There was a time when Pro Evolution Soccer was my go-to football game, spanning the early to late 2000s from school through to university. There was no doubt that Konami ruled the genre through the series, especially during the PS2 era, but their crown slipped on the last generation and, just like that, PES was dethroned. Ever since then Konami has been trying to pry that crown back from EA, and last year’s PES 16 was a valiant effort. The question is whether PES 17 carries on its predecessor’s path.
The most important side to any football game is the way it controls and PES 17 is wonderfully easy to pick up and play, with fluid movements that react well to your inputs. There’s a nice variation where faster players can cut in quickly, trying to pass big, wall-like defenders that can be tough to beat head on. Team and player movement’s do obviously depend on the style and tactics adopted, with each squad having their own pros and cons.
You’ll have to adapt your play to counter each team you play against, as a blanket approach won’t work. Some teams will employ a high defensive line which is easier to exploit with through balls, while deeper set defences will try to crowd a player with the ball, stifling them and making it really tough to get into the box and score.
The latest ball physics generally feel nice and weighty, with power required to really get the ball moving, but there are times when it can feel a bit floaty. This is especially true when crossing the ball, helping to make crossing into the box and heading an easy tactic to fall back on. It feels like headers are too easy to score with in PES 17, as all keepers seem to have trouble reading and reacting to them properly.
Scoring is quite easy to achieve on Regular difficulty, so if you have any real experience with football titles, Professional difficulty should be the setting you choose for a fair challenge. No two goals are quite the same in PES 17, where you can get an excellent strike from 25 yards or a scrappy tap in after the ball bounces off a player on the ground who tripped over the goalkeeper. When defending against an attack, you can take more risks as the referees seem to be quite lenient over what’s a foul and what isn’t. I’ve only witnessed yellow cards being issued, despite seeing and doing some tackles that would get a player sent off in reality.
All the various modes in PES 17 will be familiar to those who have played the series before. There’s the tournaments of the UEFA Champions League, AFC Champions League, and the Europa League. There’s also the standard season mode in Master League and the Become A Legend mode in which you try to rise through the ranks as a player. Personally, my preference was for the Become A Legend mode when it comes to the single player modes.
Master League allows you to create your manager and then pick a club, tasked with making the club successful through playing in a league and trying to acquire players. The stakes feel a little higher in Become A Legend, because as a young player you are competing for a place in the team and you need to earn the manager’s trust. Play well and you’ll feature in more matches, but don’t put in the effort and your career and development could stagnate. In this mode you can choose a player or create your own and decide which league to play in. From here you are signed to a team where, to really make an impression, you’ll need to learn to dominate your position and contribute to the overall team effort.
There are the returning online modes too, with MyClub being PES’ answer to FIFA’s Ultimate Team. MyClub is similar in that you’ll need to put together a team and rise through the divisions to get rewards. There are fundamental differences though, especially when it comes to signing players. You can’t just simply go to auction and search for the player you want and bid on them, you have to bid on scouts and use them to find players for you instead. The players they find depends on their star rating and their speciality. You may have a scout that is focused on particular position or league and can use up to three at once to narrow down the list of players, and then try to sign their recommendations.
The other approach to finding players is essentially a lottery. Using GP or MyClub Coins you can select a Top Agent who is tied to specific positions, and let the wheel spin. You have no control over which player you’ll get and they may not necessarily fill the role you’re looking for. I’ve needed a new right back for a while now, but so far I’ve only got centre backs and left backs through the Top Agent lottery. While MyClub is a valiant effort, it isn’t in the same league as FIFA’s Ultimate Team, especially because of how signing players is done.
Online the connections with other players are generally decent, but there have been matches where the lag has been really bad, making the game look like a bunch of freeze frames. Thankfully I’ve not come across any quitters, and this may be down to matching with players of similar courtesy ratings. Local multiplayer is incredibly fun though, because matches can be so unpredictable.
The game looks great on PlayStation 4. The more well known and popular players look exactly like their real life counterparts, where Konami have managed to obtain licenses, such as with the extensive partnership with Barcelona FC. The pitches are well detailed with some excellent lighting making them pretty bright. Commentary does still need some work when compared to match other sports games, but there is a lot of passion when the moment calls for it.
PES 17 is another example of Konami’s football series regaining some of the charm and style that made the series so great in the past. The game controls well, it looks good and it’s a lot of fun to play. It’s a big step forward on the path to reclaiming its crown, but it isn’t quite FIFA’s empire just yet. With a few improvements to the likes of MyClub and some parts of the game, the series could be there soon.
Version tested: PS4