A decade ago I gave up on Pro Evolution Soccer. After spending many a year with the franchise, loving the vast majority of what Konami had to throw my way, I could no longer ignore the draw of FIFA. You see, EA had upped their game massively – so much so that PES was left trailing in its wake.
FIFA is where all my friends started getting their football hits and, aside from a brief dabble with PES a couple of years back, that too is where I spent my time. It had solid online play and it delivered one of the biggest draws in sports games to date – Ultimate Team. It also had Pro Clubs, giving those of us who had a group of likeminded players the best experience of any football game ever.
But the last few years have been pretty kind to Konami. The gap between them and EA, and their PES series to the rival FIFA offering, has diminished, with the last couple of iterations providing the most testing challenge yet to EA’s crown. Now though Konami are back with PES 2018, and they are promising more new features than any game in the last decade. Have they included enough to finally be able to take the winner’s medal over FIFA?
You know what? The answer to that question is always going to be different depending on who you chat to. Die-hard FIFA fans will never be able to discard FUT and Clubs, with many of them dismissing any Konami football title right off the bat. But on the other hand, PES players will always sit here and relish any new feature that is delivered, embracing it with open arms and never letting go.
Perhaps then someone who has previously been hunkered down in the PES camp, to only switch allegiances to FIFA before slowly getting tired of the same old format would be best placed then? Yeah, that’s me to a tee.
So, what do we have with PES 2018? Well, we have stunning visuals, outstanding football mechanics and enough content to keep you busy until PES 2019. But alongside those we have a lack of massively exciting features, terrible commentary, and, most disappointingly, at least for me – no proper Pro Clubs substitute.
As you would expect with a PES title, Master League, giving you the chance to fulfil your player-manager ideology is in place. myClub is also present, letting you build a club from scratch, before filling it with stars and taking on the world, whilst Become a Legend allows you to focus all your efforts on one player, taking him from zero to hero – and then back down again! The licensed Champions League, Europa League and AFC Champions League options are also great and will play host to the long term ambitions of any player. Should you not want to bother with the long term goals, then one-off quick hit matches, allowing you to waste anything from a couple of minutes to nearly an hour, also more than suffice.
From the off though, the lack of real club names is an issue for me, but editing is possible and shouldn’t ever be enough for anyone to completely dismiss the game. Besides, player names are all in place, and the ratings of each superstar are seemingly fair. There are a couple which make me question the Konami stat raters’ sanity, but on the whole most will be happy with what they have. A Day One patch implementing all summer transfers has also ensured that Neymar and Mbappe are at PSG, ensuring that you’re going to no doubt come up against the power of the French giants more times than you can imagine. Unless of course the community decides that the might of Madrid or the silky skills of the Catalan kings at Barcelona are the way to rule the online worlds this time round.
The offline side of things is more than adequate and should keep any solo players happy for a while. But to succeed in the sports gaming world nowadays you need to deliver a solid and exciting online experience. PES 2018 does precisely that.
Servers are plentiful and solid, matchups between players seem to be as tight and controlled as they need to be and, provided you’re happy to put up with playing against Real Madrid, Barcelona and PSG 90% of the time, will find everything you could imagine from online strangers. I’ve yet to see anything other than the very occasional one-second pause whilst in matches, and on the whole the matches are as smooth as silk. They even play out pretty much identically to the offline AI battles too – which is supremely good to see.
Online Divisions and Online Competition (when it finally starts to work) will give you something to aim for, whilst an Online Co-op mode covers those who like to work together in order to achieve glory. Aside from those options, you could of course take your myClub experience to the online world, pitting your wits and skills against all manner of other players. Just expect to have to bring your A-game whenever you decide to utilise the online sides of PES 2018 as the competition is fierce.
But for as good as all that is, I’m still massively disappointed that there is no proper substitute for Pro Clubs, as for the last ten months or so that is all I’ve bothered playing over on EA’s finest. I know for a fact that should Konami implement something just as successful, a huge swathe of players would begin to jump back to good ship PES.
