With the year only halfway through, Konami invited us down to have some hands-on gaming with the upcoming entry into their popular PES series, with . Although I’m not usually the first pick to play sports games, I was the only one available -- and I really wanted a gift bag. Spoiler alert -- no gift bags, but a pretty kickass chicken satay.
I’ll preface by saying that the last football game I played was likely before dual analog sticks were even a thing. So my tastes are not geared towards neither FIFA nor PES. Despite me not being a fan, I believe it gave me a unique insight into what PES 2017 has to offer, if not the foreknowledge of what counts as an improvement over other titles in the genre.
The build we were provided with allowed single and dual player, and we could play against the AI or each other. We decided to play against each other, as the AI would no doubt beat us with its superior skills. We could choose from Atlético Madrid, Arsenal, Germany or France -- my opponent Steve (the site’s Editor-in-Chief) chose Arsenal as he knew he could recognise the uniform, and I went for Atlético.
The first thing that struck me, was how little control I had over the players. I was used to running at the ball to take control, but the AI controlled pretty much every moment that a player was not in control of the ball. Even switching to the player closest to an uncontrolled ball resulted in the controls becoming unresponsive. I eventually accepted it, but it was quite weird to not have control of the game I was playing.
We played seven minute matches, and out of the 20 or so matches we played against each other over the course of three and a bit hours, neither of us scored a goal. Either we were both excellent players, or as the next bit may show, we were both terrible. True, a lot of the matches were spent fouling each other and receiving yellow cards (and the occasional red one), but despite team changes, position shuffles and a frankly amazing throw in/corner kick player in one of the goalies, none of it ended in goals.
Until the AI took over from Steve, and I was left to fend for myself. There was a brief presentation at one point, showing how PES has evolved over its 21 years. It included the term “adaptive AI”, which was probably aimed at me and my propensity to slide for everyone's ankles. Sure, over the course of five or six games the AI only scored four or five times, but I still couldn’t score a single one.
Of course, having played for so many hours, I got a good look at how the players moved, and what they looked like. We were even shown side-by-side comparison screenshots from 2016 to 2017, and the difference is very noticeable. PES 2017 is using the Fox Engine first seen inMetal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes. If you’re familiar with that, or Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, then you will know that it can achieve some realistic looking people. No longer are the polygons twisted to almost look like players with a videogame face mapped over it, the models are sculpted to look like real people.
The way they move is also much better, and Konami actually named all of the improvements. Natural Player Movement, coupled with Precise Pass and Real Touch made it look like a real match was taking place on the screen. The team behind the game have even given the ball a complete overhaul in an effort to make it act like a football.
The options for matches and teams were quite a dizzying sight to behold. Attack tactics, defence tactics, player positions, defence line… Most of it was mumbo jumbo to me, but it was still impressive. I fiddled with most of the options, but I can’t say I noticed any difference whilst I was hacking down Steve’s players.
However, as I’ve said, PES 2017 looks great, and I had a lot of fun playing with it. I think I may have had more fun than anyone else there, as apart from the usual football fan noises (“Ooooh!”, “Get in!”, etc), I didn’t hear any laughter. I was cracking up at everything, from the goalie being super good at corner kicks (and having to run down the other end of the field in a hurry), to every foul and collision. The game clearly needs work -- this was a very early alpha version that we saw -- but I hope they leave the player collision physics intact. That stuff was funny. Just so long as they fix the offside stuff… Players I weren’t even controlling kept getting flagged as offside.
It’s clear that a lot of work has gone into Pro Evolution Soccer 2017, even at this early stage. It’s much more than “the same game with pretty graphics”. Post-launch, the team have said that there will be weekly roster updates, which I’m aware is something of a bugbear with fans.
Konami’s whole campaign for PES 2017 comes down to ‘Control Reality’, and yes this edition is a huge step forward from whichever SNES game I played decades ago, but it’s clearly more than a campaign. When Steve and I left the event, we were more excited about football than we’d ever been, and that includes after playing a ton of Rocket League. Konami have a winner on their hands, if they can continue to refine it.