Real Madrid (the real ones) could call in a cavalry charge of the Guardia Real (that's Spanish for Royal Guard), while imposters AT Madrid might unleash their cider-drunk bear mascot to rampage across the battlefield. It has nothing like that.
I think the PES demo suffers from lacking the pageantry of FIFA too. It has no narrators, its cutscenes are bland... what kind of parody is this? Imagine if they had someone like - heck! - comic relief character Alan Partridge from what I assume was a FIFA movie adaptation. The FIFA demo's final cutscene with the winners erecting a stage to award themselves a trophy seems ripe for parody, but the PES demo's battles just end.
PES wanted to be Dungeons of Dredmor to FIFA's Dragon Age: Origins, but lacked the conviction to properly follow through. In the end, developers PES Productions fell back on repeating the things they were supposed to being parodying. Maybe this is because it's the demo, maybe the full version has more wit and more soul, but I certainly shan't be buying it to find out. The demo's on its Steam page if you fancy a crack yourself.