“PES 2017 is the very pinnacle of its franchise.”
It has been a little while since I last played a PES game. Way back when, the Konami-published answer to football in video games just didn’t quite hit the spot. A lot has changed since then. The game now features a better-developed set of systems to make play feel more real, a wealth of new licensing agreements to offer a fuller, more legitimate experience, and most importantly a very shiny style of presentation. It felt like high time I gave the franchise another run for its money. Honestly, I am very pleased that I did.
PES 2017 feels like an enhanced experience all round compared to its predecessors. This isn’t only thanks to its licensing deals, which the game makes a point of shoving in your face whenever it can find a space to do so. In fact, the first sign of its improved package comes from the menus themselves. They are much cleaner than I remember, giving off a much more professional vibe than older instalments ever did. Some inspiration seems to have been drawn from the layout of the game’s closest competitor, FIFA, but clear thought has gone into making this a more polished and easy-to-navigate system in its own right.
The game also does a good job of allowing you to play the way that you want from the very beginning. Two standard control sets are offered; one being the classic PES layout whilst the other is essentially that of FIFA. This allows players to enjoy the game even if they are unfamiliar with the franchise, such as myself. I certainly appreciated the open arms welcome that this implied, and many others would undoubtedly feel the same. For those who prefer a hybrid system or maybe something completely different altogether, a custom option is also on the table; another welcoming offer to the PES family.
Despite the best efforts of the PES 2017 team, it quickly becomes abundantly clear just how many teams the developers don’t have the rights to use in the game. For general football game fans this may not be a dire problem, but supporters of specific clubs will almost certainly be put off by their lack of inclusion. The absence of some well-known sides does not affect architecture of the game nor the way that it plays, but it is still a sticking point which holds PES back now as it has done in the past.
Getting onto the pitch however is where PES 2017 becomes special. I have never truly marvelled at a game of FIFA, but I was blown away by the appearance of the new PES. The detail on some aspects of the game, most notably the pitch and players, is astounding. Some elements such as the atmosphere of the crowd, the commentary and the ball animations are slightly less inspiring, but it is easy to brush these aside and remain in awe at those elements which truly stand out. The way that the players look and move is as realistic as I have ever seen in a football game. The mechanics of play are so smooth and fluid that PES 2017 easily outshines the previous FIFA titles in terms of accurate, believable football simulation. Aspects such as instantly moving after receiving a pass and setting up the perfect through ball make the game a real delight to play. It is the clean experience that football games have always tried to provide, but never truly nailed down until now.
Sadly, PES 2017 has a hard time holding all of this together, at least in its console form. There is a lot of loading between cut scenes and events during play, meaning as smooth as the bulk of the match looks and feels, it still fails to fully immerse you in the action. You can have an extended period of unbroken play which perfectly displays the incredible structure of the game, only for it to then be broken whilst the correct replays and animation for a throw in are loaded. It is an unfortunate hump in an otherwise freshly laid pitch.
Outside of the action, the team management in PES 2017 is detailed, but complicated. You can fine tune your team in almost any way you can think of, from pinpoint positioning to the finer aspects of strategic gameplay. The downside to this is that the menus don’t make it so easy to figure this out, and so a significant learning curve is placed before you. Get your head around it however, and you can truly take complete control of your teams and the game. If this level of planning isn’t really up your street and you would rather be in the action, there is nothing wrong with employing the game’s default tactics instead. Strategy certainly gives you an edge, especially in that you know the ins and outs of your side, but it is certainly not a concrete requirement to enjoy the game.
As well as offering traditional season, competition and free-play matches, all of which maintain the now established models of the series for the most part, PES 2017 also includes the franchise’s new myClub mode. myClub is PES’ answer to FIFA’s Ultimate Team, where you can compete in offline and online matches and tournaments using a squad of your own; built from the ground up. myClub is easy to learn the ins and outs of, but it does not sacrifice any level of depth in order to achieve this. In fact, I found it to be a surprisingly welcoming alternative to what standard modes of play.
The myClub system has a lot of similarities to FIFA’s Ultimate Team. Team and club management, the rating and cohesion systems for you squad, contract lengths and the like all cross over almost exactly. The biggest difference is the way in which you find and employ new players to your side. This can be done in a number of ways in the game. There is the traditional option of purchasing players using in game credit or receiving them by chance, but you can also use the very intelligent scout system to aim for certain individuals. Using up to 3 scouts, you can narrow down the attributes that the player you will receive will have. If you can get these down to features that only fit a single player, you are guaranteed to receive them. This system is great for players who have long term team building goals, and it is good to know that you have some managerial say in your squad, even during online play.
PES 2017 is the very pinnacle of its franchise. The game has never felt better than it does right now, even with the few issues which are still present. For the first time, I found PES a delight to play, ignoring the occasional bugs which break up the play. More fully licensed teams would certainly benefit the experience, however with such improvements in the structure and all-round experience of the game these may not be too far down the line. One thing is for sure – FIFA 17 has its work cut out this year!