Another year later and Pro Evolution Soccer is back. The competition is fierce in the soccer gaming business, and KONAMI put forth a big-time effort to keep up with it.
PES 2018 doesn’t promise a lot of new stuff compared to last year’s edition, but the developers did make a great effort in securing more licenses to have real teams and legends in myClub mode. This means that most of the improvements in PES 2018 went to under-the-hood additions to the gameplay and the different game modes.
With PES, the focus is mainly on the gameplay. The modes are interesting and well-conceived, but need some work, especially when it comes to the user interface.
PES 2018 plays similarly to 2017. There’s the usual smooth, slow-paced gameplay that differentiates PES from the other big player on the market. The pace is great, especially when you play against the AI. It allows for a realistic rhythm of play. However, this may not be always the case when you play online. There are different ways to increase the speed of the players and the ball and, consequently, of the game itself.
This means that you can play a good ball-control game and can also change the style of play for a more long-ball game, provided that you have a great striker that can convert all these crosses in goals. Refs have been greatly improved as well. Now, the refs finally play the advantage and are much less strict than in the beta or years passed. This allows for a more realistic and enjoyable on-field experience.
Overall, the gameplay is very well done. You can play different styles. You can feel the difference between players, especially between good and average players. You’ve got a lot of tactical options to play with. In addition, changing your module can be a good way to have a bigger influence on your game. You will find yourself moving players around more often than not to try to counter the opposition tactics or to exploit weak points in the other team.
The AI’s decisions make sense in most of the cases. Defensemen stay where they should, but it’s advisable to juggle a bit the different tactics to see what fits your team more. I have found the default, positional defensive system a bit too static with the players I am not in control of. The system that I had more success with is the flexible one. Here the defensemen are more mobile and willing to leave their position to cover other men as the ball moves past them. However, this system is probably not the best when you don’t have top-notch or fast defensemen.
One of the most rewarding parts of the game is passing. You can really tailor your passing game to your team. You can play more of a tiki-tak game as many modern teams try to play, or you can play more long balls and crosses. Remember that you need to have the right players to play the right style. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work in PES 2018.
Of course, there are a few shortcomings. High through balls are too exact. They are pretty much always spot on even on longer distances. However, the AI doesn’t use them too often. Another thing that was expected to improve with the full release were goalies. In particular, goalies animation. Netminders are consistent, and they get a save when they need. However, especially with long-range shooting, the animations are goofy and many times you will find your goalie getting a save with an over-spectacular dive all the way to his side when a couple of lateral steps would have been more than enough.
The gameplay has too many fancy moves. Even with the less talented players, you will see both the AI or the human-controlled players doing heel touches, overhead kicks, bicycles and all this sort of spectacular moves that are well-represented, but that after a bit become annoying. Especially when non-elite players are involved.
The graphics are good, but not spectacular. PES has never been a game you can buy for its graphics, and while there were many improvements, PES 2018 visually is well behind the competition. Kits are well-rendered, even the non-licensed ones, and most of the top players have a realistic appearance.
Another area where PES devs put a lot of work is the different game modes. You can play solo or play online against your friends. Online gaming is usually smooth. Although, the matchmaking is sometimes slow to find an opponent. One of the most appreciated features has historically been the Master League. For the new game, KONAMI has added new features and improved things from last year, an example being the specialty scouts. It does seem to be the good old Master League every PES fan appreciates. The lack of licenses can be forgotten by downloading the so-called option files, but that’s an option for PC and PlayStation players only as Xbox consoles don’t support this kind of modding.
On top of that, you have the MyClub mode. Not much has changed since 2017. You can rename your club or use the existing ones, hire a good coach and of course, pay a lot of attention to the “team spirit” which is arguably the most important thing in MyClub. Just like last year, the MyClub mode is a very interesting part of the game. Like real life, you shouldn’t just go all-out trying to amass star players. You need to find a good balance between your players and your tactics.
If you want to dive into a “be-a-pro” adventure, the Become A Legend mode will allow you to play through the career of a professional footballer. The flow of the mode is pretty standard. You can create a player, give him a name, choose his appearance, and start playing in one of the leagues featured in the game. You will then start small with the focus to become great as you play your way through different seasons. The mode is fun, but lacks originality.
All in all, PES 2018 is a very good game. It has less of a wow-factor than the competition, but it scores with realistic gameplay, solid game modes, and a good presentation. PES is not a perfect game and the great gameplay is a bit flawed by the excessive flamboyance of the players, but the overall feel of the title won’t make you regret the dollars spent.