Release Date: 13/09/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PC
It wasn’t too long ago that Pro Evolution Soccer (from here on to be referred to as PES) was considered the ultimate footie sim, though FIFA eventually managed to reclaim its crown during a dull patch for Konami’s football series. After that lull though, it’s managed to start offering some fantastic gameplay again with last year’s effort in particular standing out, though a lack of licences and FIFA’s overwhelming popularity has meant it still spends a lot of the time out of the limelight. If you’re after an authentic and ridiculously entertaining experience though, this year it might be worth giving PES a try – PES 2018 is simply one of the most refined entries in the series yet.
This year’s iteration of PES feels a whole lot slower than in previous years, though it’s actually proven to be a good thing. It means you can fine-tune exactly how you play, with formations and tactics playing an even bigger role than they have in previous entries. In many ways it feels a lot more realistic, with players looking like they’re actually following a plan rather than zipping through the motions with minimal thought. It makes for a far different experience than PES gamers might be used to, but one that they’ll appreciate anyway.
This change of pace and demand for intelligent play actually feels more significant when facing off against different teams. I’ve often found that football games don’t always have this feeling of authenticity when playing against different opponents – a lot of them simply feel the same, with the star players just standing out as being more proficient as opposed to the team as a whole. Now your opponents feel significantly smarter than before, with them genuinely performing individual roles that influence the actions of the team as a whole – it means they work through each phase of a play with a feeling of intricacy as they look to tactically take you down.
You’ll notice that there always seems to be a plan in place, with players on the ball carefully orchestrating attacks with their team mates who’re running rings around unaware defences. It demands that you’re constantly switched on and always ready to adapt your playstyle. There’s an extended focus on the AI taking part in attacking play this year too, so they’re always looking for that moment to strike. Your job is to figure out where from and how best to nullify their slick moves. It might sound intimidating, but it actually makes for a much more believable and entertaining experience.
That being said, a lot of the gameplay mechanics feel similar to last year’s entry – for better and worse. You have full control of your player’s actions thanks to the ‘REAL Touch’ system, meaning each and everything you do in game feels intricately planned as opposed to having that pre-set vibe that’s often present in FIFA. On the flip-side, it also makes it just as easy to exploit some defensive weaknesses as in previous years, eliminating a lot of the game’s challenge even when playing on higher difficulties. Goalkeepers seem to have taken a step back too, with them quite prone to a few unexpected howlers. It shows that PES 2018 is not quite perfect, but this year’s changes do make it a whole lot better.
Whilst PES 2018 has evolved from a gameplay perspective, it doesn’t make too many changes as far as game modes are concerned. Everything you’d have been used to before returns, with little to no significant refinements. You’ve got a few additions like the changes to transfers in Master League as well as the 3-on-3 co-op mode in myClub, but they’re the sort of things which don’t feel overly significant in the grand scheme of things. Considering the game goes some way to improve in almost all other facets of its design, the fact that the game modes feel untouched is a little disappointing.
It doesn’t mean they’re not still fun though. Master League always offers its own entertainment, whilst myClub returns to offer the addictive player-collecting elements that had me completely hooked to the game last year. The Champions League licence is always welcome too, especially given that we’ve just started to be treated to the group stages of the tournament in real life. Still, none of these modes have really changed to offer something that returning gamers won’t be used to. It’s not too big of a problem though since they’ll provide plenty of hours of entertainment anyway.
One of PES’ biggest flaws over the years has been a lack of licences, with only certain teams getting the official re-creation treatment. Being British, I was a little underwhelmed to see that only Liverpool and Arsenal from the Premier League have received the fully authentic look this year – pretty disappointing for a Manchester United fan. Oddly, Fulham made the cut, so at least the lower tiers of the English league have some representation.
It’s the same across the European leagues though, with only a handful of teams within each country having official team likenesses on offer. Those who’re just here for the gameplay won’t be affected, but those who care a bit more about having actual likenesses on show will be left underwhelmed at PES 2018’s pitiful showing, especially when compared to the fully authentic experience that FIFA constantly delivers. It should be noted that PS4 and PC players will be able to download the team likenesses via a community created update though.
The game certainly looks the part, with some impressive stadiums and stunning recreations of players on the pitch. It seems that when PES gets the licences, they go all out – it’s definitely the case here with teams like Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, and Barcelona nailing the looks of both the kits and players perfectly. I mean, seriously, the players faces are almost life-like at times. Animations are fluid too which is a good thing to go along with the game’s slower pace, whilst the actual vibe and presentation of matches is spot on. The in-game menus are still naff though, but hey, that’s almost become a main feature of a PES game at this point so you wouldn’t expect any different.
It wouldn’t be a PES game without bad commentary and it’s another area in which PES 2018 hasn’t bucked the trend. Whilst it’ll certainly make you laugh at times and is in some ways an almost lovable aspect of the series, I don’t see why Konami haven’t made some effort to get a decent level of commentary included. EA have gone some way to ensuring their recent sport titles offer authentic commentary that’s always (if you excuse the pun) ‘on the ball’, so the cringe-worthy efforts of Jim Beglin and Peter Drury simply doesn’t feel good enough.
Following on from last year, PES 2018 offers one of the most entertaining and authentic ways to play ‘the beautiful game’. The slower pace and demand for tactical thought makes it feel believable, whilst returning features like ‘REAL Touch’ ensure that you’re always in absolute control of every action you perform. From a gameplay perspective, this is the most refined the PES series has been in years – it’s just a shame that some clumsy defending and goalkeeping errors stop it from steering towards absolute perfection.
As always the lack of licences is disappointing, whilst the commentary and menus are still as bad as you’d expect from a PES release. Still, with a two-week head start on its rival and with its own brand of fantastic and fluid football on display, PES 2018 stands out as another superb effort from the team at Konami that is definitely worth the attention of any football fan.