Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 feels more like a classic soccer game than its main rival, FIFA 18. There’s no flashy story mode chock-full of celebrity appearances. The presentation seems more like a submission to fans complaining about a lack of presentation rather than a passionate desire to replicate the excitement and entertainment of soccer. Even the way the Fox Engine renders its characters and the clownish, over-the-top mo-cap of player celebrations isn’t as much a selling point as the “awe-inspiring” Frostbite Engine. PES 2018’s focus is more about solidifying its gameplay and providing a high-wire intensity to every pass, cross, and tackle.
There are good and bad things about focusing more on the gameplay than the presentation—like the aforementioned distractingly, extravagantly acted motion-capture moments. Another negative is this seemingly disinterested attitude toward presentation leaves you with about a dozen songs in its soundtrack, almost all of which were impossible for me to stomach after the first hour. On top of that, the boring commentary and general lack of pomp and circumstance reminds you that you’re playing a video game with a fraction of the licensing deals that the other guy owns. Not to mention that the selection of teams seems slim in comparison to FIFA 18, official licensing or not.
On the other hand, this lack of presentation means that, for example, when you’re managing a team in Master League and renegotiating a contract or a transfer, you’re not taken out of the game with a pointless cut-scene featuring the player and his nondescript agent with your manager avatar sitting across the desk fighting to create a recognizable human expression. The sort of excessive propensity for razzling and dazzling with its fancy engine by introducing an inordinate amount of voiceless cut-scenes that FIFA 18 seems to favor pops up grudgingly here and there in PES 2018, but it’s clear—almost more as a function of personal identity more than as a result of the fact that Pro Evolution Soccer probably gets a fraction of the budget at the FIFA series—that PES 2018 is more in love with the game of soccer and how it translates into a video game than it is with the pastiche of soccer as a form of passive entertainment.
PES 2018’s steps forward in terms of gameplay aren’t as dramatic as PES 2017, but I would count that as a tick in the positive column. One element that Konami has introduced is full body touch that manages to capture quite well how players receive and control the ball, now throwing their entire bodies into the reception, which not only makes you consider whether there are open lanes through which you can send a pass, but also how quickly the receiver will be able to fully possess an ambitious lofted through pass based on their positioning and proximity to the rival player. While PES 2018 has slightly improved the Real Touch dribbling mechanic that the series introduced last year, stick control is (thankfully) not the star of the show, but rather strategy, quick decision-making, physicality, and deft passing are all the key components for success in PES 2018.
I still can’t decide how I feel about PES 2018’s gameplay as a whole, though, especially compared to the recent direction of the FIFA franchise. While I appreciate that PES 2018’s passing is much more of a risk with a chance for much higher rewards, it is frustrating when I feel like a pass goes somewhere other than where I wanted it to go, or how slowly the ball leaves one player and reaches the other, or when I decide that I want to pass to someone else as my character is winding up for a pass and I end up giving the ball away because, unlike in FIFA, I can’t change my mind in the middle of a pass. At the same time, though, I love how difficult passing is compared to FIFA 18, where it feels like defenses, speaking from both sides of the ball, are almost entirely defenseless against even the most basic passing.
Likewise, defense is as fun to play as ever, as the improved physicality leads to more exciting tackle attempts, and full body touch elements mean that a quick-thinking defender can more easily take advantage of a less-than-perfect pass that comes off a receiver. Proper positioning and timely challenges seem more effective and feasible than in that other soccer game, and matches seem less about taking shots and saving shots and more about the full field experience, where a thoughtful strategy can give you the advantage. Simply sprinting the ball up the field is a far less effective offensive strategy than it often is in FIFA 18, and I think PES 2018 is better off in terms of raw gameplay for that.
That being said, there are still some annoyances in PES 2018. While running the ball up the field completely solo might not be viable, crossing certainly seems to work way more than it probably should, especially with insane headers and scissor kicks by adept strikers. While these plays are exciting to pull off, they work way too frequently and seem unstoppable, especially against teams like Real Madrid.
