Recent releases of Pro Evolution Soccer have done a lot to regain a fair bit of vocal support for Konami’s take on what most people in the world call football. They’ve jumped to the Fox Engine, they’ve started to push toward a faster and more fun take on the sport and, whether you want to whisper it or shout it from the rooftops, last year’s title might well have been a better game than FIFA.
This year’s game quite naturally looks to build on that positive momentum by doing more of what it did well and trying to fix what it didn’t. To that end, it’s almost immediately noticeable that there are an awful lot more animations in the game and that they’re being blended together in a better looking way. The game as a whole looks a lot better as well, and while I feel last year’s FIFA still has the edge, particularly in the visual evolution of the pitch, this is a decent step up over PES 16.
It’s easy to pay lip service to improving ball physics, but in tandem with the animations, they can also be quite noticeably better. For me it was when my player jumped and turned to shield himself as a ball was kicked at him, only to glance off his backside and continue on its path.
It really goes hand in hand with the Real Touch and a passing system that tries to better reward players for timing and level of power. However you want to look at it, bouncing the ball back and forth between your players is still nice and easy – if you’ve got a team of good players.
Goalkeepers have also been given love and attention, but almost to the game’s detriment I feel. Yes, they were quite porous in their attempts to defend their goal in the last few games, now they’ve swung toward being too effective. Again, it’s partly through having a lot more animations to draw upon, but they’ve also been smartened up and given the same Player ID system that outfield players benefitted from last year, to recreate the look and play styles of some of the most renowned keepers in the world – you know, those licensed for the game’s Champions League and UEFA Euro 2016 teams, with the demo featuring Germany, France, Arsenal and Atletico Madrid.
Admittedly, I set the demo AI to a higher difficulty, but even against other people – let’s be honest, real people are worse at defending than AI – it was almost unerring how effective they could be at keeping the ball out. On several occasions during the 10 or so matches that I played, they pulled out spectacular double saves that bordered on the impossible, let alone the plausible. Of course, all of this is subject to change, but I hope some of the excesses are toned down. 0-0 games are not particularly fun and even 1-0 is rarely going to be that high on drama.
Some of that will also have been down to the improvements made to team AI as a whole. Player ID has been extended to Team ID, so that the teams you know will try and play in a recognisable fashion. More than that, they’ll adapt to opposition tactics within a match and try to cut out any threats that they pose. Get a few good runs down one flank and their winger might hang back a bit to offer support. The same if you try to go through the middle with Messi too often, as they’ll try to close him down and crowd him out.
I do find these things quite difficult to pick up on, personally, as someone who only occasionally plays football games and very rarely watches. What I can appreciate is the new quick tactics that can be mapped to the D-Pad buttons, and the ability to call set plays from corner kicks. It’s not there without your input, as it is in FIFA, and it’s not as straightforward as mashing the D-Pad until you’re on “Ultra Attacking”, but you can now alter your team’s attacking and defensive play style. set up both attacking and defensive tactics to switch between, allowing you to quickly switch your own style of play without a trip to the menus, if plan A isn’t working out too well.
And that’s PES 17 down to a tee. It’s more fluid, it’s more natural and it’s taking a number of steps forward from what could be the best football game around.