The common response to a new football game being released is that “it's just a roster update”, or in this year’s case that it's more likely a PES 17.5 rather than 18, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Pro Evolution Soccer has been on the rise in recent years, but this year they have set the bar to an all-new level. Coming out good few weeks before FIFA 18, all I have to say is: no pressure, EA, over to you! And while it'll be interesting to see how they respond with FIFA 18, it’s an unenviable position to be in as it's going to take something rather special to dethrone PES this year.
From Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 onwards there's little doubt that the realism in the game is by far the most impressive it's ever been, and a lot of that can be attributed to the sensational gameplay. The pace of the game is slower than last year, but the passing, movement and dribbling is much cleaner and sharper. If you can spring a chain of passes together the tempo will pick up, whereas if you want to slow the pace down by playing back to the goalkeeper or sitting deep and soaking up pressure, you have carte blanche to do just that. To some players, the fact that PES doesn't boast the more arcade-style of gameplay could be off-putting. But the freedom to play a style of football that suits you is what separates this game from its rival. Granted, if you are a regular player of FIFA you may struggle to adjust to the different gameplay, but give it time. What you lose in PES with end-to-end 100 miles an hour football, you gain in a truly unique and realistic football simulation. I especially love the little addition of in-game statistics, such as which players have taken the most shots or have had the most touches of the ball.
The realism comes largely from the player likenesses which Konami rightly love to boast about. Whether you're dribbling with the silky Antoine Griezmann or powering through the midfield with Emre Can, it's never felt more realistic and responsive. Almost every single player feels different, and using this player engine to build a team in Master League should be really enjoyable. The realism also comes from your setup in the pre-game tactics. Playing the Attacking Full Backs or False Full Backs tactic will have a huge influence on how your team will attack. Similarly, using Counter Targets or adopting a Gegenpress will greatly influence the way you're going to defend. The lesser details have a huge impact on games, and it cannot be stressed enough just how brilliant this is.
But it's not all about what PES continues to do, it's also about what they're changing, how they're innovating. One of the biggest disappointments over the last few PES games have been the goalkeepers. The number of goals I conceded because they palmed a weak header back into the six-yard box, or were beaten by a weak finesse shot was frustrating to say the least, but this now looks to be a thing of the past. That's isn't to say goalkeepers aren’t infallible, but the number of mistakes are greatly reduced, and as a result scoring goals has become a little bit more of a challenge. It makes scoring feel that little bit sweeter!
Visually, this game is stunning, and it’s undoubtedly the best I've seen in a football game. The player likenesses are incredible, with the likes of Antoine Griezmann and Luis Suarez looking as close to the real thing as you're likely to see. Even the lesser-known or less established players have stunning likenesses to them, with the likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold and Joshua Kimmich looking incredible. The crowd also look better than last year, with Liverpool fans once again singing their world-renowned ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ before matches feeling even more special. They feel more realistic now, especially when a goal goes in, and the animations and players’ emotions all combine to create a visual feast. Everything feels and looks better than PES 2017.
My style of play is to defend compactly with a non-stop press, then to counter-attack with fast, incisive passing and forward players sprinting into the box. The style of the game feels like it'd suit my tactics really well. Differing formations and tactics are often conducive to great matches and the number of tactical approaches on offer here are astounding. Every single game should feel different, be it online or against the CPU. Speaking of which, a new Legendary difficulty mode will be unlocked if you can defeat the CPU on Super Star five times. This is such a welcomed addition for me, as Master League didn't feel enough of a challenge in the last two PES games.
Master League has seen a couple of changes, nothing major, but decent changes regardless. There's a new menu system which looks really nice. It’s crisp and easier on the eye, with the text standing out more and images being more vivid and colourful. Beyond the visuals, you’ll now be able to send your squad away on pre-season tournaments where you can tinker with formations, trial players in different positions, or field some youth prospects - the ball is in your court. There’s a new transfer system where players have release clauses and negotiations are trickier, but just like last year, you'll need to keep a close eye on the transfer and wage budgets. As if that wasn't enough, there are new cutscenes for managers and players. What might seem like minor changes shouldn't discourage fans of Master League, because the bread and butter of football games is the gameplay, and it's almost flawless in this regard.
