PRO EVO­LU­TION SOC­CER 18

King of the un­der­dogs makes an­other gutsy ti­tle chal­lenge

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Ben Wilson

If you’ve read a

PES re­view at any point over the last 20 years, you’re al­ready versed on the Pro Evo sucker punch: six para­graphs rav­ing about how in­cred­i­ble the match en­gine is, fol­lowed by the caveat that it can’t com­pete with FIFA in terms of li­cences. So let’s im­me­di­ately stom­ach that body blow and move on. PES 2018’ s lack of of­fi­cial Pre­mier League teams (Arse­nal and Liver­pool are the only two) hurts it, and I’m be­ing kind in call­ing some of the player like­nesses in its lesser leagues ques­tion­able. If that’s a big deal to you, go grab the also-ex­cel­lent FIFA 18.

If it isn’t, you’ll be de­lighted to know PES han­dles beau­ti­fully. Where it counts most – eleven-vs-eleven on-field ac­tion – the Fox En­gine de­liv­ers in style, with in­tu­itive close con­trol, tight, life­like pass­ing and much-im­proved off-the-ball runs and de­fen­sive AI. Shoot­ing can still feel a lit­tle bit ar­bi­trary de­pend­ing on the match sit­u­a­tion, as though the game re­ally doesn’t want you to score in a tight 0-0 draw, but gen­er­ally it’s a de­light­ful ex­pe­ri­ence; as if you’re play­ing the beau­ti­ful game on a freshly man­i­cured stately-home lawn.

Va­ri­ety is a ma­jor fac­tor in its long-term ap­peal. Play­ers han­dle uniquely and be­liev­ably, so Arjen Robben and Gareth Bale and Pier­reEm­er­ick Aubameyang all feel like their real-life selves in ways that can’t be con­veyed by at­tributes alone. And in a team sense, op­po­nents reg­u­larly sur­prise with un­ex­pected tac­tics. In a Cham­pi­ons League cam­paign as Borus­sia Dort­mund – one el­e­ment of

PES that is li­censed, and bril­liantly so – I smash cav­a­lier PSG by hit­ting them on the counter at­tack, but see a home game against Lu­do­gorets end 0-0 af­ter they play de­fen­sively. You re­ally have to think strate­gi­cally game-by-game – minute-by-minute, even – rather than stub­bornly forc­ing one favoured ap­proach.

The rev­o­lu­tion­ary change at play is game speed. Kon­ami has slowed every­thing down in a man­ner which re­tains a de­gree of au­then­tic­ity, but also en­sures that this isn’t solely a chal­lenge of stick skill. So pace and drib­bling abil­i­ties are still key fac­tors in suc­cess, but not crit­i­cally; you’re af­forded more time to re­cy­cle pos­ses­sion in the mid­dle of the park, and there­fore pa­tient pos­ses­sion play – wait­ing for a per­fectly timed run from your cen­tre for­ward, then de­liv­er­ing a pre­cise though ball – is as sat­is­fy­ing as the old sprint-trick­cross-goal for­mula.

Hands on

A word on goal­keep­ers. Tra­di­tion­ally

PES’ wob­bly bit, much work has gone into balanc­ing these guardians be­tween the sticks. They still make hu­man mis­takes, such as the odd mishit squirm­ing be­neath a flail­ing torso, but are gen­er­ally more aware of their sur­round­ings when saves are made. Low cor­ner stops get strongly palmed away to­wards the cor­ner flag, crosses are fisted away with vigour, and shots close to the body

“Pace and drib­bling abil­i­ties are still key fac­tors in suc­cess, but not crit­i­cally”

are blocked with legs, or what­ever the net­min­der can get on the ball. The years of blam­ing ev­ery soft goal on your shoddy cus­to­dian are over.

You’re un­likely to spend 12 months en­joy­ing all this kick­ball ex­cel­lence in ex­hi­bi­tion matches alone, how­ever, and Kon­ami has sen­si­bly given Master League a fresh coat of paint. As ever, you can start PES’ revered ca­reer mode as fic­tional play­ers or real ones, although the clam­oured-for re­turn of favourites such as Ximenez, Valery and Castello re­mains but a dream. An im­proved trans­fer sys­tem de­liv­ers the nest abil­ity to buy star play­ers against their club’s wishes by meet­ing a re­lease clause, while cutscenes from the dress­ing room and press con­fer­ences lend every­thing a greater sense of im­mer­sion. And that AI va­ri­ety re­ally helps matches within the mode flour­ish. Dream team MyClub fares less well. This an­swer to

FIFA’s Ul­ti­mate Team of­fers a sim­i­lar premise to its all-con­quer­ing EA ri­val, en­abling the as­sem­bly a dream squad from across the globe (and var­i­ous foot­balling eras), with the in­trigu­ing twist of be­ing able to use scouts and agents to find elite play­ers. In the­ory the ‘Tac­ti­cal Link’ me­chanic – which dic­tates how com­fort­able a player is with your in­struc­tions – should be far more nu­anced than FUT’s chem­istry equiv­a­lent, but in prac­tice that isn’t the case; a con­fus­ing, con­vo­luted in­ter­face of­ten makes ac­quir­ing play­ers and man­ag­ing strate­gies more bother than it’s worth. It’s clear Kon­ami wants this to make this feel sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent from its ri­val; sadly, ‘dif­fer­ent’ equates to ‘worse’.

PES has al­ways been viewed af­fec­tion­ately for its pre­sen­ta­tional quirks, but those MyClub is­sues are preva­lent else­where, too; Peter Drury and Jim Beglin’s com­men­tary, for in­stance, is un­matched in mod­ern sports gam­ing – for its crush­ing soul­less­ness. Granted, it’s not a game­breaker, but one look at FIFA’s sales fig­ures will tell you such de­tails mat­ter. PES still of­fers an in­cred­i­bly life­like sim­u­la­tion of real foot­ball, with the odd breath­tak­ing mo­ment of ex­cel­lence. More gen­eral con­cerns serve to hold it back, how­ever, like an in­ter­na­tional striker at­tempt­ing to run off a dodgy ham­string.

far left Tat­toos, gotta be tat­toos.

left With keep­ers hap­pier to palm than catch, crazy goal­mouth scram­bles oc­cur at least once a game.

right The im­proved ball con­trol in­vites deft stick­play, and is dev­as­tat­ing with your Mes­sis and Suarezes. (Er, Suari?)

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