The last Pro Evolution game I played was bought for me back in 1999, and back then it was even called Pro Evolution. If you’re wondering whether that’s because I play FIFA instead, you’ll be sadly mistaken too, though admittedly I do occasionally buy them when they’re 4 years old and selling for 50p second-hand. The point I’m trying to make is that because I don’t follow or even watch football, it means I don’t know the names of any players and because I don’t keep up to date with the latest football games I’m not biased to either side of the debate. I’m basically the perfect person to review a football game is what I’m trying to say. So with that here’s Konami’s latest game about a couple of lads kicking a ball into the goal.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018, or PES2018, is the latest entry in the critically acclaimed football franchise from Konami, out now across all major consoles and PC. Aiming to make the 17th title in the franchise feel just as fresh as the first, Konami has promised to improve on their already world-class gameplay, as well as graphically making it the most authentic, realistic football game yet. With strategic dribbling, RealTouch + and a realistically paced game speed at your feet, PES2018 certainly sounds like this latest entry is a genuine evolution of the series, a series at that which has seemingly taken the shine off FIFA’s crown over the past few years. Konami has also vastly improved their game presentation and co-op modes, as well as bringing back the fan favourite Random Selection Match mode and enhancing the extensive Master League career mode. It’s all well and good simply saying what makes an authentic footballing sim, but does it actually play like one? It may lack the star quality and explosive production of its competitor, but Konami has scored an absolute screamer here!
The biggest issue people have with PES is that it lacks official licensing and if you are one of those people that refuse to pick it up because of that reason … why? Sure, I cannot deny that it is a little disappointing that still 16 years later Konami have yet to feature an impressive roster of the world’s best legitimate stars and teams, but come on, does it really take anything away from the game of football you’re playing? Of course, it doesn’t! Football players are some of the most generic and overrated athletes in the world, they all do the same thing (and some of them have silly hair), so the fact that your star striker for Man Red isn’t Ibrahimovic but rather what your predictive text things he should be called, then that really isn’t a reason to miss out on this awesome and addictive virtual game of footie. As an avid RPG enthusiast, I enjoy the fact that I’m playing as a team of nobodies, turning these outrageously named lads into a force to be reckoned with, writing their own success stories and making their wellbeing just as important as my own. What I’m trying to say is that despite the lack of authentic football leagues, teams and players, PES2018 still provides the most realistic game of football on consoles and PC today, so you shouldn’t be put off by the fact you can’t play as your favourite player, because you’ll soon create your own.
Master League is PES2018’s take on the football sim career mode, where you take the form of a new manager brought in to give your team a much-needed kick up the jacksy. After selecting your new face and name, you now have full control over everything that happens within your team, and Konami’s simple to read and follow tutorials show you just how easy that will be, even if it is only in theory. Whether it’s managing your squad, scouting for new players or bidding during that crucial transfer window, the mode’s simplistic layout will direct you quickly and efficiently to everything you’ll need to look over during your tenure. The worry that you suck at your job and the fear of losing said job are horrible ways to live by any stretch of the word in real life, however in the digital one it does add a thrilling level of challenge and tension as you try to keep both you and your team on top; I crapped myself with shock and delight when a star player of mine threatened to leave the club, a scenario I’ve never been put in before in a football game. Another welcome addition to the Master League mode is the ability to customise training regimes for individual players, meaning that after a few tactical shifts you can vastly improve your team’s performance and morale from bolstering particular player traits, which is pretty neat. With all that in mind, PES2018’s Master League does sound like an exciting and rewarding career mode to invest your time in, and for the most part it is, however it sadly doesn’t follow the same ‘realistic’ gimmick that the rest of the game manages to successfully pull off. Transfer budgets can be the bane of a club managers life, and now they can be yours too, as you are forced to play around with unbearably low budget and salary caps. When some spritely named chap in the news can sell for almost £200 million, you can understand my frustration when I want to digitally purchase him myself, but I’m restricted to only £50 million. These budgets and restraints would perhaps be easier to maintain if they were displayed in weekly or even monthly figures, but as they are it adds a painfully annoying level of difficulty which can make one of the most exciting parts of the beautiful game tragically frustrating. For those who still like a kick-a-bout with friends locally, then the returning Random Selection Mode will tick all of your boxes. Adding a kind of ‘Party Mode’ feel to the game, Random Selection gives you and your buddies a random band of players from random clubs and ranging skill stats. Before the match can begin you must select your team, making sure you pick the players you want and saving the ones you need. It’s such a chaotic, tense and hilarious way to play before the game actually starts that will really test your skills trying to win a game made up of entirely random geezers.
On the pitch and things have really been turned up a notch (bam!). The most notable of these improvements is the new ‘slower’ pace, a subtle yet remarkable change that now gives the action this much more authentic feel that Konami has vowed to apply to everything. Players now move a much more reserved pace, meaning there is more time to pull off dribbling, passing and fainting, as well as being able to witness pulling off these epic displays of tekkers. Take what you will from this, but sometimes easy is too easy, and whereas I wouldn’t class myself as an ‘amateur’ video game footballer I’m definitely no pro, so in past games, I’ve been disappointed to find that my AI competitors have been far too lenient and lazy with me. In PES2018 however, this simply won’t be a concern. I may have selected an easier level to be challenged at, however, I am genuinely being challenged by an intellectual and ever-evolving AI which will push me to my limits during every game. Stylish set pieces, aggressive defence, unpredictable goalkeeping, anything I can do the computer can do too, and it’s the most fun I’ve had in a football game in a long time. FIFA, as stylish and explosive as it is, doesn’t give you the chance to revel in the game’s mechanics and really appreciate the effort that has been put into creating the impressive, realistic actions your players are pulling off, but PES2018 allows this to happen in exchange for those glossy cosmetics. Speaking of which, Konami have overhauled their visuals by not only improving what it looks like on the pitch, but also what it looks like off the pitch with their motion captured players, new animations and their enhanced ‘realistic’ lighting. The visuals and sounds on offer here may not be as, if you pardon the pun, striking as the likes of rival FIFA games, however, they are a huge stride forward from 12 months ago, which really is all that matters.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is a terrific game and Konami have definitely scored a cracker here. It may not have the shine, the names, or the good commentary that FIFA has, but the challenging, rewarding and impressive tweaks to the AI and gameplay really do make PES2018 the most realistic and enjoyable football games on the market right now. The chaotic Random Selection match brings some much-needed daft drama into the genre and the Master League career mode has had a well-needed makeover, however, the suffocating transfer budgets do take away a lot of the fun and realism out of the otherwise stellar single player. I can’t deny that the unlicensed teams and crazy names will frustrate players who feel cheated out of the genuine article, but it’s all part of the Pro Evo charm, isn’t it.