A delicate, thoughtful, detailed game of football.
Editor’s note: This review in progress is based only on the offline component of PES 2018. As such, we’re confident our opinion on the game’s mechanics and how it plays is unlikely to change that much. However, we won’t pass final judgement until we’ve had the chance to fully test the online aspects of PES 2018 on public servers.
While PES 2018 is undoubtedly an improvement over its predecessor, don’t expect the same leap in quality achieved by PES 2017. Instead, this year’s effort builds on the superb foundation of the previous game, consolidating its gains and focusing on further satisfying its core audience.
Simply, if you liked PES 2017 you’re going to find plenty to adore here in regards to the extra depth and variety added to the on-pitch action, plus a number of small tweaks made to the likes of Master League mode. But if you’re thinking of switching from FIFA, take note – no concession has been made to try and appease those who are not already fans of the formula PES employs.
In a way not overly dissimilar to a fighting game sequel, PES 2018 feels like an exercise in not wanting to undermine or distort the sublime balance the previous incarnation managed to achieve. As such, there’s a certain familiarity to the bulk of the headline features.
Real Touch+ is an elaboration of PES 2017’s Real Touch feature, which improved a player’s first touch and provided them better awareness in positioning themselves to shield the balls from opponents and bringing it under control. With Real Touch+, the core concept remains but now the whole body is brought into play. Players use thighs, shoulders, stomach, chest and the entire foot – front, side and back – to control the ball, and the result is imperfect passes have a better chance of finding their target, as players have more ways to interact with passes coming towards them.
If you liked PES 2017 you’re going to find plenty to adore here
This diversity of interaction adds a palpable sense of visual drama to matches and goes a long way to making things look closer to what you’d expect to see on TV. It also ups the spectacle, and passing combinations such knocks and flicks, with body parts other than a foot, are flattering for even a beginner.
Naturally, players with the highest ‘ball control’ rating – Lionel Messi, Luka Modric, Neymar Jr – benefit most, but its influence is apparent throughout the game at every level. Playing as Real Madrid – dubbed ‘MD White’ this year, thanks to the ongoing licensing war with FIFA – I was trying to intercept a pass using Casemiro (ball control 78) when he nudged the ball with his heel to knock it away from an onrushing Antoine Griezmann. It might not sound like much on paper, but the effect in the heat of the game is genuinely exciting to see.
This greater ability to bring the ball under control feeds into improvements to how players move both their body and the ball when dribbling, especially at lower speeds. Players visibly shift their weight to change direction more suddenly and tempt defenders into making a wrong move, while a range of feints and delicate touches help make space for a shot in crowded penalty areas. Again, the better the player, the more impact these kinds of dribbling options have, but the real skill rests in how creative you are in stringing together the available moves.
Goalkeepers improved a lot last year, but their effectiveness has taken a step backward this season. Their dives are often spectacular and when they make a great save it’s impossible to not be impressed. Too often though, they make poor decisions and fumble weak shots. Timid strikes from long range are fumbled too frequently, especially when the keeper has a clean line of sight and plenty of time to position himself. They also have a tendency to spill seemingly simple saves back out towards the penalty spot, leaving for an easy tap in. Thankfully keepers’ performances don’t ruin games, but sometimes their actions are awkward enough that you’re left cursing their performance and impact on the final result.
Off the pitch, menu screens remain as ugly as you’ll find in any game. Boorish grey blocks filled with plain black text do little to promote the excitement and allure of the world’s richest and most popular sport, which is a shame as some of the content hidden within these menus represent an upgrade on PES 2017.
Timid strikes from long range are fumbled too frequently, especially when the keeper has a clean line of sight
Master League remains the showpiece offline mode, with a new option to increase the difficulty of managing your club’s off-the-field dealings revealing itself a welcome addition. Choose the ‘Challenge’ difficulty setting when starting a new game and fresh faces become hard to sign, your current squad is more likely to want to leave if things go wrong and, ultimately, keeping your job is less straightforward.
Challenge mode is hardly akin to a Football Manager experience, but it does force you to think about the makeup of your squad over the longer term and that influences your overall approach accordingly.
Elsewhere the usual selection of individual cup and league competitions are available for you to win and lose, as is Become A Legend, in which you control a single player and try to make it to the top and achieve glory.
Unfortunately, Become A Legend is as stale as it’s always been and limiting yourself to controlling a single player when so many of the games improvements focus on linking a team together seems counterproductive. Considering the existence of FIFA 17’s imperfect-but-interesting The Journey single-player mode – and it’s follow-up in FIFA 18 – it’s difficult to see Become A Legend anything other than entirely redundant as a serious option for enjoying modern football games.
PES 2018 is not without its faults then, but many are easy to forgive because it does a wonderful job of consolidating and evolving on the fantastic groundwork laid by its predecessor. The improvements may not make headlines, but they do make for one of the most complete and satisfying football games.
True, it’s a game that benefits from serious time being dedicated to it, in order to learn all of its possibilities. As such, it’s not easy to recommend PES 2018 to the casual football game fan. But for those serious about diving in and soaking up all there is to know about Konami’s beautiful game, you will not find yourself disappointed.