Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is the latest annual football title from Konami, and it seems that they've stuck close to their core mechanics whilst trying to improve mechanics on and off the pitch. The annual title has certainly been on the rise since the 2014 release of Pro Evolution Soccer. Constant refinements and tuning have left PES 2018 in a very solid spot. It certainly feels better than its predecessor and plays the part too. Generally speaking, the core of how PES is played, has changed, but for the better.
This year's title certainly plays a lot slower and has a better conveyance of a player's physicality and movement. The decrease in pace offers a much better playing experience in my opinion – you’re able to plan plays more carefully, see threats coming whilst defending and attacking, and it places a heavier focus on intelligent football. Not just passing the ball to the fastest player and sprinting around the defence. With these changes, the speed, physicality and control of each player play a much bigger role in your team's success. There is a larger presence of tactical football in PES 2018 than in any other football simulator currently.
For example, if you allow Paul Pogba too much room in your midfield, he’ll slip passes straight past your finest defenders, and without planning your passes and runs, a good defender like Vincent Kompany will be quick to intercept all attempts. The days of facing a team that's loaded with the fastest players around and not being able to stop them from stampeding through your defence are over, as now you'll be able to construct a physically strong defence line to power those attackers off the ball and exploit that team's weakness.
These changes can be a little difficult to adjust to for newer players, as poor positioning on defence will be punished – I often found myself getting caught on the break because of my lack of focus to what the opposition's attackers were doing. The shift in gameplay might not seem like much, but it definitely is something that takes some getting used to and once you do master it, you’ll be sure to bask in your newly found gameplay glory. Once you’re done adjusting to the new gameplay style, you’ll begin to notice all the smaller details which Konami has done a fantastic job at improving. Player animations seem smoother than before and the visual changes to the goalkeepers are nothing to overlook.
The way the goalkeepers move, dive and scramble look more realistic than ever and you can almost feel the energy that's given off with their erratic movement. This along with the outfielder's animation improvements just add further to the depth of the game. Many players have very accurate facial models and physique – this was one of the graphical improvements made – but because of this, other aspects seem to have been downgraded slightly. The stadiums along the with grass look slightly less appealing than in PES 2017.
On the topic of visuals, there are additional HUD’s that appear during the game now that show game stats, such as dribbling distance for your attackers or attempts on goal, the overall appearance of the HUD has received a nice new coat of paint, but unfortunately remains the same plain box that appeared in previous PES titles.
All visual and audio things aside, PES wouldn't be PES without the inclusion of their very own game modes. Master League makes a return and this time sees the introduction of a challenge mode – where you’re expected to meet targets, have players being super demanding and all the usual. You have meters for the player and chairman trust that affect how they perform and support you respectively. It’s not all that in-depth, but it is nice to see an attempt to flesh out the mode more. Of course the other modes such as: Become a Legend, Cups and Leagues return, but we see no refinements to these, unfortunately. These modes still feel like the most boring part of the game.
The long-awaited return of the random selection mode is a huge highlight. This mode seems to have been a fan favourite, and it feels all the fresher for its years of absence. Each team gets to choose a base kit, then has four separate boxes to pop parameters for a randomly assigned team. Each box allows you to pick a specific league, country, or team and creates a huge mess of various players from those selected. The beauty of it is that even if you’re the type of person who thinks picking a side consisting of only the top clubs or regions in the world, you have no guarantee that you'll receive top players for each position. This mode seems very balanced as it tries to even out the odds and never fully advantages one side unless, of course, you pick regions or teams that are in the lowest divisions or widely unknown.
The online aspect of PES 2018 seems a lot more refined and to some extent fixed. The connectivity was more solid and I barely ever found myself having latency issues or disconnects – besides the odd occasion. The 3V3 online mode felt very exciting and refreshing to play. It was heavily focused on teamwork and you can see Konami was leaning towards that with the introduction of clans. This appears to be a surefire way to keep people playing together regularly. Of course, matchmaking for this mode can be faulty at times and match you with people who are way out of your skill bracket or match you with those who are plain toxic to play with.
Other features of the online modes feel great too. The inclusion of the eSports competitive PES league and the refinement of ‘MyClub’, which is the FIFA equivalent of Ultimate team, provide many different things to keep you playing the game. MyClub plays relatively the same an Ultimate Team besides the decreased pace at which you acquire top-tier players. This change basically only affects how long you’re playing with lower tier players in your team.
Overall PES 2018 didn't see the largest amounts of changes but rather multiple small refinements that allow the game to be enjoyed more. Whilst it did lose a few quality of life changes, it gained much more than it lost. The improvement to the online mode, be that the connection improvements or even the 3V3 give us much more to do once we've experienced all the game has to offer. Konami certainly did well on PES 2018 and while I can't praise them fully as there are still many things to address, I have no doubt that PES 2018 is a stepping stone for the series to become the best Football simulator available.
Available On: Xbox One, PS4, PC | Played