Become a Legend is also in the game and with the AI intelligence being greater than last year, it makes the game mode far more enjoyable. You can customise your player with great detail once again, with face modification, hairstyle, boots, accessories and celebrations being customisable. Starting off as a 17-year old rookie, it's up to you to establish yourself as a footballer, get called up to your national team, and who knows, eventually win the Ballon D’or. You can pick a number of positions to play in as you become more experienced, which makes it harder to be benched. Your true progression will be measured by what you do on match day.
For those who like the game modes but worry about the licensing issue, you can fix this ‘problem’ with the Option File. The kits look great as usual, and they dare I say, perfect. Regardless, Konami have done great work in adding to their licenses in PES 2018. Along with their individual club deals with three giants of club football; Liverpool FC, Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund - they have added official partnerships for Valencia, Inter Milan and Fulham FC. The major coup that PES continues to hold over FIFA are the official European competitions - UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League. Every European game has that ‘big game’ feel to it which FIFA can't replicate. The beautiful lighting makes European games stand out head and shoulders above the regular league games. The inspiring Champions League music and pre-match graphics really emphasise the importance, and this is where PES really shines.
Konami have also added some new stadiums this year, and one of them has to be my all-time favourite already: The Ultimate Stage. Wow, this stadium is amazing! It looks to be a 100,000-seater stadium, (probably more) and it's the perfect arena to play a Champions League Final in. You have to see it to believe it. On top of that incredible stadium, the likes of Anfield, Camp Nou and Signal Iduna Park look better than last year and feel more atmospheric. Atlético Madrid’s new stadium, Wanda Metropolitano, is in the game and it’s pretty spectacular. Along with these, two generic stadiums have also been added which adds some variety to matches. There are roughly 30 stadiums in PES 2018, with quality over quantity coming to mind.
The commentary is marginally different to last year, although a number of elements are very similar. If you compare the commentary team to FIFA, the difference is night and day. A little more insight or a new commentators would breathe fresh air into PES games, not that the commentary is bad, but it feels like it needs a revamp. Even using different commentators for European games could be a good idea, anything to mix it up a bit. Another slight negative I have comes purely as a Liverpool supporter, as I would love the chance to attack towards the Kop End in the second half of a match. I've never understood why football games can't have a coin toss before a game to decide which side you'll be shooting towards. Then again, if the Kop End was at the other end of Anfield I probably wouldn't be complaining about it.
In terms of online play the servers aren’t live yet, so it's something that cannot yet be judged. However, PES 2018 will see the return of Random Match Selection, as well as 2v2 and 3v3 single player or online co-op matches, so it’ll be interesting to see how the servers hold up. Online matches in previous PES games have been so enjoyable when the connection holds up, as I can't remember playing one game after another and thinking ‘this is just like the last one’. There's no hint that this year will be any different. I’m also looking forward to seeing how myClub is this year, because with a few tweaks here and there, it could become a pivotal part of PES in years to come.
The menus are pretty much the same as last year, with floating menus in the style of Windows. If truth be told, it looks a little bit dated now and a menu overhaul with something more sleek and polished would be a good way to go if Konami opt to change their menus next year. The soundtrack is good, with recognisable names like Clean Bandit and Bruno Mars featuring on the playlist, and it just about edges last year’s soundtrack.
PRO EVOLUTION SOCCER 2018 (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Not only is Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 the best football game in terms of graphics, it is the best I have experienced in terms of gameplay. The level of detail and player likenesses create a game that comes as close to you'll get to the real thing. There are still a few minor issues with presentation, and perhaps a few more changes could have been made to Master League and Become a Legend, but I'm clutching at straws here. The gameplay is near perfection, the AI and goalkeepers are improved, Konami have added further licenses to their product, and the graphics are amazing. Hopefully the servers are ready for online and with just a few minor presentation improvements to be improved on, PES really has set the bar of what a football game should be.