PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER 18
King of the underdogs makes another gutsy title challenge
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.
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?)