Sports games that release annually are always tricky to review, simply because for the most part they just feel like rehashed and refined products of the previous iteration. In fact lately we’re seeing most sports games implement a light story-mode to change things up a bit and give fans something distinctly new to chew on. Pro Evolution Soccer distances itself from that aspect and instead chooses to focus on improving the core experience, strengthening what was lacking in the last serving, whilst retaining what went down well with the crowd. Let me say right off the bat that PES 2018 is an improvement on the widely successful and critically acclaimed PES 2017, but what reason is there to jump from one to the other if you’re still thoroughly enjoying the 2017 version? That’s a tough question to answer.
Konami have seriously been pushing hard for licensed squads in PES as of late, hitting media thick and fast with every squad or partner that they obtain. This is obviously an important factor that they need to highlight, simply because the direct competition of FIFA is and arguably always has hogged the spotlight in this regard. Despite the fact that PES has managed to nab some solid partners and licensed prem teams, there’s still a notable shortage nevertheless, and this is something I fear wont change in the foreseeable future. It’s always going to be a tough nut to crack, and with FIFA having such a strong foothold with several fingers in several pies, it’s something that Konami really needs to focus on now that they have the gameplay mechanics down to a tee.
PES 2018 houses a new gameplay functionality known as REAL Touch+, which is a refined version of REAL Touch from PES 2017. This essentially means that Konami have added a new dimension to the ball control, being that various parts of the body will control the ball based on the unpredictability of the ball movement. That may sound somewhat complicated, but it basically means that the game will behave uniquely depending on how you handle the ball, and also when and how you receive it. The gameplay improvements are further held up by the implementation of strategic dribbling, which gifts you with even more control over the ball whilst in possession of it. It all goes hand in hand to provide the player with the tools they need to either obtain control or hold it, with each and every subtle movement making the world of difference either way.
Konami made a lot of bold statements during the promotion of PES 2018, one of which was aimed at the enhanced reality through more realistic visuals. This includes factors such as true-to-life stadium lighting for both day and night matches, and massive improvements to pitch turfs and player tunnels that have been recreated from more than twenty thousand elements of data, according to the company giant. Does all this big talk pay off? Absolutely! PES 2018 looks absolutely breathtaking and stunning throughout the entirety of play. Everything from the animations of each player to their individual postures and movements looks amazingly authentic. Going one further, Konami have had specific players photo-scanned to capture full body tattoos, meaning that (despite the lack of licenses) this is as accurate an experience as it can get.
Once again you take to the UEFA Champions League, Master League (with pre-season tournaments and a better transfer system), Become a Legend and myClub, but in light of FIFA 18 housing a second serving of a story mode, PES 2018 feels as though it’s lacking that extra kick to stay inline with the competition. Competition in any regard is always healthy for the consumer, it ensures that scrapping companies will always fight to stay “on top” by winning you over with new features and additions. In PES 2018 however, it all just seems to be better versions of what we’ve already encountered in prior servings.
I don’t mean to say that there isn’t a heap of content to see your through until next year, but again, if you’re thoroughly enjoying PES 2017, why make the jump for reasons other than improved gameplay and tweaked mechanics and functionality? Sure, we get Random Selection Match coming back, but a comeback isn’t something new. Mercifully Konami have indeed offered something relatively new to sink into, which is the inclusion of online co-op that’s dedicated to 2v2 and 3v3 co-op play, with local player support thrown in for good measure. This is fantastic for those of you that like the idea of challenging your friends or grouping up with them to take on other players, but when you sit back and look at the bigger picture, it’s hardly a massive game changer. Furthermore, online play seems to have some minor lag issues, which is far from satisfying.
I don’t want to be too hard on PES 2018 because despite the lack of new features and content, what it does have on offer is so well crafted that it manages to stand its own ground magnificently well. Regardless of your chosen mode, the gameplay as alluded to above is outstanding and feels like a near perfect representation of the sport. Referees will act accordingly depending on the situation, the AI responds precisely as you would expect and goes above and beyond to give you a run for your money, and even the goalkeepers will make you work extra hard for your net hits. When you group these tweaks with the overall improvements, what you’re left with is a football game that forces you to play with care, skill, and daring. Every goal feels well earned, every loss feels well deserved and each and every match feels authentic, energetic and exhilarating.
PES 2018 is a step up from PES 2017, which is widely accepted as one of the best football games to date. That however is not to say that PES 2018 does enough to sway players from PES 2017 to PES 2018, because in actual fact, there’s very little difference between the titles outside of improved gameplay and refined mechanics. Konami really needs to ensure that PES 2019 houses something unique and fresh, especially with FIFA implementing an excellent story mode to fill that void nicely. In any case, much like its predecessor PES 2018 is a fully immersive and authentic representation of the sport, offering up heaps of content and excellently crafted gameplay. This is all upheld by some gorgeous visuals that capture that aforementioned authenticity magnificently well. The tweaks and improvements in PES 2018 shows that Konami has what it takes to make one hell of a good sports game, and despite the lack of licenses, we really need to see something new next.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.