Another season and year gone by, another chance for both gaming goliaths of the sport to improve upon last year’s performance, and battle it out once again. Back in the ol’ PS2 days, if you could get past the distinctly ‘Japanese’ menus, you’d often be right to opt for PES’s gameplay over Fifa’s. Fast forward a few years through the PS3’s lifecycle and the balance switched in Fifa’s favour. The current generation has so far, done a good job of splitting opinions, especially with Konami’s recent push to focus on the ever important gameplay above all else. Can the 2017 release follow up and improve upon this formula, or will they forgo an early lead?
The first thing you’ll notice is yet another (very much welcome) facelift to the main menu. Sporting a tiled, more modern affair, it also adapts to your most played modes, placing them at the forefront of the screen. In terms of modes, you’ve got the usual seasons, trainings, myClub and of course, Master League, which is now prominently featured and especially deserving of your attention. Everything’s been tidied up a bit and made much more user friendly too. Clearly laid out options are set out in a manner you’ll understand too, for example, making the budgeting for fees and wages much less of an ordeal.
After playing last year’s PES, an immediate gameplay difference you’ll notice straight away, is just how much more fluid and responsive it is in comparison. Passing feels intuitively better too, being given more control over the speed and weightiness of the ball helps with delivering that perfect through pass; with practice, helps make a huge overall difference. Control in general has improved enormously; this is probably the first game where, despite the usual claims, I’ve genuinely been able to keep close control of the ball whilst being surrounded by the opposition.
The assertions of developers in the past that claim their game is the most realistic and true to life, all desperately pale in comparison to how organic and genuine this entry feels. Matches feel utterly dynamic and unpredictable to a point. You won’t see the same kind of short passes from a lower league team than the likes of Barcelona employ against you. Going even further with this, the ‘ID system’ makes it as such that many players’ characteristics resemble their real life counterparts. You’ll recognise how players move into space, their kicking styles and other such tell-tale traits.
Whilst playing against the AI will rarely be a fitting substitute for a real life opponent, it does hold up surprisingly well. The well touted ‘adaptive AI’ in the game is a great idea, meaning that if you favour passing to the same player a little too often, they’ll start marking him heavily. Or if you’re a fan of playing exclusively down the wings, they’ll take appropriate actions to counter it. Despite it not being inherently obvious in game, it does however give credence to the fact that it’s working. Either way, it makes you play more diversely and that can only be a benefit.
The tactics and formation settings can take a little getting used to, as they don’t seem to possess the same level of user-friendliness as the rest of the game. Once you get the hang of it, the level of changes you can make is pretty staggering. There are of course, the basic formation and teamwork mentality settings that you can switch on the fly, as well as plenty more in depth strategies that can suit your more niche needs.
My stint online fared quite well, initially at least! Through the quick play matches, I made an Italian friend who thankfully possessed a level of English on par with my Italian, which is to say, not a lot. We had a good few games before my inconsistencies started truly showing through, yet each game felt different. We each picked different sides and played to our teams strengths, thereby often creating some tense stalemates. Some sloppy moments led to many mutual panicky chances, alongside some great goals too. It was simply unparalleled fun, and I imagine exactly what the developers had in mind.
Listening to the fans, and taking note of what does and doesn’t sit too well with them, has led the studio to rework their goalkeepers. On top of it being fantastic that they show they’re paying attention, the goalkeepers are now much craftier. They’ll now react more swiftly to follow up shots, crosses no longer sail by uncontested and the deflection physics have been once again, moulded closer to real life.
Graphically it looks great; the ball looks and moves spectacularly, whilst the players’ animations and facial features look fantastic. The goal replays are incredibly cinematic and show off some great angles and approaches too. You still can’t seem to instantly skip them in one button press which is a minor irritation but still. As impressed as I am generally with the looks of the game, the same can’t be quite said of some of the audio features. The included music tracks aren’t particularly plentiful and the commentary team of Peter Drury and Jim Beglin could do with a few more lines too. There are only so many times you can listen to over the top superlatives or decidedly vague calls on the play before either gets a tad old.
As is the case with all PES offerings, there are only a handful of officially licenced teams and leagues on offer. This time around, it’s Arsenal and Liverpool heading up the English divisions, whilst Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, amongst others, provide some other well-known talent. Fortunately for me, and many other players, the hard work of some generous people make it possible to download edited kits and names to make things seem a little less ‘Yorkshire Orange’ and a little more Hull City.
It’s difficult to go over all the details and intricacies included in this year’s release, and I’m well aware that I’ll have glossed over some of the finer points. To experience it as a whole for yourself is the best way to gain an understanding of it. Simply put, it’s great. Its gameplay will bring back fond memories from its glory days back on the PS2, whilst the graphics and general tidiness will appeal to the modern day gamer. It’s the best Pro Evo yet.