Every September a familiar rivalry emerges, one in which both participants look to be crowned champions of the football game genre. Once upon a time it was PES that ruled as the king of football games dominating the PS2 era, but the series’ crown slipped and for a long time Konami has been trying to play catch up. There have been missteps along the way, but PES 18 is a very credible contender for this year’s crown.
The first mode I usually hit when firing up PES for the first time is the UEFA Champions League mode, which is one of the series’ crown jewels. They key is picking the right difficulty for your, as Regular matches pit you against opposition AI that you can dismantle with ease, while Professional difficulty can go right down to the wire for me. Similarly Liverpool are one of the go to teams in UEFA Champions League mode and Master League, as they can easily push over smaller teams with their attacking force, but face a stern challenge from bigger clubs.
One of the best things about PES 18 is player movement and how those off the ball react to the various situations that unfold. When attacking, you might notice teammates running into spaces where the defence isn’t as strong, while defenders will try to cover gaps that open up in a defence when someone decides to go in for the tackle. To pick an example from Liverpool once again, the best relationship on the pitch seemed to be between Clyne and Mane on the wing. If Mane got trapped, Clyne would run up allowing for a pass to be played to him, at which point Mane would run into open space and either be able to take a shot or play another pass into the box. That is if he wasn’t tackled again.
The opposing defence on Professional difficulty can be a tough nut to crack, with a few matches becoming midfield battles instead of end to end affairs as you and the other team try to find a breakthrough. Much of the defending in PES 18 relies on jostling for the ball instead of throwing in sliding tackles, though there are times when they are called for. It’s part of the new Real Touch + system, which adds chest stomach and thighs to how the players will try to control the ball, as well as fighting to keep their body between other players and the ball. That said, the AI had a few moments where it reacted poorly, such as not contesting a loose ball in one instance. While players will generally react as you would expect, there were a few of these moments.
What is noticeable through matches was how lenient referees were, with very few free kicks being awarded. Instead the referees were content to let play go on, coming back to card players during breaks in play instead. It’s something that football games have done more over recent years, and it allows PES 18 to flow at a very good pace without stop and start affairs. When fouls were given you could see why the call was made.
While UEFA Champions League gives a basic snapshot of team preparation and management, its Master League and Become A Legend where a lot of PES 18’s single player longevity will lie. In Master League you are a manager who has to guide your team to glory, working on transfer deals and winning matches to reach those goals. You can choose which team to start with, but your whole career may not be at one club, depending on successes and failures. As you run through the new pre-season tournaments, you’ll have a small window to work on transfers though you can scout for players throughout the season, and each recommendation comes with a rating of your chances of signing. Some clubs won’t want to let go of players and will ask for sums way above a player’s value. During this period it’s also a good idea to go through your squad and send players not being used out on loan so that they can improve over time.
The mode that enthralled me most though was Become A Legend. Here you can either choose to create a player or pick an existing one. Personally I opted to create a player and play in the English League, joining West Yorkshire Town (AKA Huddersfield), with my position being an attacking midfielder. Become A Legend has you only control your player on the pitch, meaning you need to read what other teammates will do.
You’ll sort out all aspects of your player from their attributes to potential transfers, even being able to submit a transfer request. Perform well enough and you’ll be called up to the national squad, but don’t expect that early in your career. Ten matches in I had racked up ten goals and four assists, but wasn’t picked for the England team. Instead my player got injured and was out for two months which saw the team go on a six match losing streak. Just my first season and my player was already pivotal to the squad.
When it comes to the online side of the game, its most likely the MyClub mode that will take up much of your time. Here you are tasked with putting together a squad to win divisions and tournaments. While it’s similar to FIFA’s Ultimate Team, it differs in that there is a little bit of luck involved when getting players. As in previous games, you don’t scout for players, but rather acquire scouts through rewards or bidding on them in the auction house. Each scout has their own rating as well as specialisation, such as being familiar with a particular club or able to focus on a set player skill. Once you acquire these scouts you can look for players that match the scouts ability.
You can combine scouts together with their average rating determining the quality of players they’ll find. If the the shortlist drops to one player you’ll get that player. If there are a few then its the luck of the draw. You are taken to a screen where footballs rotate until you press a button, at which point the balls will slow until one is picked. From here the player you have got is revealed.
At certain points you can also use top or specialist scouts, provided you have acquired them or have enough funds, with these more likely to acquire better quality players. Again this is a complete system based on random chance so you could come away with someone like Martial, as I did, or a low rated player. To build a decent squad then will take time in MyClub.
Matchmaking is alright in PES 18, taking a little time to find opponents based on your parameters, but there has been some lag in my matches. Hopefully that’s just launch period jitters and can be addressed further down the line, but net code in football games always draws complaints. You can choose to take your MyClub online to win divisions or choose an already established club to compete with others, or to team up with others cocooperatively
PES 2018 is a great football game that delivers a fun experience across its various modes. The actual in match gameplay can be sublime and its hardly ever boring thanks to the lack of stoppages. Konami has created a real contender for this year’s footballing crown, but issues like the simple nature of the commentary, and AI being a little silly at times hold it back from being proclaimed champion just yet. However, if you love your football then PES 18 is well worth picking up.
Version tested: PS4