It’s that time of year. While majority of football fans await the latest installment of EA’s beloved series, it’s time to size up the culmination of efforts their main competitor has brewed up.
Revolution in the sports genre has traditionally been a big ask, but when market demand expects yearly sequels churned out, recent changes to sequential titles tend to be minimal and susceptible to scrutiny. Although FIFA remains at the primary choice for prospective buyers, PES is perhaps one of the last frontiers Konami hasn’t forsaken. EA prides itself in an accurate reproduction of the sport’s look whereas PES Productions closely recreates an authentic feel of modern-day action on the pitch.
Long gone is the disastrous PS3/XBOX360 era resulting in the Japanese publisher’s fall from grace. Straight off the bat, PES 2018 continues in its pursuit of realism, introducing an overall slower tempo that might initially unsettle returning players. After a couple of matches, it’s clear this decision was deliberate. Dribbling is now tighter and more precise than it has ever been. In fact, the slower tempo helps complement the return of Konami’s prized Real Touch feature, where a selected player makes better use of their entire body to accommodate the ball, using any legal body part to their advantage.
Of course, degrees of control rely on player skill levels, but it seems to hardly matter since movement and animations are advanced where it’s near-impossible to ignore players change their centre of gravities as the ball is about to reach them. Players are also more effective when shielding the ball from the opposition to maintain possession or dazzle an opponent with a bursting change of pace. Keeping this in mind, the revised Real Touch+ can be completely see in full effect with the likes of Messi or Neymar. Ball ricochets are unpredictable and susceptible to diverting the trajectory in intended directions, creating unwanted, and at times, favourable scenarios.
The collision system is noticeable improved. If two players leap to the air to win a 50-50 ball, there’s a chance the winner may inadvertently foul his opponent on their way down. This may not bode well with players (especially those who are on the losing end) but adds to the sense of realism Konami has sought to replicate. Another nice nod to this year’s collision system is when two players contrast for a ball and one player has their eye accidentally poked, the victim may fall on the green clutching their face in (perhaps exaggerated) agony.
The game does play similar to last year’s release, but the emphasis on tactical awareness is hard to ignore. While the allure of sports games is going at it with other human players online, Konami can pat themselves on the back for their work on the AI. Teammates are constantly on the lookout to find space in order to receive the ball and the opposition will be ruthless to capitalise on mistakes made. These imposed changes force the gamer to perfect passes and be attentive of teammate (and opponent) positions. Errors are more difficult to recover. Therefore, defending requires more attention and tactical knowledge but feels rewarding if correctly executed.
In the same vein, set-pieces have been reworked. While PES 2017 handed gamers the option to hide the directional arrows to hide the ball’s would-be trajectory in the options panel – this is no longer the case. It is effectively gone this time round. Hence, free-kicks are slightly more difficult to direct at first, and pulling off corner-kicks successfully is a hard task.
The online mode is entertaining with players engaging in 2v2 and 3v3 matches which can be enjoyed in a LAN setting. With the option of CPU controlling vacant spots, 3v3 matches have six player indicators above the heads of different players – one gamer doesn’t control one specific player. At the bottom of the screen, there is a grading system which as the name implies tracks your performance throughout the match, awarding points for tackles, passes and shots while deducting points for poor decisions. Once the game comes to an end, the “Man of the Match” award is awarded to the gamer with most points. It’s a neat feature which encourages players to cooperate and take joy in accomplishing the unglamorous aspects of football rather than attempt to score a solo goal.
However, it goes without saying Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 has its fair share of glaring problems; some perfectly addressable next year or hopefully in an upcoming patch while others hampering the game from maximising its full potential.
The most prevalent reason people are turned off from owning a copy of any recent PES title is licensing. Uses of placeholder names for prominent sides in popular European leagues doesn’t bode well with the community who struggle to feel immersed with sides such as Man Red or London FC. While fans of the series will complain a minor patch fixes the issue, it still sits atop the pile for reasons people decide to stay clear of Konami’s series.
Pulling off carefully threaded passes and quelling an opposition’s attack may be gratifying but perhaps there is nothing that will cause players to rip their hair out more than poor goalkeeping mechanics. The men in between the sticks are frustratingly inept at saving the tamest of shots, often parrying a strike only to feed it to a nearby poacher. Another marque of the recent PES resurgence is poor refereeing, and unfortunately this inconvenience hasn’t been thoroughly addressed in 2018.
Player model look incredible and at times lifelike but the same can’t be said about referees who look out of place and hilariously ghost through goalposts or even players. “Master League” and “Become a Legend” haven’t been given much love, and evidently fall short of FIFA’s alternative which this year gave much love after taking notes from the acclaimed “The Journey” game mode.
Albeit visually pleasing, EA’s fascination with style over substance can still be seen manifest. In contrast, PES Productions doesn’t share their competitor’s obsession with presentation, but rather chosen to focus on core gameplay. As a result, the layout looks primitive and indicative of a bygone era of gaming. The commentary has received little attention with commentators repeating the same lines and unfunny jokes.
Despite its problems and lack of presentation EA has flaunted in recent times, PES 2018 plays brilliantly and it is exciting to see where Konami may take its franchise in the future. Even the staunchest FIFA fanboy accepts competition is healthy and propels the industry to strive for the next standard of excellence. As Konami continues to refine its franchise, EA will undoubtedly need to raise its game as their competitors continue to pump out impressive improvements.
But with licenses in favour of the Americans, PES Productions will need a compelling case to even tempt the FIFA faithful over to their corner.