This is doubly problematic because goalkeepers still seem inconsistent, despite getting new animations. Sometimes they’ll simply miss easy saves and end up looking like Daria on the volleyball court (na-na-naaa-na-na). They’re also still pretty bad at holding onto balls they probably could have caught, which is doubly frustrating since friendly AI seems suspiciously slow to react when it comes to loose balls. That’s not to say the AI is completely lacking in the intelligence department, because it’s still pretty good at reading a play and adjusting its strategy in a way that will set you up for success, but it does seem inconsistent. Sometimes it’s like the AI knows exactly what you’re trying to do, and other times you might as well be playing one versus eleven. PES 2018 is an incredibly fun soccer game, and it reminds me as much as anything today can of the glory days of soccer games from generations ago, but with way more polish and freedom. But it’s still not without its pimples.
PES 2018 has also made some small but significant changes off the pitch. Be A Legend mode—in which you control either a pre-existing or player-created character and navigate them through their career—returns with one major improvement over last year. Namely that, if you are benched, you can fast-forward through the match fairly quickly. On top of that, as soon as I joined a team, I was placed on the starting 11, meaning I didn’t have to wait to be subbed in. While maybe not as realistic as last year, the fact that you get to immediately prove yourself on the field is more engaging and immediately invests you in your team’s success.
Master League remains one of the more engaging franchise modes in sports games, where you can practically customize every part of your team’s strategy, right down to each player’s specific on-field characteristics. On top of this already excellent foundation, PES 2018 adds Challenge Mode as an option in Master League, which is basically a “hard mode” that adds more strategy to actual negotiations and all around makes your job in the office harder than ever. It’s actually engaging and lends even more weight to the action on the pitch.
The biggest addition to PES 2018 is actually an old mode that’s back thanks to high demand from the fans, and it’s probably the best thing about PES 2018, especially for more casual soccer fans. Random Selection Match (let’s face it: Pro Evo isn’t the best at naming its modes) tasks you with setting parameters for what kind of players you’d like, based on which team or league they play for or what their nationality is. The game will then assign random players to both teams for the match. However, before taking to the pitch, players can enter in a sort of trading mini-game in which you can pick players you want from the other team while locking players you think your opponent will go after. If you select a player your opponent didn’t lock, then he’s yours, but the same also goes for your opponent. It’s a great mode, especially when playing it locally with a friend when you each set the other player’s parameters.
Unfortunately, Random Selection Match is not available online, but it probably doesn’t matter because online is easily PES 2018’s weakest point. The amount of players online—at least for the Xbox One version—seemed staggeringly low, and it was pretty hard to find a match. Once I was playing, the match ran smoothly enough for the most part, though there were definitely some extended frustrations with some connection stutter. The game recovered fairly quickly, but one instance of slow-down actually cost me a goal, and I’m not just crying “lag.” This is a shame, because PES 2018 has finally caught up to the times and added online co-op, meaning you can now finally play with some buddies, whether they’re across the country or sitting next to you on the couch, against another team of more than one player. This isn’t a new feature for regular sports game players, but it’s good that PES has finally taken that step forward, even if finding a match remained difficult at times for me.
And while PES’s version of Ultimate Team, MyClub, certainly returns, it remains a small part of the Pro Evolution formula. That being said, it’s time for Konami to start asking itself where Pro Evolution Soccer can go from here. If it focuses its energy on introducing new modes like Random Selection Match while tightening up the gameplay each year, PES will probably be in good shape. But if it decides to turn it into another card-buying cash grab like pretty much every other sports game on the market, we might have to throw out the red card on that one.
All in all, PES 2018 continues to excel at what it’s best at: being a soccer game that’s not FIFA. Especially considering the recent, flashier direction that FIFA has gone in, both in terms of presentation and gameplay, PES 2018 almost feels like an oasis for older soccer game players like myself. If you’re not feeling the direction that EA has taken with FIFA 18, PES 2018 will be exactly what you’re looking for.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is one of the most solid (yet least flashy) sports sims on the market. Every year, PES seems to further carve out its own identity and plant a flag for players who want a deeper, less forgiving, and yet somehow more familiar soccer-playing experience. Everything in PES 2018 is earned, and while some of it still could use some polish, it continues to take steps forward. How long it can withstand the tidal wave of FIFA’s recent successes and licensing dominance, however, remains to be seen.
E - Everyone
|Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version played was for Xbox One. Product was provided by Konami for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.