So full disclosure, I have always felt that PES was a better game than Fifa. I have never once played a game of FIFA that felt like football in the way that PES does.
There I said it. Yes, slicker visuals, licenced teams and a far more lavish production overall means that many people swayed by that sort of thing would be far more impressed by FIFA, however, for an experience of actually playing the game, a game that feels like football, my trumpet has always been blowing for PES.
It’s no surprise then that I requested a copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 2018. I have not, by the way, requested a copy of FIFA 18, someone else can review that if they like. Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 felt like an enormous step forward for the series and by comparison you will be underwhelmed by the changes in PES 2018. The changes are significant, yet subtle, this year is all about building on the foundation of last years changes and making sure people like me have a reason to upgrade.
This then is the real fans football game, there are no compromises, if you prefer FIFA, you probably don’t understand why PES is so much better and you never will.
There is a subtlety to the improvements that only those who know the game will appreciate, Real Touch is now Real Touch +, this means that your first touch is far more detailed, your players’ whole body is accounted for, positioning, bringing the ball under control and more. The player will now use their whole body to control am an iffy pass. Thighs, chest, the entire foot, shoulders, stomach there are innumerable ways to intercept a pass and like I said, these changes are subtle, yet far-reaching and have a positive impact on the flow of a game.
If you watch someone else play you are struck by this fluidity, the subtle flicks and passing combos come together to give a sense of realism I have not noticed in a game before. Seeing a player bring a ball down with their thigh and then flicking it on for a through ball chance at goal or bringing the ball out wide for that perfect well-timed cross is something to marvel.
I signed Luka Modric to MyClub team (more on that shortly) and when you see a player with high ball control take those first touches the level of realism spikes. A quick back heel or a flick forward just in time to stop a charging midfielder from dispossessing you is one of the most impressive things you will see and again, its subtle and I am surprised at how quickly I am used to it.
Player movement has had an upgrade too, it’s far easier to keep hold of the ball especially as you slow down to hold up play for your forwards to get into position or when you are preparing a perfect cross as now a player will shift their entire weight to change direction suddenly, I have even managed to draw a few fouls but at the same time you can feint or slip a little touch in to move the ball into space, create a shot in a crowded box or give time to make the cross just so. In the end, it’s these subtle changes that will always result in the better player winning the match. There is no luck, no secret ‘trick’ to winning games. There will be no 10 – 0 victories against the computer, you need skill and have to put the time in to know how to string those skills together to have an impact on your level of ability.
It’s not easy to score by any means but I do think something is different about the keepers. I can’t put my finger on what but they seem to make far more bad decisions this season. I am not saying that the other players’ keeper is worse, but mine certainly seems to make a mess of even weak shots, he is often out of position or has fingers made from noodles coated in butter. In one match, a midfielder tried a long strike, my keeper decided to punch the ball away instead of making the easy catch, but, he only sort of cleared it, he knocked it forwards to the penalty spot where it was picked up by a forward and put into the back of my net. The keeper then dived for the ball and even though it was clearly offside, the ref awarded the goal because he was a cheat and was clearly a fan of London FC.
Now I know this may not be correct but it does seem as though the Ref is human, he makes mistakes against me quite often and will sometimes award a throw or free kick incorrectly, in fact, it’s not just the ref who is cheating that drives me insane, there are plenty of times I shout at the monitor at some very stupid passing choices that I blame on the computer but overall there is nothing like battling for what seems like an eternity against an impossible opponent only to put in that perfect cross and watch as the ball sails past the keeper into the back of the net. That said, I have been banned from playing whilst the children are home because I genuinely think the Ref wants me to lose and makes some very dodgy decision so my wife thought it would be best if the children didn’t hear me tell him that.
There are some new game modes this year too. After spending too much time looking at the uninspiring menus I found Random Selection Match. In it, you are given a team of randomly assigned players based on your set parameters. In each of your four slots you can pick from three categories, League, Nationality or Team, you then are assigned a team based on your parameters, after this you can select to trade with your opponent, targeting the players in their randomly assigned team. This then becomes a sort of draft mode but if you want to win, you select your random team from the big names, Man City, Barcelona, Real Madrid. If you want to lose then you just choose my team, Bristol City (sorry SW Red). It makes for a great game when there are a few of you playing and is definitely the best “party” mode in any football game to date.
Another way to play with friends is the Online Co-Op mode or The Argument Instigation Simulator as my friends and I like to call it. Essentially you go to your mates’ house, then you and two others lose online to 15-year-old boys. From there you can spend some valuable time blaming other people and defending your own mistakes as “tactics”. But again, get a good pass from a mate, communicate properly and set up goals, play well, win and you will have a reason to drink together. There will be lots of high 5s and afterwards, you both agree that whoever went home first was the weak link and that next time you will invite Graham because he plays in a Sunday league so will just get it.
Online Divisions return and there are competitions to play against other real players in a short 10 game season which will end with you being demoted because “Barcelona”. Getting promoted also means going up against people who have mastered the game so I wanted to get demoted actually. The PES league is again full of elites and best avoided for most casual players but its there if you want to see how good you really are.
Master League is where it’s at for offline play. There is a new option to increase the difficulty of the management side of the game, you will find it harder to sign new players and your current squad will be begging to go should you lose too many. It’s not Football manager but it is a way to force you into making more long-term decisions about your club and will be rewarding to those who invest enough time.
MyClub (told you there would be more later) is a returning online/offline mode that is very similar to FIFA Ultimate Team. The game mode is about acquiring new signings to build the best team you can. It’s not really very different to last year but it’s a great place for new players to start, and, is the mode that offers the longest single challenge in the game. If you are interested MyClub side is shaping up well, I signed Fernando Torres on my first try, a Golden Ball player and then shortly after I got my first Black Ball player, Luka Modric. I was very happy however, I have yet to win an online match and have actually been demoted to Amateur! I am not pleased.
The rest of the game is filled with the usual suspects, individual cup and league, Become A Legend, in which you control a single player and try to make it to the top and achieve glory.
This mode is as dull as its ever been and I find it tedious playing as a single player in a match. I don’t feel like I have any real influence over events and it negates the improvements made to the aforementioned control. You cannot link together a series of moves if your team mates don’t know what you intend to do.
I have had a few connections issues when playing online. It seems to take a long time to find a match and if you play in co-op mode of any form this issue is exacerbated. I am sure that this will be addressed but I am pleased to say that lag doesn’t appear to be much of an issue at all with only one match of the countless we played suffering any issues at all and even then it wasn’t the match abandoning sort.
Each time you log into the game you will have your game updated with Live Stats so that their actual real-world form is carried into the game. This means your game will evolve with what you actually see every weekend and adds another element to your MyClub team, you suddenly find yourself considering players because they have had a great week or passing on your stars because they have become donkeys. Its another reason to love the game.
It is not perfect, there are a few faults but you will forgive 99% of them because everything else in the game is so fantastic. It’s a real step forwards from last year without losing anything that made PES 2017 great.
You need to give PES time. If you want to make the switch from FIFA you need to let its greatness wash over you in slow waves until you see what makes PES the ultimate football game because there are no compromises, no concessions to the uninitiated, Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is the real football simulator. No other game captures the essence of playing the beautiful game in the same way. I love it, the changes are perfect, they are noticeable, worth the upgrade but are soon forgotten so that you can get on with playing. Exactly how it should be.