50 Best Games of 2016: #37 – Pro Evolution Soccer 2017
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Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 is a game of quiet revolution. It might not be a drastic change from last year’s edition, but when that game was only a few tweaks away from real simulated football greatness, you don’t need to start afresh. All of PES 2017’s small changes allow it be a superior product, even more so than its closest rival.
Whereas FIFA 17 preferred new modes over gameplay, PES decided to steady the ship of its core and make necessary changes. Gameplay is possibly the smoothest footballing experience available on this generation with each pass and shot feeling so true. Stitching together passes and turning on the Barcelona effect never felt better, although it is more than a simple case of pass, pass, goal. You need to know how the sport itself is played, whether that be masterminding the line-up or understanding when to switch it up on the fly.
One of the best things that PES has had going for it in recent years is the individuality of its players. Where its closest rival goes for a blanket approach, making the only distinction between most footballers their respective agility and skill moves, PES is more about the right man for the right role. Need some strength and drive in the middle of the park? Paul Pogba is your guy. Want to trade the tank for the enforcer? Arturo Vidal feels like Arturo Vidal. Despite its lack of licensing, PES isn’t a slouch when it comes to authenticity.
The AI in sports games isn’t always ideal: players going missing out of positions or just not doing anything at all is far too common. PES 2017 still isn’t perfect, though it gets close. Playing against the CPU isn’t all about sending wingers off on runs and looking for the Stoke City classic – considerable thought has to go into how you’re going to break down the defense. As tempting as it is to play tiki-taka, they won’t allow you to for too long. You always have to strategise as you move forward and even more so at the back, which means that matches feel like a series of individual battles and skirmishes. It’s enthralling.
Despite their rough edges, PES 2017’s modes still have plenty of incentives to make you waste a few/several dozen hours of your life away. Master League has been a mainstay of the series and is just as strong as ever, MyClub is a solid Ultimate Team alternative and the online play (despite some potential connection issues) always has plenty to offer. It might not have The Journey, but it certainly doesn’t need it.
It’s a shame then that PES hasn’t been able to match the traditionally rampant success of FIFA 17 in terms of sales. With the same kind of aggressive marketing campaign that EA Sports seem to preside over for months on end, it could be a genuine contender for the commercial crown. PES might have to settle for being the critical darling for now, though. If you’re wondering why so many critics have hailed it as one of the greatest football games ever made, you need only pick up a copy and find yourself absorbed in its remarkable representation of digital football.