As barmy and regressive as Konami have become in recent times, at least they’ve kept one thing consistent: Pro Evolution Soccer. The series may never rise to the same level of popularity as FIFA again, but if they keep up the way they’re going with PES 2017, they won’t be far away before long.
Kicking off as Arsenal against Atletico Madrid in the game’s demo, it would be a lie to say a sea of changes had come over the game since last year’s edition. The menus seemed unchanged and there wasn’t much to instantly instill excitement about leaping into the latest piece of pure football simulation. But once I was in a match and kicking the pig’s bladder around, it all came together, piece by piece, until it was obvious that the small changes to the game had made a huge impact on it overall.
PES, once notorious for having distorted, nightmarish versions of real players, has been eager to change that perception in recent times, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that PES 2017 has the best graphics of the series to date, if not of any football game.
The boom of the crowd echoing around Camp Nou is something that makes me wish I could invest in surround sound. Even though I am thousands of miles away, I felt like I was there, if only for a second, like they were my players walking through the tunnel and onto the pitch. The player likenesses are as accurate as they’ve ever been, right down to the finely groomed hairs in Olivier Giroud’s beard. They move like their real-life counterparts, including Paul Pogba’s clumsy, yet graceful tanking around on the field. If any fence-sitters are swayed by the overall presentation of the yearly editions of football games, PES 2017 already has a mile on FIFA 17.
The gameplay changes at first seem so minimal that nothing has really changed. But once you dive into the dramatics of a football match, the game-changing moments and the near misses, it’s a huge difference. Goalkeepers will never be perfect in a football video game (just like real life), but PES 2017 drives them pretty close to being a true reflection of real goalkeepers. Whereas PES 2016 felt like even the most average of players between the sticks could win the Ballon d’Or by themselves, 2017 brings with it a touch of realism. The world class goalkeepers make world class saves but can’t defy space and time like before to make unrealistic saves; a welcome change. they also make smart moves: when a ball is hoofed straight at them, they don’t like to deflect it off their face and back into danger, but prefer to try to turn the ball past the post or away from attackers. The balance is just about right from what I’ve played so far.
One of the other qualms I, and many others, had with PES 2016 was that it felt like you sometimes had to commit genocide to get a yellow card. Verbal warnings for causing career-ending injuries made the game feel more like Twisted Metal at times as the likelihood of proper retribution was slim. Not quite so with PES 2017. The referees won’t hesitate to bring out the yellow cards for even slightly mistimed challenges and are straight on the red cards for the Ben Thatcher moments. I went down to nine men in my second game on PES 2017, so precision is key when it comes to tackling this time around.
There’s also an interesting twist on the fouling system in general. Collisions often result in fouls, as was the case when Lionel Messi headbutted Bastian Schweinsteiger during an aerial duel in one of my matches. This also extends to two players challenging for the same ball and one of them coming off worse, which is a realistic change, but one I can see aggravating some players.
If you’re going to play PES, you have to do so on Super Star difficulty. It’s not unbearably hard, just more of a reflection of what a game of football is really like. Chances are at a premium and making any meaningful involves more than trying for a lobbed through ball. You have to be patient and diligent to find any kind of lanes which your runners can take up and keep the passage of play going or face a constant game of pass the parcel in the middle of the field. You have to think like a footballer.
Or, you know, you could score a screamer out of nowhere with Coquelin.
Criticisms of the demo are only nitpicking at worst. Player animations still repeat themselves, especially obvious when two players do the exact same motion as each other at the same time. It’s also really opaquely presented to series newcomers – there isn’t much in the way of tutorials to help ease ex-FIFA players into the PES experience, which is a missed opportunity.
From my few hours of PES 2017 so far, I can already say that FIFA 17 has a lot to live up to. After a sluggish, uninspired edition last year, EA look like they’re going all-out this time around, so this is a rivalry that will have two challengers completely up to the task. I can’t wait.
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