Another major letdown, and this time it really is a letdown, is in the commentary. Peter Drury and Jim Beglin host and narrate all matches, but whilst their commentary efforts should be commended, the stitching of phrases and repetition of commentary is hugely apparent. I’m pretty sure they even get goalscorers names wrong too and for the most part I’d prefer to listen to the cries of the commentator from Actua Soccer on the PS1. You see, at best it’s cringeworthy, whilst at worst you’ll be left looking for the volume down button on your remote.
I could also pick up on the fact that Konami have seemingly gone all out to replicate the faces of the massive superstars of global football, but failed to really implement much in the way of character for the slightly lesser known stars. The likes of Messi, Neymar, Ronaldo and co are stunning in both their visual look and mannerisms, whilst those on the slightly lesser steps can also be spotted without issues. But should you find yourself as a squad player in a Premier League club, then my god you’ve got a good chance of looking like some freaky custom created character that has come about by utilising Kinect. To take my own club, Southampton, for example. It’s strange to see Japan’s finest defender, Maya Yoshida, looking like Maya Yoshida, whilst Dusan Tadic does a great fall and roll, before jumping straight back up to remonstrate with the referee. Oriol Romeu – ex Chelsea and our current Player of the Year – could be any old Joe off the street though, whilst James Ward-Prowse is a full England international. But in PES 2018 he’s just a generic blonde guy who is seemingly great at nothing but freekicks – or at least he will be when I understand how those set pieces work. I’ve got no issues with the big names getting the star treatment, but feel that the lesser players could well have got a bit more attention themselves.
All that said though and the stadia that you find yourself playing in looks wonderful, especially those licensed affairs at the iconic Anfield, the Camp Nou or San Siro, which all bring stunningly atmospheric crowds to life with colour and sound.
But that’s visually and I’m not overly fussed by what something looks like. All I want to know is what it plays like and thankfully PES absolutely excels.
The speed of the match is near spot-on, allowing the beautiful game to be played the way it should be. Passing is crisp and neat, through balls and the power attached to them is lovely and shooting is a joy to behold. In fact, every single goal you score with PES will come with the feeling that YOU did it – not just that some preset routine decided it was time for you to score a goal… something which can most definitely be felt in other games.
And when you do score there are enough celebration routines to keep even the most extrovert players happy. Yes, I don’t believe there are as many, and they aren’t implemented in the same brilliant way as FIFA, but they more than do the job needed. After all, it’s only a god damn celebration. I’d be happy with a quick handshake and a walk back to the centre circle. Oh how times have changed!
Tackling is decent too, with timings all important as to whether you get the ball and begin to set up an attack, or risk the wrath of the ref and his confident handling of red and yellow cards. At no point have I felt that the refereeing is overly harsh, inconsistent or annoying though – it works, and it works well.
I’ve noticed issues with the AI controlled goalkeepers though, and they’ve most definitely been scouted by Pep Guardiola and been to the Claudio Bravo school of keeping, failing to really clear their lines when a big hoof is all that is needed. But, unlike Bravo, they can pull off a decent save or two when required. Otherwise the rest of the AI seem clever enough, and willing enough, to ensure that you’re never left feeling like your team is a one man human controlled band. Although I guess in reality it is. But you know what I mean.
So, with plenty of the usual feature sets, Master League, myClub, Champions League, Europa League, AFC Champions League and a host of online opportunities within, PES 2018 is a great football game. Yes, let me say that again, PES 2018 is a great football game.
After a decade away, the improvements and advancements that I would have noticed on a personal level are obviously huge, but even when compared to the most recent FIFA titles, it more than excels. Presentation isn’t quite on a par with what I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing since heading to pastures new, and the commentary is a serious issue, but it’s all simple enough to navigate though and the main events – those being the gameplay and football – are absolutely stunning. In fact, it will take some effort to beat this.
If only it had Pro Clubs and not the rather rubbish 11v11 variant, then it may well have been the perfect football game to keep us tied up for another year. This will however still be my go-to game in order for me to get my solo football kicks. Unless the other side really do pull something massive out of the bag.
Konami have upped their game again. Your move EA.