Too many cons in the latest Pro Evo
Konami continues its annual attempt to escape the huge shadow cast by the sales leviathan that is FIFA in its latest instalment of the long-standing ‘PES’ series with a typically mercurial effort. Sometimes brilliant, occasionally superlative but overall lacking polish, Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is almost as frustrating to review as it is to play. This is not a game I could comfortably call mediocre by any means, though. Rather, it is a binary of huge strengths against massive caveats.
The game’s presentation is an example of this: Visually, it is stunning, with a deep, varied colour palette, vibrant, atmospheric stadiums and nicely done grass and face textures. Replays are also excellent, and help to add that extra bit of immersive-ness. Auditorily, however, it is very weak. The same background songs seem to repeat all too often and are quite obnoxious and intrusive – Coldplay and The Chainsmoker’s ‘Something Like This’ being a particularly egregious offender. The commentary, too, lacks variety, and it wasn’t long before I started to hear the same phrases over and over, often in the same match. Whilst the hyperbolic tone of Peter Drury’s commentary does sometimes add atmosphere, it too often sounds ridiculous and loses effect. This is compounded by the fact that he often screams a player’s name at relatively speculative efforts, whilst remaining decidedly low key in regards to goal-mouth action.
The on-field gameplay itself is possibly PES’s biggest strength, as you would hope. The movement and dribbling mechanics lack the ‘gamey’ feel of FIFA’s, and produce an experience which feels authentic and realistic. Passing and crossing are excellently done, allowing you to play some truly beautiful, expansive football with style and finesse, and the goals (and there are a lot of them) come in many different ways. Whilst FIFA has tended to shun crossing and heading in favour of dribbling and shooting, and tends to force a certain style on you, PES, on the other hand, provides you with all the tools of the game and leaves your playing style largely up to you. Neither does it shy away from the physical side of football, either. Aerial battles are hard fought and require positional sense as well as strength, while slide tackles are meaty (if a little haphazard at times), and require realistically precise timing. Although PES’s almost constant Hollywood football is refreshing, it does start to lose its novelty over time — brilliance tends to lose its edge through regularity — and it becomes a little easy to pull off that perfect pass or volleyed goal.
However, the excellent gameplay is again let down by a number of oversights. The goalkeepers, in particular, are given to the most unusual behaviours, seemingly losing any ability to do their job outside of their six yard box, and accordingly seem reluctant to leave it, even for corners which fly very close to them or when they need to reduce the angle for strikers bearing down on goal. Bringing them out manually is an equally futile endeavour, as running around them is far, far too easy. Defenders also seem to struggle in the penalty box, and too often make no attempt to challenge aerially. These observations may sound hypercritical, but they happen with such regularity they become exploitable, rather than endearing bits of wackiness.
PES’s career mode is worth playing in that it is the antithesis of FIFA’s. Whilst FIFA focuses so heavily on the basics that it sacrifices personality, PES offers a career mode which works hard to build a sense of team identity and player personality. Your player’s stats are tracked well, they develop quirky traits (i.e. ‘bad boy’, ‘protege’), and once a season you can select your favourite player to add a bit of sentimental attachment. However, the career mode is woefully inept in the transfer market to the point of losing immersive-ness. Harry Kane goes to Barcelona for 16 million, whilst Arsenal made a valiant attempt to sell their entire squad and started the season with only 4 defenders.
One thing to be wary of, as always, is PES’s ongoing issues with licensing. The days of ‘Peter Couch’ may be gone, but the majority of teams, leagues, and competitions remain unlicensed. Whilst PES has some done well to secure some big teams like Barcelona, Liverpool, Arsenal, Inter Milan and Dortmund, missing out on the majority of the Bundesliga, La Liga and the Premier League will be a big issue for a lot of players and adds to the unpolished feel of the game. Konami’s decision to add a team of ‘European Classics’ and ‘World Classics’ and then fill them with generated players is an odd one, too.
Nonetheless, PES is somewhat of a rough diamond. What it lacks in the finesse and attention to detail of FIFA, it makes up for in playability, unpredictability and realisticness. With some refining and tweaking, it could easily make for a realistic challenger to EA’s series.
Review Copy provided by Konami
*At the time of printing, Konami’s servers had yet to go live; review thus excludes online game modes.