It’s the fourth game of what’s so far been an electric Champions League campaign.
The ever-impressive Atletico Madrid have just taken the lead thanks to a dipping 40-yard homing missile of a shot from Fernando Torres. There are only a few minutes left, and, despite coming under an immense amount of pressure, my players eventually manage to drag themselves across the line, sealing a famous win over their Group C rivals, London FC.
The final score? 3-2. Too close by for my liking, but this is Pro Evolution Soccer 2016. A game where 0-0 draws are are the stuff of legend, and where Champions League regulars such as Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City are forced to wear bizarre kits and change their names so they can legally compete in what Peter Drury regularly reminds me is the “summit of European football”.
As if Torres scoring a worldie wasn’t strange enough.
Attack! Attack! Attack!
It's a scenario that PES aficionados will know well, and this season’s edition is no different. If you can forgive the lack of certain licenses, or have the patience to go through and manually modify over 60 teams, you’ll be glad to hear PES 2016 has rediscovered the series’ form. As Franck Ribery has often proved, there’s more to football than looks.
This year, on the 20th anniversary of the franchise, PES 2016 has adopted a very clear mantra: the best defence is a fantastic offence. For the first time in ages, this makes it a genuine arcade-style alternative to FIFA 16’s simulator-esque charms.
Passing is fluid and razor sharp, encouraging creative, instinctive, attacking football – through balls are particularly lethal. Shooting will become second nature too and, unlike FIFA, PES 2016 urges you to go for goal at every available opportunity. To attempt the impossible whenever you can.
The reasoning behind such a brazen attacking emphasis is simple: football fans respect good defending, but we all know they show up for the goals.
And there will be lots of goals. Lucky goals. Cheap goals. Impossible goals. Beautiful goals. How-on-earth-did-that-end-up-in-the-back-of-the-net goals. PES has them all, and thanks to some suicidal keepers, who seemingly go out of their way to let even the simplest shots trickle past them, you’ll rarely play a game that ends in a stalemate. It’d be unfair to lay the blame entirely at the door of the game’s shot stoppers, though, because, defensively, PES is a disaster waiting to happen.
Defenders will infuriate and beguile in equal measure, dribbling past three midfielders in one moment, before completely mistiming a header the next. You'll soon learn that scoring is key to winning matches, and not just because goals win games, but because keeping a clean sheet is damn near impossible. Thankfully, so is getting booked or sent off, so if all else fails, be sure to make use of that slide tackle - now more satisfying than ever thanks to a reworked collision system - because the referees in PES 2016 are more lenient than Howard Webb at Old Trafford.
Of course, sometimes it makes sense for your defence to resemble a deer caught in the headlights of a 4,000 ton freight train, such as when Cristiano Ronaldo muscles his way past your right-back like the majestic apex-predator he is. PES' design team really have managed to capture the essence of football's biggest icons in the way they manoeuvre and approach the game – even though their character models can look a little waxy.
La Liga Master League licensing
Each player is a unique specimen, meaning organising your team for an online match, or hunting down the final piece of the jigsaw in Master League - which, for my Valencia squad, turned out to be Bayern Munich's acute anchorman Javi Martínez - feels not just important, but absolutely necessary.
That attention to detail is what makes the game's bread and butter, Master League, so damned addictive. Despite my best intentions, and the fact that I had more pressing matters - like writing this review - to attend to, I found myself entranced by the sheer depth of the game's career mode. Of course, I should probably say that the only reason I picked a La Liga side is because it's one of the only fully licensed leagues in the game. Come on now, there's no way I'm managing West Glamorgan City. That's Swansea, to the uninitiated.
Recurring branding issues aside, online games are just as captivating as their offline counterparts. Matches remain just as thrilling, with PES' end-to-end nature raising the stakes from the very first whistle, while the game's matchmaking system does an admirable job of finding a suitable partner - even when you're looking for someone who doesn't use assisted passing. All in all, my connection only dropped off on one occasion, and that was when I was at the wrong end of a 5-2 drubbing.
Yeah, I'd be lying if I said I felt bad for the person at the other end.
PES 2016 verdict
Much like the real thing, then, PES 2016 is a game of two halves. Thanks to its perennial licensing issues and newfound defensive frailties, it doesn't quite deliver the entire package – FIFA 16 is a better all-rounder. What it does do is capture the spirit of the beautiful game. Football, at its very core, is about impossible dreams and moments of magic, and PES quite rightly places that spectacle above all else.