Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 Review
Pro Evo claims to be in the first year of a major three year cycle, but it feels like the smallest step forwards the series has made in a number of years.
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‘Pro Evolution Soccer‘ has spent the last few years playing a great game of catch-up with FIFA before arguably overtaking it a year or two ago. Is this the year it takes a significant step ahead?
One area that certainly hasn’t caught up with FIFA is the ‘Be a Pro’ mode which now feels light years behind FIFA’s story mode, with generic text screens, little interaction with other players or managers or feeling of player progression.
This is a story that repeats over and over again. Master League, Divisions, MyClub, Skills Training – they are all identical or nearly identical to the offering last year (when at least some notional improvements were made at least). There has been some progress though, as ‘Random’ mode returns, apparently from the PS2 era, although I never remember playing it back then! This mode allows you to choose a team as a base, then draft in new players and trade against your opponent, potentially blocking their transfers. It’s a neat idea to add a bit of variety, although I expect it will be a novelty mainly used for the odd bit of couch play rather than as a serious rival to the main time sinks of Master League and MyClub.
You kind of have to mention it every year, but the continued lack of licenses gets more and more egregious over time, especially when there seems no progress (apart from the bizarre addition of Fulham in the Championship) after things regressed last year with the loss of La Liga.
This year has been championed as the first year of a major overhaul of many of the systems and strategies that PES players have become used to. So, a gameplay upgrade rather than a feature upgrade? Unfortunately, as a relatively casual player of football games, this is the first time in years that I’m struggling to pick out many of the iterations. In fact, on the lower difficulties, the AI feels like it has taken a regressive step backwards. They’ll almost never slide tackle you or foul. They barely ever hoof the ball forwards, allowing you to press the final third more aggressively. Some world-class players now have individual characteristics, but there’s no indication of who this applies to, so prepare to be surprised by the pace, physicality or ball control of certain players (hint: just play as Barcalona to see this in practice).
Shooting and goalkeeping seem more unpredictable this year, but you can become absolutely free-scoring through the use of talented wingers. It almost feels like your glitching the game as defenders seem completely unable to cope with pin-point crosses which can be latched onto either by your Neymar or Messi style player with a half-volley, or smashed into a corner by a powerful centre-forwards with excellent heading skills.
The same tactics can easily be applied against you, meaning that I was more often churning out a 5-3 victory (even in a 5 minute match) than playing out a 1-1 draw. Obviously whether this is for you is very much down to personal taste, but despite dropping the pace somewhat, the end result feels like the most arcade-like PES in many years.
The one area where PES always struggled a bit compared to FIFA was in the online sphere. PES 2018 appears to have solved many of the issues. Playing over multiple games I was pleased not to encounter any of the stutter which could plague previous versions (although I have heard of other players who still find this an issue). The main problem though is the matchmaking can be pretty slow. As with FIFA, the sheer number of modes means that even with a substantial player base, those online can be spread quite thinly. As a result, I was frequently waiting over a minute to connect to other players, even on evenings and weekends.
I’m not sure Konami ever intend to compete on a spectacle/ broadcast level with EA and the huge budgets they throw at their games, and instead intent to compete purely on gameplay terms.
The TV coverage (barring the branded Champions League/ UEFA modes) is pretty bare bones generally, and doesn’t appear to have been given a makeover in the last two years. The crowds also remain a generation behind, and the commentary pairing of Drury and Beglin still goes over some of the same lines I was moaning about three or four years ago.
They sound genuinely bored in some of the new commentary, and the game still suffers from un-natural sounding commentary from the PS1 era when there’s a slight pause or change in tone when a team or player name is inserted into a line of dialogue. Frankly its embarrassing at this point in time.
The problem I have with “Pro Evolution Soccer 2018” is that it feels like an incredibly incremental update. Be a Pro needs a major overhaul in the light of FIFA’s story mode, whilst Master League could also do with some more polish. The gameplay has been tweaked, but feels largely similar, and when the biggest feature is the return of a novelty mode from the PS2 era, you start to feel as if you’re clutching at straws for what to say. Pro Evo is by no means a poor game, but it feels like all the great momentum of the last three years has completely stalled here, and what’s left is a placeholder or window dressing for something hopefully greater to come.