Return of the King… Again. For real. I promise!
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)
My history with the PES franchise has more or less mirrored my experiences with the beautiful game in the real world. For years, PES was the highlight of my gaming calendar. I’d clear out my schedules around launch, organise tournaments, spend weeks tweaking things in Master League, set my home page to WENB and generally become somewhat obsessed with every nugget of information that came out about the latest and greatest football title from Konami.And then… Well… It kinda fell flat. PES was riding the crest of a wave coming off the PS2, and the PS3 took a while to hit its stride. Some may argue that it never truly got to where it needed to be on Sony’s tertiary home platform. I still bought the game out of habit, but it never quite recaptured that magic. Around this time, I also fell out of love with football in general. My club (Lincoln City) had fallen into a horrible state, fallen out of the league, and a number of personal reasons pushed me away from the sport (and place) that I once called my second home.
Cut forward to September 2017. I’m a season ticket holder at my beloved Sincil Bank again after one of the most phenomenal seasons in Non-League History, and I’m genuinely excited to be getting PES 2018 slammed into my PS4 Pro after a hands-on session at Anfield that consisted of what I could only describe as “near-perfect” gameplay. And yet my initial impressions were that things had changed. Massively. The game felt sped up, the passes were being ping-ponged around the ground, and it just felt a little bit “wrong”. Had they really ignored the feedback we’d provided from the World Tour events? Were things genuinely this disappointing, after being so promising for so long? Well, they were, until the day 1 patch got installed. I’m not saying it makes it perfect, but oh good lord, it changes the dynamics in a tremendous way.
Let’s start, then, with the gameplay. PES has undergone a whole host of changes over the past decade, from its somewhat disastrous PS3 debut when it ditched the sequential numbers in favour of a year-of-game format. This year sees the franchise reverting back to a more measured pace in the game, allowing for fluid and dynamic build-up play, with team individualities coming to the fore. Before the patch was installed, I had several games with results ranging from 2-2 to 4-3, all on Top Player or Super Star. Post-Patch, the game came alive with challenges, and instantly felt much more like the difficulty that I’m accustomed to with the higher echelons of the game. You can’t just barrel through the middle of the pitch with a defender, then play a through ball to a striker and bang it in the top corner any more, you’ve got to try and play proper football. A slower pace means that you can’t rocket the ball across the pitch like a pinball table, and you can’t rely exclusively on pace at higher difficulties. Instead, your tactical nous and knowhow will be put to the test, and you’ll need to make sure that you’ve got the ability to link up players with a string of passes and moves before finding that incisive pass or burst of skill to fire one past the outstretched gloves. You will, of course, notice the generic traits across most of the players, but when certain individuals such as Messi, Neymar or Ronaldo have their chance to shine, they will do so with astonishing flair. This has always been the battle with PES and FIFA for me. In FIFA, teams feel like the same group of players with different sliders tweaked in a set way, but with PES, the individuality of true masters of the game shines through. It’s been this way for years, of course, but with the slightly more measured pace in the game, these moments of brilliance are given more prominence than ever before.
The AI is always a contentious issue when it comes to football games too. PES 2018 seeks out the balance between fun and frustration and manages to nail it for the most part. At my most obsessive, I’d whack the difficulty up to the top and pick teams apart for fun in earlier games, but after coming back from a break, the AI poses a difficult challenge for me past Top Player. It’s a welcome feeling, knowing that when I go into the game I’m going to be put through my paces with the option to really test myself if I need to. Of course, there will be people out there who will decimate anyone after a few weeks with the game and claim that everything’s far too easy, but honestly, the competition in PES 2018 is stiff, and it’s a welcome situation for me that I’ve had to drop down a level to be able to keep up.
Onward to modes now, and one thing that makes its welcome return after a prolonged absence is the fantastic Random Selection Mode. Choosing this mode gives you a full squad of players completely at random, with granular options to determine just how random they are, and puts you against an opponent in the same situation. In a neat little touch, the game will show off the 3 most highly rated players that you’ve managed to draw just before the Game Plan screen, adding a cool touch of flair onto an already exciting mode. There is the option to trade players between teams as well if you want, but you can ‘protect’ players to ensure that your opponent can’t nab them. It’s a very nice mode, and brings back an element of PES that has been missing for a few years. The ultimate way of having a quick blast with a mate is back!
It wouldn’t be PES without the edit mode, would it? One of the more frustrating things in the game has been slowly made less of an inconvenience with some stellar work in both the edit mode and the community around it. I remember the PS3 days of matching kit types, colours and collars to a terrifically detailed guide on the internet, but now it’s a case of pressing a few buttons and I’ve got more “licensed” teams than you can shake a stick at. Top marks go to everyone involved in the community of kit designers and option file makers, as it’s now easier than ever to get rid of “MAN RED” in PES.
I’ll touch briefly on how the game looks, because it is stunning. A few minor gripes arrived last year when it came to the lighting, but PES 2018 has made amends, and then some. The game runs at a butter-smooth solid 60fps, with the level of detail during gameplay looking a lot better than I remember previous games being. Up close, the majority of player faces are simply astonishing. Teams such as Liverpool, BVB and Barcelona have been given the red carpet treatment in PES 2018, right down to tattoos being incorporated into the game where possible (Although what’s happening with Neymar’s right now is something I’ll find out when the transfer patch hits on launch day). Konami have taken everything they’ve learned from PES 2017 and fine tuned it in the graphical department. The game, quite simply, looks beautiful.
As of the time of review, the multiplayer and online servers were not available, so there is no opinion offered up here. However, if the beta held earlier in the year is anything to go by, it’s got nothing to worry about, as the team have worked extremely hard on it over the past year or more.
PES 2018 builds on a solid foundation provided by last year’s title, and takes the series even further in the right direction. A more deliberate pace and the return of the wonderful Random Selection mode make this the most accomplished PES in years. Much like the feeling for the beautiful game, my love for PES is back in a big way.