It’s that time of the year again when the two major football franchises, PES and FIFA, go head to head in becoming the year’s best football game and first up to the table is the highly anticipated PES 2018. Following hot off the heels of last year’s brilliant entry, Konami have promised even more refinements, gameplay tweaks, better visuals and a much improved online matchmaking system that will hopefully make an already great game even better and warrant a purchase for buyers of the previous game. The problem that annual sports titles have to deal with is whether or not the developers can justify players of last year putting their hand back in their pocket and dipping in to the new game by adding new and appealing features to entice them in to upgrading to the latest release. The PES series has always fallen behind FIFA in terms of its licenses and broadcast style presentations so it has always put its gameplay at the forefront of its main selling point and for the last two years PES has arguably played the better game of football. If you are familiar with the PES series then you will be happy to know that all the modes and features that you have come to expect are all present this year, including Master League, MyClub, Exhibition matches, local and online multiplayer to name but a few, but the big question is, how does the game play and does it better last year’s entry?
With PES 2018 comes a more refined gameplay style compared to last year as the overall play has been slowed down slightly and dribbling mechanics have been more finely tuned with added animations, allowing for a more precise play style, which ultimately leads to more control over the players than we’ve seen in previous PES games. In addition to this there is also a new feature added called ‘Real Touch+’ which complements the new animations and control over the ball, allowing trapping and first touches to be even more realistic than ever before. To make sure this all works seamlessly, the ball physics have also been given an overhaul and what this allows is a more realistic and natural feel when a player is on the ball. Through balls and long balls no longer miraculously land at your players’ feet and the ball no longer sticks to them like a magnet with every extravagant pass and has instead been replaced with a more realistic feel, where an element of precision in both the passing and movement being an essential part for a free flowing game of football. Overall the freedom of movement on the ball is a lot more versatile and opens up added possibilities with build up play, especially when playing a counter attacking style that relies on quick transitional passing and running in to space. This newly refreshed mechanic sounds subtle but it makes a huge difference that makes free flowing passing moves and long diagonal balls all the more satisfying when they land.
So what do these refined features mean for the overall gameplay? Well, that is an easy question to answer as it simply means that PES 2018 is an absolute joy to play in almost every aspect. The overall feel of the game really shines through and Konami have managed to not only improve the overall enjoyment of the gameplay compared to last year, but they have also added in more depth to it too, allowing for more versatility in play styles. Dribbling is compact when needed but the play can be switched up so seamlessly that explosive counter attacks can be lethal, so it is essential to keep a level head when defending too. Holding the A button to close the opponent down to do a standing tackle has been adjusted and isn’t as automatic as it has been before so timing is key, and going straight in aimlessly for a tackle could leave your defence exposed if your opponent utilises the close control efficiently, so defending needs some patience and precision but can be rewarding if done properly. It’s a smooth, responsive experience and without doubt the best that a PES game has ever played which I didn’t think could be possible after last year’s game played so well. Control of the ball is incredibly responsive and both the passing and shooting aspects of the game are finely tuned allowing the player so much more freedom to switch up the play or quickly adjust movement if needed. It felt satisfying when a 26 pass move was converted in to a wonderful team goal, utilising the close control and pin point passing to get in to a one on one situation and slotting the ball past the goalkeeper. Scoring a goal like this was just as satisfying as a 30 yard screamer going in off the crossbar which looks pretty spectacular too.
Where the gameplay is a little let down though is a slight inconsistency with the goalkeepers and one particular aspect of the opposition AI. The ‘keepers didn’t really need any adjusting from last year as they had got them spot on after complaints from previous games but it seems that this year, they have taken a tiny step backwards and while it isn’t much of a drastic one, it’s only really noticeable because the overall gameplay is near perfect, so these tiny criticisms stood out more. The inconsistency of the ‘keepers can be frustrating, easily stopping a screaming shot towards goal in sensational style but then in the next minute they would let in a soft goal by not reacting quick enough to it or fumbling a shot that should be an easy save to make. I also noticed a slight issue with the opposition AI where they would very rarely give a foul away and in the 90 plus matches I have played against the AI, I must have had around 10 fouls against me out of them all which didn’t seem right and I am sure it is something that the PES team are working on to address in a future update. The AI overall though is very good and it adapts to your style of play making each game more of a challenge by mixing things up a little bit, adding different dynamics and stopping offline AI matches from becoming too repetitive. These really are very small criticisms to what is an all round fantastic game to play.
The ever popular Master League is in full flow again this year and it’s been given a subtle makeover with an alternative ‘Challenge’ feature that gives the management side to it a slightly more in depth and challenging approach. Player transfers in this are much harder to complete, especially big name players and there is a lot to take in to account when trying to improve your squad including squad morale and how a certain type of player may affect it and club finances have to be closely assessed across the board too. Other modes such as MyClub, exhibition, cup competitions and standard leagues haven’t been changed much and will be familiar to anyone who has played a PES game over the last few years. Online and local Co-op does make its debut this year though where a 2v2 or 3v3 can be played in various competitions in either a local offline mode or you can take it online with your mates too if you are up for a challenge. Konami recently promised an improved online service for PES 2018 as there has been a lot of criticism over the years about the online performance of past PES games but I am pleased to say that while it still isn’t to the level of FIFA’s online performance yet, the online side to PES’ stability seems to have been improved. Matches ran smoothly for the most part and despite the odd slight matchmaking issue, actually finding a match online was pretty painless and nowhere near as bad as it has been in past instalments. It may not be perfect but it is certainly a step in the right direction and with ongoing maintenance and improvements I am sure that Konami will address any issues going forward.
The one thing that hasn’t been improved this year is the dull, robotic commentary that is familiar within the PES series. The commentary team of Peter Drury and Jim Beglin sound as artificial as they always have and they don’t add anything to the experience whatsoever. It s disappointing that this area still hasn’t been addressed, but when a game plays as good as this one does, it can kind of be forgiven. Despite there not being as many licenses compared to FIFA, the teams that are present in PES 2018, licensed and unlicensed have had their players faithfully represented amongst other things like the anthem ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ being sang loud and proud by Liverpool supporters as the team enters on to the Anfield pitch which looks and sounds terrific and the recreation of Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park is a sight to behold.
The detail in the visuals looks great and player models in the game look the best they have ever looked in a PES game with the player models across the whole roster standing out with finer details and only a few lesser known players having standard generic faces. The attention to detail in player faces is greatly improved from last year with them showing real emotion when scoring a goal, getting angry, or showing when they’re in pain after a foul and it’s these finer details that really make the visuals stand out. The FOX engine does a wonderful job with lighting effects within the stadiums, the crowd comes to life on screen when a goal is scored and the weather effects and pitch textures look fantastic. Visuals are sharp and vibrant and the animations have been completely overhauled too, partly due to the new game mechanics but the players now move much more natural than they ever have. Overall PES 2018 is a great looking game and despite not having that broadcast quality polish to it that FIFA has, it still stands up pretty well and I can’t wait to see what it looks like after the inevitable Xbox One X enhancement after the console is released. As a whole though, it’s going to take a lot for FIFA to come close to PES in terms of its gameplay this year because it truly is a wonderful game to play and there is going to be lots of hours lost in the many modes available and with an improved online service, PES 2018 could retain its crown of being the best football game of the year yet again.