Friday 24 June 2016

PES 2017 New Preview - New Features

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016, for the first time in years, provided competition to EA’s juggernaut FIFA series. A quiet revolution a few years in the making brought an excellent game of football, with it Konami finally provided a viable alternative. PES 2017 looks to refine rather than overhaul last year’s work, continuing its excellence on the pitch.

Jumping into a Atletico Madrid vs Arsenal match, my first step is to tinker with the squad and tactics. PES 2016 provided a variety of options with which you could create a very personal team that played precisely how you planned, from how high the backline pressed to attacking and defending philosophies and much more.

Konami has tidied up the user interface, with player’s faces accompanying names. A great new feature sees player stats alter in real-time as you try to switch a player’s position. By clicking on centre back Diego Godin, the rating of other players on the team will rise and fall depending on their ability to play in his position. Antoine Griezmann’s overall rating will plummet as he’d be a terrible centre half. This means you can see the effect a potential change will make before making it, saving a few minutes amongst all the tactical switching. It provides information much more quickly in order that you can choose the best 11.

There’s also a neater-looking advanced tactics screen, where you can select four different philosophies, two attacking and two defending. These include Gegenpress, load the box, tiki-taka and others. In other games these would seem superfluous, but as PES proved last year, player AI is well-drilled, and that proves to be the case this year too.

As the players walk out onto the Neue Sonne Arena (Konami continues to be a distant second in the licence game, unfortunately), it’s clear PES 2017 ups the stakes even further in the visual department. Player detail is astonishing, with faces looking incredibly lifelike – Lassana Diarra-aside, who looks a little like a man-baby.

Therefore blows his whistle and you find yourself still very much in the wonderful, free-flowing PES of last year. Small additions make a huge difference. New player animations bring an added layer of realism. Fernando Torres allows a through-ball to run through his legs, taking it with his instep before unleashing a ferocious strike past Petr Cech and into the net. Filipe Luis controls a cross-field pass by puffing out his chest like a proud hen to bring it under control. The myriad ways in which players react to the ball and bring it under control makes you feel fully immersed in the game.

Passing, movement, the sheer variety of ways in which these players behave is simply lovely to watch, and it also makes you feel like a better player, too.
Receiving the ball on the edge of the box, noticing a player attacking your right shoulder, and skinning him with your first touch to slot the ball into the top corner becomes the most satisfying thing in the world – the touch as air-punch-worthy as the strike.

After a couple of 3-0 wins, I was concerned that things were becoming pedestrian. However, I discovered that the difficulty was set to regular. In my first “Super Star” game of Germany vs France, it was a whole different ball game.

France were chasing every ball as if the team was coached by Jurgen Klopp. Players would track runners and intercept passes with fierce aggression, launching counters before I had a chance to catch my breath. It was exhilarating. The first half of that match was one of the most thrilling I’ve experienced in a football game.

The AI felt intelligent, countering my tactics. At first I utilised Ozil on the left flank, beating the defender with one-twos with the German fullback, but after a couple of successful breaks, the tactic stopped working. Could I simply be noticing this because Konami has said the AI adapts to how you play? Quite possibly, but it was no less true that I had to adapt my strategy multiple times throughout the course of the match.

Switching back to a game of Atletico vs Arsenal, it was entirely different. Atleti were happy to let me pass the ball around them, only pressing the ball once I was close to the box. With Aaron Ramsey on one flank and Alexis Sanchez on the other, I was powerless without any pockets of space to take advantage of as a result of Madrid’s deep defensive line. Change was needed. On came Olivier Giroud for Ramsey, Danny Welbeck moving to the flank. Suddenly, it started to click. Attacking down the wings proved a viable option thanks to having a target man in the centre. Atletico on the backfoot. 1-0 Arsenal, Giroud. Elation.

This is the beauty of PES: every decision you make feels like it has a tangible impact on play. I’m not simply making substitutions when fitness bars run into the red; I’m changing the way my team operates to counter opponent strategies. It’s something that FIFA has struggled with, and is therefore a major feather in the cap of Konami.

The only downside I found in my few hours with the game was there were too many instances, on any difficulty, where I was able to run straight past defenders at an angle. It felt a little too ISS 64, where defenders would wait and wait, and then wait some more, without attempting a tackle. It created too many times where attacking buildup was spoiled because I felt the pace of a player coupled with defensive hesitancy was the dominant tactic to employ. I wanted to beat the team, not game individuals.

PES’s problems have never been on the pitch. PES 2016 also presented a superlative game of football, but whenever you tried taking that match online with friends or random players, the horrific lag rendered the experience unplayable, negating a significant chunk of the game.

It’s easy to get swept up in how good the football is in 2017, but until we get to see how this game behaves in an online environment, everything has to be taken with a big caveat. Yes, this is a refinement on what was already a brilliant kick around the park, but I really hope the experience carries over to online myClub, ranked matches and everything else.


PES 2016 is an excellent game of football, so it’s fitting that PES 2017 presents a refinement rather than an overhaul. Gameplay offers more animations, adding a further layer of realism as players control, pass and move in more ways than ever before. Couple this with them looking superb, the AI feeling intelligent and adaptive, and you have a great game.

It’s the online element that needs consideration. While PES’s gameplay needed only fine-tuning, its online systems have proven to be in need of a drastic overhaul to provide an, at least, satisfying user experience.

Until Konami speaks about the changes it’s bringing to online modes, one must tread with caution. This remains a superb game of football, and hopefully it’s one that will continue to be so for away games, too.

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