PES 2017 was probably one of the best football games I have ever played. Hell, it is probably one of the best sports simulation games I have ever played. While Pro Evolution Soccer lags behind its direct competitor FIFA in terms of flashy presentation and licenses and what have you, when it comes to actual on-pitch football, Konami’s franchise has been consistently making significant yearly improvements. In a lot of respects, that is what Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 does as well, taking the basic foundation that served its predecessor so well and building upon it, but in a lot of other ways, it feels like a regression, or like there’s been no change at all, either negative or positive.
The net result is undoubtedly a positive one. PES 2018 is not a complete overhaul of the series, rather an evolution of a winning formula, and while there are definitely significant issues that hold the game back from hitting the same heights as its predecessor, the game is still very much an absolute blast where it actually matters- on the football pitch. Konami have made several tweaks to the moment-to-moment on-pitch gameplay in PES 2018, and while most of these changes might not seem too significant on paper, all of these come together to contribute towards making the action a lot more fluid, a lot more entertaining, and a lot more authentic.
The most important change to gameplay in PES 2018 is that the on-pitch action has been slowed down a bit as compared to its last year, which is something that fits in rather well with the kind of gameplay the PES wants to propagate. You can take more time to choose your passes, to decide whether to float in early crosses or drill in low, hard ones, to organize your defence better in the event of a counter-attack, and a great deal more. The gameplay, thanks to this, becomes more tactical, more methodical, a change that is decidedly in favour of audiences who are more than just casual fans of the sport, but one that ultimately works out for the best. Thanks to this slower, more deliberate pacing of on-pitch gameplay, matches in PES 2018 feel a lot more like the real thing, and the fact that the game actually tries to reward you for using your footballing brain rather than just using strikers or wingers who can blaze past the opposition defence is definitely appreciated.
"Thanks to this slower, more deliberate pacing of on-pitch gameplay, matches in PES 2018 feel a lot more like the real thing, and the fact that the game actually tries to reward you for using your footballing brain rather than just using strikers or wingers who can blaze past the opposition defence is definitely appreciated."
Real Touch + is another subtle yet important addition that contributes a great deal towards making PES 2018’s gameplay feel as good as it does. Thanks to Real Touch +, dribbling is now a whole lot tighter and much more responsive. Players now use all parts of their bodies to control balls, from their chests and and thighs to even their heels and toes. On the other hand, the ability to be able to use your players’ backs and their bodies to shield the ball from their opponents is also a welcome addition. Both these things obviously seem quite simplistic and rudimentary on paper, but when you actually get down to playing the game, you realize that they are anything but.
Shielding the ball allows you to slow the game down, bring more teammates into your plan of attack, to take time and think about your next pass, while the tighter, more fluid dribbling lets you do all the stylish showboating and delicate weaving and zig-zagging that you could possibly want. Of course, how effective these actions are depends on the stats of the player performing them, so while someone like Neymar or Anthony Martial might be great at speedy dribbles, other forwards such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Harry Kane would be much more effective at holding up the ball and bringing their teammates into play. It also helps that a lot of the players in the PES 2018 roster have been further customized and developed by Konami to make them more like their real life counterparts, so that their strengths and weaknesses and other characteristics align with the actual real-life players. Of course, equal attention and work haven’t gone into all the players in the game, but it still goes beyond just the obvious choices- your Rooneys and Messis and Ronaldos and the like.
It all works very well, helping the game accomplish a prime sense of authenticity in terms of the on-pitch action. In spite of that, however, there are a few instances when that authenticity gives way to frustrating moments. Goalkeeper AI, for instance, has been a problem for the Pro Evolution Soccer series since as long as anyone can remember, and it continues to be a problem in this year’s iteration as well. While goalkeepers in PES 2018 are much more prone to making flashy, blockbuster saves than they have been in recent installments, they are also incredibly inconsistent. All too often they simply parry shots directed at them back into the box, leading to a disappointingly simple and lame tap-in goal, while other times they manage to get their gloves on a shot, only to let it bounce off the ground and meekly dribble past the goal line.
"Goalkeeper AI has been a problem for the Pro Evolution Soccer series since as long as anyone can remember, and it continues to be a problem in this year’s iteration as well."
Matches on the lower and medium difficulties are almost ridiculously easy, and while on the higher difficulties the game is definitely a lot more challenging and, as a result, a great deal more enjoyable, you will still see ridiculous 5 or 6 goal games more often than you’d want to. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with 5-0 demolition matches or 3-3 thrillers, but when they come around as frequently as they do in PES 2018, they lose their novelty and end up breaking the immersion and authenticity that the game otherwise builds up so well.
