Tuesday 12 September 2017

PES 2018 Review: PES 2018 beats FIFA 18 before the Release

Pro Evolution Soccer has been the best footy game on consoles for years now, but does the latest sequel add anything new?

So, it’s that time of year again. The football season is in full swing and as the nights draw in FIFA and the other sports sims prepare for their yearly updates. But there does seem to be a noticeable lack of anticipation this year, particularly amongst the football games; with neither FIFA nor PES making any promises of revolutionary new features. Which creates the perennial problem for games reviews: do you mark down a sequel for being too much like its predecessor, even if its predecessor was really good?

Of course with sports games, everyone accepts that it’s difficult to come up with new features every year, with the silent acknowledgement that the only reason there are yearly sequels is because the market demands it and people will buy them no matter what. Revolutions do happen, but for PES that came two years ago with PES 2016. Last year’s game added little of note and this year is also lacking in big new ideas. And yet it still plays the best game of footy on consoles and PC.

If there is a standout new feature for this year it’s the change in game speed to something slower and more realistic. Not that last year was a game of pinball, but the adjustment is also intended to make dribbling tighter and more precise. And that’s exactly what it does too, the question is whether that, and the other minor new features, are worth buying a whole new game for.

The one advantage FIFA has over PES, in terms of yearly sequels, is that at least it can use the excuse of team updates to justify its existence. But waiting for the day one patch for Man Red and MD White in PES just doesn’t have quite the same appeal. The lack of official licences has zero effect on gameplay, and yet it’s the primary reason why PES has never come close to outselling FIFA. Viewed objectively that’s always seemed horribly unfair, given that for the majority of its existence PES has always played a better game of football than FIFA. It’s just never looked the part while doing so.

None of that is to say that PES 2018 is an ugly game though, far from it. In terms of animation and celebrity lookalikes it’s hugely impressive. And if you happen to be a fan of the few clubs Konami has been able to license – if you’re a Fulham supporter, for example – this really does feel close to perfection in terms of both gameplay and on-pitch presentation (although the menus are still uglier than should be physically possible nowadays). For everyone else though, there’ll be the usual grumble of, ‘It plays great, but why hasn’t it got the proper names?’

But putting all those concerns to the side PES 2018’s other improvements are worthy of note. Horrible marketing buzz word that it is, Real Touch+ works very well by improving first touch and allowing you to use a player’s whole body to control the ball. The whole philosophy behind modern day PES is that each new feature should be both as realistic as possible and add depth and variety to the gameplay, and Real Touch+ personifies that approach perfectly.

The exact amount of control you have depends on the specific player but the animation and physics engine is now advanced enough that you can see their centre of gravity shifting as they move, with the top players able to dribble and feint in a way that seems to defy the simple joypad inputs used to control them. The problem is though, that this aspect was already impressive last year and now it’s just slightly more impressive.

There are other changes to be found elsewhere, but discovering that the goalkeepers have once again been completely revamped is probably the one change fans didn’t want to see. This year they’ve become peculiarly inept at even simple saves and clearances, so we look forward to next year when they become perfect goalkeeping Terminators again – only to change back to Mr Bean stand-ins in 2019. Perhaps by that time the dire commentary and referees will be fixed too, as the latter are still too lenient.

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