Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
I could swear I’ve written this review before. At the very least I feel like I have had this conversation enough times that I am starting to feel like I’m living in some sort of mobius strip. It’s inevitably that time of the year again where we draw real-world footballing analogies and stick them, however cumbersome, onto the playing field of our review. There almost comes a fatigue with reviewing PES as you will inevitably be saying most of the same things you said last time or the time before it. However, while treading over well-trodden grass it has to be said that this is a marked improvement on last year’s PES and in fact, weariness aside, this is probably the best ‘football’ in a game that we have seen. I think it’s important to make the distinction between a ‘football game’ as a package and the actual football that is played on the pitch - as the answer to that should inform your opinion if you are still on the fence about which of the two to pick up this year.
Let’s get this out of the way before we go any further, the front end of PES is still terrible both in design and its terminology. This will serve as little surprise to anyone; every year comes with the hope that maybe this is the year that a competent UI makes its appearance. Alas, this year is not the exception to the self-imposed rule by Konami and you will have to live in hope for next year - as long as we actually get a new PES and not some Pachinko offshoot. The menu system is laid out poorly with a number of pages of poorly named tiles providing game-modes and settings - think a Windows phone layout meets obscurantist language. The caveat though is that we have all been here before, the lack of spit and polish does not a bad game make, so once you get familiar with the front-end shortcomings you’ll be enjoying the game so much that forgiveness will come at a cheap price.
There have been efforts to improve the roster of teams in the game, a few extra licences have been thrown in; Barcelona, Dortmund and Liverpool all making an appearance. And as has been the case, if playing as Man Red and MD White (Real Madrid) doesn’t appeal to you, have a quick Google for the PES 2017 option file, download, install and marvel at the work of the community as the game suddenly reflects real life. Online play too hasn’t moved on as much as was hoped, the same lag issues (while definitely not as pronounced) still seem to be there. You will reach a point of compromise with online play, adjusting for the lag between pushing a button and on-screen action with the hope that future patches begin to bridge those gaps.
Again, as with much of PES, it’s a better version of a previous problem but not quite fixed. Of course these issues are all a preferential thing, so adjust the final score accordingly. If not having licences bothers you and you’ve no access to the net to get the option file then that’ll be a big bump in the score for you. If you never play online and prefer to get your mates over for a screaming session followed by a lot of blaming of your friend for going for glory rather than squaring a simple pass to you, then you can add on whatever you like as you’ll be having those unquantifiable experiences by the bucket.
Making another outing in this version is PES’ FUT competitor MyClub. There’s a real struggle here and one that I think typifies this whole, largely tiresome, FIFA vs PES debate. MyClub has always felt as nothing more than keeping an in keeping up with the Jones’, and when it comes to which is the better game-mode FUT has it down pat and it was always going to be that way. MyClub has improved somewhat - hiring scouts to go scouring the Earth for particular skills is welcomed, but once again it’s a mode that’s lost a yard of pace ever since the first iteration. It’s a strange thing for PES to still try and compete with FUT and put resource into it when ultimately it’s a poorer version of a competitor’s mode that will never excel. Again it’s hard to mark PES down for this ambition as it can be as superfluous as you want it to be, and the severely cluttered UI will have you running back to Quick Play as soon as you can.
But let’s get to the real core of the game and the important question, “how good is the football?” The answer? Nothing short of magnificent and indulge me while I put on these rose-tinted glasses. I remember the first time that I played Pro Evo, when it was ISS Pro on the PlayStation, it was a platinum release and until then I had only ever played FIFA. There was a moment when I played one of my first through balls and scored, and to this day that moment, that sense of fluidity and timing, was so wonderful and unfamiliar that it has stuck with me to this day. Since then I’ve played a lot of football games and never felt anything close to that moment, until now.
Konami have made many clever, mostly subtle, changes to gameplay that really eke out a fine game of football. If you were a keeper-basher in the last iteration, and no-one could blame you, you’ll be pleased to know that those big gloved buffoons are now nearly solid as a rock. There are less unexpected spillages by your number one and typically they will dig out some exceptional saves more often than they may make an error. When an error does occur it feels very human; maybe they got bullied in the air during a corner or Neuer finally makes one ill-advised sprint off his line too many.
In fact your AI counterparts as a whole are much more capable, without exuding efficiency that is obviously automated. As you push forward from midfield you’ll have a picture in your head of how you are going to attack, but the wonderful thing is that PES is much more unpredictable than that. As you push on you’ll suddenly spot a teammate running into an open space that has developed and pointing to where they want you to place the ball. There was something wonderfully alive about a simple animation, predicated by great AI, making me change my mind on an attack. The pitch has a human feel and that’s a very difficult thing to achieve.
On the AI front, one area that is occasionally a cause for concern is the officials. Much like real life there are some blatant fouls that are simply not given, and mostly these tend to be stone-wall obstructions. It is legitimately infuriating at times, especially when you are chasing a game, but the rarity of these calls, or lack thereof, saves it from being an overbearing issue.
In PES 2017 not only have players’ qualities been translated to their digital counterpart, whether it’s Ibrahimovic being a nightmare to handle in the air or Hazard’s close control being nigh on immaculate, but in fact the overall teams tend to play exactly as you would expect. To illustrate this point I was playing in the Champions League as Manchester United, wishful thinking I know, and came up against two teams, Barcelona and Liverpool. First up was Barcelona and my game was largely spent without the ball, patience was absolutely key. It called for not diving into tackles, maintaining shape and pressing with AI when needed. It was slow, deliberate and tense. After nicking a winner next up was Liverpool and all of a sudden it was like playing a completely different game.
From the kick off I was on the back foot, the Gegenpress absolutely causing utter stress. Suddenly my game had to be sharp; relying on close, quick passing. PES does a lot of things right, but getting the ‘feel’ of a match is its crowning glory. Under genuine pressure from Klopp’s men I had to work out how to defeat their somewhat inexhaustible energy. I opted to pass back into my own final third and draw their team into our half and once they’d over committed I’d lob a long ball forward, using Ibrahimovic’s height and control to get the ball down and forward to their understaffed back line.
This story is the true strength of PES 2017 in that you will feel like you are playing a football match, you will feel like you have to size your opponent up and properly beat them. Reviews can get lost in detailing the minutia of features and improvements but what you need to know is that this is like playing the football you know and love, and perhaps try to play twice a week thinking that you’ve still got it.
I began this review by stating that I felt that I’ve been here before, and in this conclusion it’s not going to get any less unfamiliar. PES 2017 is without a doubt the best on-the-pitch football you will play, and perhaps the best in recent memory. If that’s what is important to you, more so than all the glitz and glamour of FIFA, then this really is a no-brainer. If you are in anyway tiring of the FIFA brand then this is the best year that you could dip your toes into Pro Evo’s waters and before I forget, let’s have one more poorly forced football analogy. It’s the derby clash you’ve all waited for, and coming off the bench to score the winner is ….. Actually, I can’t be bothered, just go buy PES. It’s brilliant.