Addictive, responsive and most importantly of all, fun, PES 2018 is everything you’ve ever wanted from a football game.
Despite receiving rave reviews, last year’s PES 2017 failed to strike a chord with gamers.
It sold roughly 40 times fewer copies than EA Sports’ FIFA 17 – even though some critics hailed Konami’s as the more superior game.
But this year, that could well change. And if it doesn’t, it certainly deserves to.
FIFA 18 may have Frostbite, but don’t write off PES when it comes to visuals.
Konami’s game is powered by the Fox Engine – the same powerhouse behind the likes of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.
And how good did that look, right?
This year, the team have overhauled the animation and player models – making everything look and feel more realistic than ever.
Players move convincingly, with a real sense of weight – particularly when changing direction and tackling.
Up close, they’ve lost the ‘plastic’ look to their skin – with licensed team stars (Lionel Messi and co.) looking especially well detailed.
While there’s still some variation in quality – unlicensed team players don’t quite boast the same level of detail – models are generally of a much higher standard across the board.
There’s bags of detail in each stadium, too.
Stewards patrol up the stands, cameramen dart up and down the line – there’s so much going on, yet the game still retains a silky smooth 60FPS throughout.
Improved lighting effects, motion blur and depth of field help add a TV-style gloss to replays, while realistic crowds generate a real sense of occasion to every match.
To see PES at its very best, make sure to pick up on PC.
The graphical requirements have been notched up this year – off the back of widespread criticism over last year’s PC port. That means if you struggled to run last PES 2017, you’ll have your work cut out this year.
However, providing your rig is powerful enough, PES 2018 in true 4K resolution at Ultra settings is something special.
Of course, there’s no point looking great if the game isn’t fun to play – but it’s here where PES really shines.
No other sports game in recent years has proven so addictive and well balanced.
Watching the ball deftly float into the path of your striker or glide through the air past the goalkeeper just feels so satisfying.
Some have complained the ball feels too heavy, but we’d disagree. It’s as perfect as it can be.
Passing is crisp and responsive, while through balls and crosses are easy to pull off but hard to master.
Plus, with the tap of L2 / LT you can have full control over direction, weight and power of passes and shots.
Playing FIFA 18 afterwards felt ever-so-slightly sluggish, largely due to an ever-so-slight input delay damaging the sense of control you have over the on-screen action.
One thing that can be hard, though, is scoring from outside of the box.
The power bar is incredibly sensitive, with just the slightest touch making a huge difference.
Many goals during our extensive play-throughs came from crosses and simple one-on-ones.
Thankfully, there’s a decent skills training section where you can hone everything from lofted through balls to free kicks and penalties.
Speaking of which, free kicks and set pieces are, without a doubt, better than FIFA this year.
Thanks to simple camera angles and execution, free kicks now genuinely feel like scoring opportunities, rather than an inevitable shot over the crossbar.
The only real drawback are the goalkeepers, which really struggle with crosses and high balls.
They flap unrealistically at even the most basic header, and often run around like headless chickens if the area becomes too crowded.
Konami must fix this with a ‘Day 1’ patch or else they’ll line themselves up for a hammering from fans.
Oh, and the commentary is truly awful.
Peter Drury does his best but Jim Beglin’s is an absolute joke (Sorry, Jim).
He regurgitates lines far too frequently and they often have nothing to do with on the on-screen action.
Cringe-worthy ‘rhymes’ are used to hammer home points and add personality, but these fail miserably.
‘Stoic and heroic’ is just one line of ‘Beglin banter’ that’ll have you reaching for the mute button.
The final straw came when he praised a keeper for almost flapping it into his own net.
We advise you turn it off.
PES may not have The Journey, but it’s still crammed with features.
There’s a new mode supporting 3v3 and 2v2, allowing you to team up with friends or other users to compete against the world.
Random selection match lets you play with teams made up of players from different clubs, while a new UI lays everything out in a more accessible way than last year.
Master League and myClub return with pre-season tournaments, an improved transfer system and new presentation elements, including pre-match interviews and locker room scenes.
There are also a number of legends available to play with – including Diego Maradona (fresh off the back of an out-of-court settlement after claiming Konami used his image rights without permission).
Pre-order the game and you’ll get former Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt to play around with.
Now, we all know the Jamaican loves football, but do we really want to play with him in a game?
It’s about as relevant as EA releasing a Jonny Wilkinson ICONS card.
As is the case every year, PES only has a handful of licensed teams – but they do have the Champions and Europa League licenses.
It’s a huge trump card and goes some way to make up for a lack of licenses compared to FIFA 18.
Still, things are improving. Konami has forged an exclusive partnership with the Brazilian Football Confederation, which gives them full rights to all 20 teams in the Brazilian domestic league. Plus, the likes of Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and Arsenal are among other licensed clubs that feature.
To keep things up-to-date – even though Konami still comically have Neymar in his Barca strip on the front cover *face palm* – a LIVE update will update players’ form and club movements.
Ultimately, though, you’ll still have to download the option file, which contains all the kits and logos made by dedicated PES fans. Either that or you’ll be stuck with ‘Man Red’ et al. and a load of kits that look like school gym gear.
Thankfully, it’s simple to do with plenty of tutorials on YouTube and the web. Check out this video for a handy tutorial.
Look past the lack of licenses, the woeful commentary and the bizarre marketing decisions and you’ve got a very, very good game.
In fact, PES 2018 is leagues better than last year’s iteration and arguably provides a more fun and fluid game of football than FIFA 18.
Just take Neymar off the cover, Konami…