Last year saw Pro Evolution Soccer triumphantly return to form. Thanks to a significant overhaul and the introduction of many new key features, Konami’s brand finally stood toe to toe with its long-time adversary FIFA and firmly re-established itself as a sporting game to be taken seriously. Bridging that gap was no small feat by series standards and was largely accomplished thanks to the games stellar gameplay mechanics, but how would the latest iteration build on the success of the former and was PES 2017 simply a one-off, or a stepping stone to a continued success?
PES 2018: PC, Xbox One, PS4 [Reviewed], Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: PES Productions
Release Date: 12 September 2017
Price: £49.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
Long-standing Pro Evolution fans will be delighted to know that despite its penchant for pachinko machines, Konami’s love for the beautiful game is still very much alive. Official licensing of course, still remains an issue, as does questionable commentary but like 2017, PES 2018 once again delivers hugely on the pitch. Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund and even Fulham, yes mighty Fulham! have all followed giants Liverpool, Barcelona, Arsenal and Atletico Madrid in becoming full-time sponsors of Pro Evolution Soccer, but we still have to make do with playing against North East London rather than Tottenham Hotspur, though, with updates and the option to edit teams to your liking, the year-on-year licensing theme doesn’t become too much of an issue.
Thanks to the RealTouch+ mechanic PES again exudes excellence. Whether you’re a fan of keeping the ball to wear the opposition down, hurrying players into daft mistakes using Klopp-esqe gen-press tactics or weaving free-flowing football that’ll keep a defence forever second-guessing your next move, PES 2018‘s core gameplay is unparalleled and definitely one for the purists. Noticeably different is the pace of the game, which now feels far more realistic and in keeping with the actual speed of real-life football. Dialling down the pace allows the player to sit back and truly enjoy what the series has always done best – put on a show. And it does it so to perfection with effortless fluidity and extravagant swagger as you slice your way through teams with a mixture of perfectly weighted passes and fancy tricks.
With a significant downward shift in speed; player physicality and overall movement become a large focus of the gameplay. No longer a stamina-sapping sprint to the finish, PES 2018 becomes more of a marathon where awareness is required to anticipate your opponent’s next move to cut off a dangerous pass or follow a players run to prevent them getting in behind your defence. This works well going forward too with more time to plot out an attack that won’t see you waste a pass too frequently, or at the very least get off a shot on goal. To balance out the noticeable lack of pace the tactical level has somewhat increased, making for fascinating viewing rather than an end to end game that would leave you as breathless as the players out on the pitch.
Furthermore, familiar stats are attributed to each player modelled on their distinctive playstyles to give you a really good feel for how each particular player operates over the course of 90 minutes. It’s evidently pleasing to watch as midfield powerhouse Emre Can jostles for possession in the centre of the park before venturing on a marauding run that would take him past 2 or 3 players with speed and strength, or when shifting the ball out wide to Kevin De Bruyne who has the pace and end delivery to kill teams. Konami has refined so much of Pro Evolution Soccer’s gameplay to match real-life with precedence on physicality, agility and awareness which is not only fitting of the sport in general but a great representation of how football is actually played.
Nonchalantly jinking in and out of players as Lionel Messi is a pure joy. With the ball seemingly stuck to the pint-sized maestro’s feet like a magnet, I was able to fully dictate play, look to split the defence open with a killer pass or effortlessly win games without needing to move the ball onto Suarez or Iniesta too often. The level of realism is indeed eye-catching, as is the gaping divide between the powerhouses of football and those in the leagues below. Dropping down a division is refreshing but also sobering. You’ll find the tiki-taka style football you enjoyed before to crowds of 70,000+ fans replaced with burly, aggressive no-nonsense in your face football where to win players must adopt different strategies entirely, or attempt to win ugly with gritty determined football. Truth is, whilst we all might want to be Barcelona or Bayern Munich; the likes of Norwich City simply do not have a Lewandowski or Messi in their locker to hurt teams, and as such, the style of play between teams changes drastically.
With a lack of speed or movement, playing a pass and opening up defences becomes that more difficult, throw in a depleting stamina bar and you’ll be struggling to put together a dozen or so passes before being swiftly dispossessed. Life on the other end of the spectrum can be a slog with every move played thoughtfully played out to avoid misplacing a pass that might have the opposition hit you on the counter-attack. The change in style to suit each league is a fitting tribute to the global scale of the football world where everything isn’t cut and dry or Champions League glory.
Though menu’s continue to be unsightly, cluttered and often confusing, in terms of visual animation, PES improves once again. Powered by Metal Gear Solid V‘s FOX Engine, PES 2018 is by no means ugly. With a focus on the handful of fully licensed teams at its disposal, Konami has designed each partnered club to near perfection. The sheer likeness between in-game players and their real-life counterparts is nigh on identical and then there’s exceptional stadium design to match the iconic atmospheres of Anfield on a Champions League night or the Nou Camp filled to its huge capacity. As PES continues to evolve as a visual spectacle, you can’t help but wonder what the developer could do with full license to each club on its roster, a question I’m sure that’s shared by every fan of the footballing underdog series.
For all its visual and gameplay improvements, the series’ single-player mode Master League feels like a neglected pet, lacking the bite of FIFA‘s ‘The Journey’ with only the minor alterations of pre-season tournaments and challenge introduced making it harder for players to sign footballers. The allure of constructing a team of world beaters from a collection of unrecognisable nobodies still excites but it is slowly beginning to stagnate in the shadow of EA’s more appealing personal career mode. Likewise, MyClub too suffers from only minor tweaks or adjustments, lacking the draw of FIFA‘s Ultimate Team, players must earn coins by completing objectives to then buy and shape a more formidable looking team to either take online against other players or compete against the CPU.
Commentary again borders strongly on the awful. Peter Drury and Jim Beglin continue to beat on the same regurgitated one-liners to the brink of death with conversation or solitary outbursts ranging from the utterly dreadful to the outright laughable. There were times when I seriously contemplated switching out English audio for Spanish if only to escape having to endure another rendition of “And On and On and On and On, they are disappearing out of sight!!!” after moving comfortably into the lead against the opposition or how absolutely fantastic Sergio Ramos is prior to every single MyClub match, making me instantly regret my good fortune of picking up the iconic Spaniard through the modes luck of the draw wheel spin.
Inevitably PES 2018 makes up for most of its wrongdoings and failures to fix off-field issues with the kind of eye-catching, scintillating gameplay that has become a staple of the series down the years. As a series, Pro Evolution Soccer has always done its talking out on the football pitch, and on that note, it delivers once again with a footballing masterclass that will have FIFA fans glancing across with more than an ounce of envy. With more and more teams advocating PES, the series is slowly beginning to look the business off and on the pitch, and with the likes of Barcelona and Liverpool now on board, more big teams will likely follow suit in the future.