Pro Evolution Soccer is undoubtedly one of the world’s most iconic franchises. In the early 2000’s, it transcended what any football game had ever accomplished before by influencing a generation of millennials to play football more socially – whether that be in bedrooms, living rooms or physically out in local parks. Growing up in the United Kingdom, ‘Pro Evo’ or ‘PES’ were passing comments you’d hear on the daily. You’d bunk off school to play on your mates PlayStation 2, you’d endure entire tournaments with 19 other people because it was always rewarding, you’d pull endless all-nighters because the satisfaction of scoring winning goals meant absolutely everything to you.
I’m older now and those days are long gone. In fact, I haven’t enjoyed a PES game since 2009 – precisely the year FIFA got good. Here we are, almost a decade later, and the question on everybody’s lips is this: will Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 finally reclaim its title?
Game Name: Pro Evolution Soccer 2018
Platform(s): Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer(s): Konami/PES Productions
Release Date: September 14, 2017
Price: £49.99 (Amazon)
I’ve now spent just over a week playing Pro Evo 2018 consistently – and like with most footballing games, that’s more than enough time to form a genuine and honest opinion of it. Football is football wherever you play it – the rules never change, the execution never changes and the teams don’t change that much either. So in that regard, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the minutiae of the passing game and first-touch is absolutely revolutionary and groundbreaking. It isn’t. What I will say is this: it’s very good, highly consistent and far more realistic than a FIFA game.
What do I mean when I say the gameplay is highly consistent? To me, it’s intentionally unpolished – and that doesn’t change regardless of what game you’re playing and how important it is to your season. Sometimes easy passes won’t quite make it to your teammate, they’ll be intercepted by your opponent or your player will be slightly off-balance when they connect with the ball. Sometimes a keeper will pull off a ‘worldy’ save to deny you a tap-in, sometimes they’ll palm it onto their own defender and concede an ‘oggy’. This means you never feel cheated when something that usually happens, doesn’t happen. You won’t use phrases like ‘rigged’ or ‘gifted’ and you certainly won’t say ‘my player didn’t do what I told them to do!’ Your player will do it, just sometimes it won’t come off and that’ll be on your own head.
This is different to FIFA. In every recent FIFA iteration I’ve played, the game awkwardly flits between your team dominating 10-0 and your same team dominating 0-0. It’s inconsistent. Whereas with PES 2018 every game plays out fairly similarly – if you maintain a good standard of play, you can maintain that across multiple games. If you’re burning out and playing too much, you’ll feel that dip in accuracy with your passes and wilder shots. I hate feeling cheated out of a game and PES guarantees that’ll never happen with its honest, genuine gameplay experience.
For a lot of people, gameplay is everything they want in a football game – nothing else matters. To me, that certainly used to be the case. Yet over the years, as the actual gameplay of FIFA and Pro Evo has started to become startlingly alike (aside from the arcade-like ‘charge up’ pass bar that Pro Evo still adopts) – I think it’s now important to scrutinize every aspect of a football game. This is where Pro Evo 2018 has consistently fallen short of EA’s behemoth of a franchise for years, is this year any different…?
The simple answer is no. The longer answer is nope. I don’t add those extra letters for comedic effect (well, I do) – I genuinely think the presentation of this year’s Pro Evo has really dropped the ball… no pun intended.
The same old issues still arise – graphically the game is completely inferior to EA’s Frostbite engine, teams and kits are still unlicensed for those outside the top tier of footballing’s elite & the choppy, sloppy load-screens and menus are now absolute relics of gaming presentation. It’s a game of football, you’re going to have a few corners, throw in’s and replays in every game – that’s a given. So why does the screen freeze as if it’s glitched out every single time the ball goes out of play as you wait for the ‘PES’ transition wipe to awkwardly jerk across the screen? It’s 2018 now lads, sort this out. I’m crying out for the game to feel more slick and polished – and while we’re at it, let’s give the in-game menus a lick of paint, yeah? Once upon a time I used to work for a football club’s media team, we were forever rebranding and renovating our on-screen logos and in-game GFX. It’s part of what makes your brand feel fresh and contemporary – if you ever want to compete with EA for sales, you need to take more pride and care in your presentation. I don’t say this to be harsh, I say this because I want you to be excellent
Undoubtedly the worst part of the games’ presentation lies within its commentary. PES 2018 feels as if it was written and translated by the exact same team who worked on Silent Hill (ironically another franchise produced by Konami) – whereby the Japanese script doesn’t work at all once translated into English. Silent Hill had a reasonable excuse for this; it was a horror game with creepy characters who were justified when they spoke in their broken, ominous English. I’m sorry, but you can’t get away with that with that excuse here – not with Peter Drury and Jim Beglin.
I swear to god this is an actual line of dialogue I heard the unconvincing and dulcet tones of Jimmy B announce: “Look this game can still go either way… it might be flowing one way but … but there’s still time for some ebb.” …. Err, what? No one says that. Not even Michael Owen – and he once famously said: “What a shot! That’s completely unstoppable, but the keeper’s got to do better for me.”
Another issue is online multiplayer servers often taking a considerate while to pair you up to an opponent. This isn’t anywhere near as bad as it has been in the past (particularly in PES 17), however it’s still not up to the level of FIFA – which matchmakes you in 10 seconds and allows you to play a fun mini-game while you wait for things to load. That said, the online offering here is much improved, particularly with new 2 vs 2 and 3 vs 3 modes. I can only hope the servers stay fairly consistent over the next 12 months in order to keep this facet of multiplayer action intact.
MyClub is still not a patch on EA’s highly replayable Ultimate Team and tweaks to PES’ Master League are not worth mentioning, however the new Random Selection mode is the closest thing to innovative we’ve seen in a football game for a long, long time. It’s fairly similar to EA’s Lounge Mode, which despite being highly successful – was axed back in 2012. Whereas EA now focus on independent storytelling like Alex Hunter’s The Journey, PES have fully embraced their arcade roots to deliver a standout local multiplayer experience. Here, you and a friend are given a selection of random players from various leagues – all with differing skill and ability. Trade rounds allow you and your friend/enemy to choose a player’s from the other person’s team who you want to steal. You then choose a player from your own team that you want to save – and one you don’t mind giving up. No one knows who’s picked who, which leads to that fantastic reveal at the end of the round where you find out if you’ve sneakily stolen a key opposition player. It’s a bit like a footballing version of Jasper Carrot’s Golden Balls
Overall, Pro Evolution 2018 is almost there. To me, the gameplay is fairly similar to that of FIFA but with more consistency in each match. You won’t get cheated out of cheap goals that often and you’ll quickly learn to appreciate the intricacies of shifting your body weight and feigning to pass to create yards of space to run into. Sadly (and I genuinely mean sadly), the presentation still hasn’t come on enough for me to consider this a true FIFA crusher… but it’s not far off. For hardcore fans of what once was, PES 18 is still your game – for everyone else, there’s always next year.
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Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 Xbox One review
Currently, I’m unconvinced by Pro Evolution Soccer 2018. It has all the trademarks of what a great footballing game should be, but sloppy presentation, jerky in-game transitions, poor commentary and a lack of exciting multiplayer modes leave this one still trailing FIFA’s dust. I like the additions of 2 vs 2 and 3 vs 3 online modes, as well as the exciting Random Selection local multiplayer option. These feel fresh and exciting – and in years to come, when the presentation is up to a high enough standard, PES will easily reclaim its title.