So yes, on-pitch action in PES 2018 is as good as you’d want it to be, despite a few minor issues which are not all that hard to ignore, but outside of the bounds of the football pitch, the game falters a great deal more. Flashy TV-like presentation has for long been the forte of the FIFA series, while PES attempts to offer its players an engaging, authentic football experience, and in that regard, not much has changed with PES 2018. Licenses are, of course, still an issue, and it’s a bit jarring to be seeing major teams such as Juventus, Manchester United and Real Madrid under different names, but these are mostly issues that will only bother you if you’re a core fan of the sport itself.
Other old issues that have plagued Konami’s football series persist in PES 2018 as well. For instance, commentary is as stilted and awkward as ever. Oftentimes it’s drab, other times its poorly written, and often, it is just poorly timed. The commentators’ sudden shouts and yelps don’t even come close to generating any sort of excitement or tension, while their remarks and comments lack insight or anything that can pique the listener’s interest, and that fact does the game no favours. Atmosphere has never been a strong suit of Pro Evolution Soccer, and the poor commentary is partly responsible for that. Menus, too, are as bland as ever, muddled with clutter and unattractive blocks.
Do these presentation issues hurt the actual on-pitch gameplay? Not at all. That is the one area where PES 2018 is at its peak, and issues with the presentation, atmosphere and licenses don’t do much to change that fact. They remain cosmetic, superficial issues that do not really have much bearing on the gameplay itself, but for a sport like football where the presentation and atmosphere aspects are so vastly important, these issues end up mattering more than they should, which is why it’s such a shame that these tiny niggling flaws have been persisting in the series for so long. But weak presentation doesn’t mean weak visuals- far from it. Like its predecessor, PES 2018 is built on the Fox Engine, and it takes full advantage of all of its refinements and capabilities. Players faces and models are, for the most part, quite lifelike, animations and smooth and slick, and the stadiums and grounds themselves look very good.
"Like its predecessor, PES 2018 is built on the Fox Engine, and it takes full advantage of all of its refinements and capabilities. Players faces and models are, for the most part, quite lifelike, animations and smooth and slick, and the stadiums and grounds themselves look very good."
Another area where PES 2018 disappoints is the Master League, or the career mode, where, if you are playing offline, you’ll be spending the bulk of your time. The Master League has been in need of an overhaul for a long time, and it’s sad to see that that change still isn’t here. There are some improvements and additions- there are pre-season tournaments, transfers have been improved and are now more realistic, and there is a difficulty setting that makes off-pitch managerial matters much more life-like, challenging and, as a result, much more entertaining. These changes and additions are enough to sure that the manager mode is still enjoyable, but these are all additions that seems pretty basic for such a game, and beyond these changes, the Master League mode at times feels stale and lifeless.
Thankfully, there’s plenty of content on offer here even outside of the manager mode, and some of the new game modes are an absolute blast. The highlight, of course, is Random Selection, which makes a comeback to the Pro Evolution Soccer series after a long time. Random Selection essentially lets you customize four pools from which the game makes up a randomly selected combined squad for you to play a single match with, and you can vary the range of your customization from something as broad as their nationalities to something as specific as what club they play in. Random Selection also packs a mini-transfer saga gameplay element to it, and has you trying to keep a hold of your best player (or players) before a match begins, while trying to snatch good players away from your opponent. It’s a simple and effective concept, and Random Selection works very well thanks to this bite-sized, multi-faceted gameplay loop. It’s great fun when you’re playing solo, and it’s even more enjoyable if you’re playing it with a friend.
The game’s online component, disappointingly enough, is riddled with a number of issues. The online component of the Pro Evolution Soccer series has never been one of its best features, and it continues to falter in PES 2018. There are quite a few instances when the game freezes or lags during the middle of an online match, which is obviously an issue with a game such as Pro Evolution Soccer, while matchmaking is also inconsistent at best and frustrating at worst.
"There are quite a few instances when the game freezes or lags during the middle of an online match, which is obviously an issue with a game such as Pro Evolution Soccer, while matchmaking is also inconsistent at best and frustrating at worst."
And so it turns out that after a number of years of continuous and consistent year-on-year improvement, Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer has slowed down the momentum a little bit- in more ways than one. The slower, more methodical approach to matches is a subtle yet vital tweak to the gameplay, making it as much of a blast on the pitch as anyone could want it to be. On the other hand, however, numerous issues that have been plaguing the series for a long time have either only been modified slightly, or haven’t been addressed at all. But while these issues certainly come together to bring down the overall experience just a notch or two, PES 2018 is still an excellent game for football fans who want to see an addictive and authentic video game realization of the beautiful game.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Slower gameplay makes the game more tactical and methodical; Authentic, engaging on-pitch gameplay; Real Touch + is a subtle yet impactful improvement; Random Selection mode is an absolute blast; Plenty of game modes to try out; Sharp and gorgeous visuals.
Inconsistent goalkeeper AI; Persisting issues with presentation and commentary; Fails to capture the charged and energetic atmosphere of the actual sport; Master League hasn't seen much improvements; Competitive online faces plenty of issues.