- Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PS4, PS3, 360, PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Konami
- Players: 1-2 (offline), 2-22 (online)
- Site: https://www.konami.com/wepes/2017/eu/en/
- Game disc provided by PR
Pro Evolution Soccer remains some sort of meta commentary on the commercialisation of football. It’s the official UEFA game (it has the music off the telly and everything) yet, as usual, there is a bizarre mixture of real and very much made-up team names. FC Barcelona are rewarded for being one of the very few high-profile teams to be officially licensed, by being classed as one of the small number of five-star teams. In the Premier League meanwhile (which isn’t called the premier league of course), Arsenal and Liverpool are joined by the likes of “Man Red”, “Man Blue”, and “East Dorsetshire”.
In terms of fan perception therefore, Pro Evo (as usual) has something of an uphill struggle when up against the full licensing and production gloss of FIFA. It doesn’t help that the graphics, while more than good enough to do the job, are nothing very special. The character models are instantly recognisable, if a little odd – Rooney is nearly as ugly as he is in real life – but even in 2016, that remains par for the course for sports games.
We’re still undecided if the aping of FIFA (why do we think ‘ape’ immediately after mentioning Rooney?) works for or against the game in this regard. A small selection of painfully trendy pop songs loop in the background while going through the menus; there’s a build-your-own-team mode, where your initial line up is a bunch of fumblemonkeys until you’ve pumped significant funds (virtual and/or real) into building it up; and there’s a career mode where you make your own player and control him only in a bid for glory.
There are no overblown cutscenes in the career “Become A Legend” mode. No cutscenes at all actually and, in truth, the presentation is very bare bones. You just get a single screen between each match, where you can go through a few stats and menus before moving time on to the next game (we, of course, initially signed to Yorkshire Orange). As for the matches themselves, well… you won’t be picked for the squad for every match, and these games you can skip entirely. If you’re not in the starting lineup – which you won’t be at first – you’ll be on the bench. What this essentially means is that you spectate the first half of the game. While you can’t skip the part you don’t play, you can speed time up to watch the game unfurl in surreal Benny-Hill-style fast forward. When you do finally get on the pitch, you’ll find that teammates and opponents alike will act intelligently in context of the game, neither ignoring you nor paying you special attention. The way it should be. The main problem is that none of the camera views are quite good enough for 100% match awareness.
You probably already know how Ultimate Te- sorry, myClub works. Rather than virtual card packs though, you spend your PES bucks on scouts and agents in what boils down to boosts that increase the likelihood of getting a rare player, and the likelihood of that player agreeing to sign with you. Contracts need renewing, player stats are boosted (marginally) by playing games and (a bit more) by using Trainer boosts, and that’s the fundamentals of what you need to know.
Elsewhere we have the expected single games as well as the (unlicensed) league and cup, and then the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, and AFC Champions League. Brush away all the modes and leagues to uncover the actual gameplay, and you have… a very good football game, actually. It’s remarkable just how much like real footballers the AI tends to act, and we’re not talking about incidental animations such as goal celebrations and booking protestations. Defenders display a superb balance between aggression and caution; strikers will try to avoid a solid defence rather than plough straight through it; speed is realistic without being plodding; tackle attempts are made only when it makes sense, and are usually successful; goalkeepers’ decision-making tends to be much better than we’ve come to expect; and even the referee will tend to act more like he should. The advantage will be played for fouls where relevant, and no longer will the whistle be blown for half or full time when somebody’s on the brink of a goal-scoring opportunity.
The net result of these AI improvements isn’t just more enjoyable offline games; it’s fairer and more intense online games, too. 10-0 defeats at the hands of cheap players who rely on exploits are (hopefully) a thing of the past. We finally have a football game where tactics, skill, and reflexes are more valuable than anything else. You should find that wins and losses occur by much slimmer margins than you might be used to, which means play remains a rush until the final whistle.
All that said, there are still niggles. Presentation is scattershot, with the game often unable to explain itself in necessary detail for those unfamiliar with the systems. The training exercises for example cover much – but not all – of what the controls have to offer. Also, if having the option of female players is important to you, you’ll have to steer yourself toward FIFA straight away. Finally, and not insignificantly, there’s an issue with passing. Mostly this works great, but – probably once or twice every match – you and the game will disagree on who you were intending to pass to, with the game winning the argument. There’s a manual pass system to theoretically eradicate this problem, but it’s far too fiddly to provide a reliable and consistent alternative.
It ain’t perfect, but overall PES 2017 comfortably emerges as one of the best football games to hit shelves for many years. If the lack of full licensing and female teams doesn’t bother you, this is well worth a purchase for any footie fan.