For a significant portion of the world’s population football is more than just a sport, it’s a religion. A sport where a stadium is more than just thousands of adoring fans, perfect cut blades of green grass, 22 players, a ball and two goal posts, it’s a modern day coliseum where players frantically do battle. A passionate but daunting environment where one set of supporters may leave ecstatic while the other might just be looking to sneak out the back door as their beloved team succumbs to the others utter dominance.
Whatsmore, rivalries make the beautiful game even more exciting with Milan, Glasgow, Manchester, North London and El Classico derbies providing added incentive for both fans and players as games get underway and 90 minutes ensues. Away from real-life football, we have the video game equivalent of a seasonal rivalry with KONAMI’s Pro Evolution Soccer squaring off against Electronic Arts FIFA franchise. Over the past 16 years, the two giants of video game football have jostled too and fro, trading blows for dominance in a yearly quest to cement each respective addition as the top dog of the sport. This year is certainly no different with PES 2017 looking to strike the first blow and possible knockout punch before the release of FIFA 17.
PES 2017: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment Inc.
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment Inc.
Release Date: 15 September 2016
Price: £49.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Developer/Publisher]
As a teenager growing up I would often switch between the two giants as frequently as my beloved Liverpool forever yo-yo about the Premier league table. While FIFA continues to boast officially licensed players, clubs and stadiums, Pro Evolution Soccer prefers to do its talking out on the pitch, and boy does it do it well. I’ve always loved that about the sporting underdog, it might not have the global recognition of FIFA nor does it sell more copies than its older rival but it always progresses, delivering year in year out. With last year’s addition – PES 2016 offering an experience of flawless Johan Cruyff style football. The underdog is beginning to emerge from beneath the shadow of its rival, bossing almost every department in the process.
Improvements on PES 2016
The first noticeable improvement with PES 2017 is with its AI, which appears more realistic than ever before. Players make mistakes out on the pitch, it happens…just ask Steven Gerrard if you don’t believe me. At the end of the day, we’re all human and that is brilliantly reflected throughout PES 2017, with players making honest to god mistakes or catastrophic and costly errors. The heavens open and torrential rain begins to pelt the playing surface during a match, a player can suddenly miss control the simplest of passes while another slips and falls on the notably wet surface while attempting to recover the ball, allowing the opposition in on goal. Past PES games featured somewhat robotic, all too predictable A.I and so it’s a nice touch to see them behaving like actual human beings. As for the computer controlled opposition, overly play the same pass one too many times and you’ll find yourself being dispossessed with a far smarter, brighter A.I opponent that actually wants to relieve you of the ball, forming an attack of their own after taking the ball from you. Another plus point is the remarkable representation of individual players in PES 2017, with great likeness attributed to each player’s own look and personal skill set, even if the name might not match the player’s shirt.
PES 2017 is all about finesse
Controlling a player has never felt more comfortable or more seamless for that matter, with significant improvements made to the overall control scheme of the game and new skills to play about with and techniques to learn with every touch of the analog stick, everything feels more fluid with far greater movement. Compared to its predecessor, PES 2017 feels a whole level sharper with all round better control while in possession of the ball, more options when receiving a pass whilst recovery time has also been altered to allow for a quicker recuperation after a physical battle with another player. PES 2017 is a coaches dream with players easily instructed to menacingly hunt the ball down similar to that of Jurgen Klopp’s gen-press style football or when breaking forward in hopes of creating a goal scoring opportunity on the counter attack. From the players first pass to an intricately threaded through ball looking to split a defence in half, every touch of the ball counts and that in itself brings players that little bit closer to the real-life action and drama of the world’s best-loved sport.
On a visual scale PES 2017 will never quite reach the graphical heights of FIFA 17 with the later using Battlefield 1‘s powerful Frostbite Engine to develop and create a far more authentic look and feel, although PES 2017 still very much holds its own with a truly beautiful look, fantastic animations and the finest detail placed on every player that game possesses. Despite its lack of licensed teams, players and stadiums KONAMI have partnered up with some of footballs true giants with Barcelona, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal alleviating some of the frustration but not all. On top of the few licensed teams, PES 2017 also has the official Champions League, Europa League and Super Cup competitions to add some real life European thrill to the game.
What of its modes?
PES 2017 lacks the career mode of FIFA 17 but still attracts with its various modes Become A Legend, My Club and the always impressive Master League, which allows players to build their own teams and work their way up through the leagues to the top. Players could spend many seasons constructing the perfect team, forever looking for bright young unknown talent to nurture into world beaters through its scout system. While the main games interface at times feels cluttered and messy Master League has the most informative interface of the series to date, players can view the current league table, send scouts to search the globe for a specific type of player, improve player contracts to tie your best talent to the club for a lengthy period, while a news ticker appears to offer a form of narrative to players. The wonderfully enticing side of Master League gives players the chance to start from the bottom tier of a number of national leagues before building a team of superstars to take on the best the world has to offer and dominate the global rankings.
Master League has all the allure you’ll ever need, allowing players to grow in stature, with their skills improving with every minute spent out on the field. Building up players from promising youth team prospects into established first team regulars is not only impressive to watch but also feels extremely satisfying. As players begin to develop through extra game time the entire team begin to feel the benefits, with team stats rising with large player improvements to ensure your team remains on the up. Setting your team up has never felt more intricate as you toy with different formations and player positions to get the right chemistry and combination to make your team more fluid and attack minded. Master League allows you to play the way you want and tailor your team to follow your own philosophy, it’s a thing to watch as the season’s progress and your team starts to really shine.
Become A Legend runs as close to FIFA 17′s career mode as your likely to get with PES 2017. With no real focus away from the action on the field, Become A Legend’s initial excitement all too quickly fades away with the majority of the attention focused on your ability to get yourself into the first team by impressing as a late substitute, forced to watch every single game unfold before you get your chance.
Become a super sub and you’ll quickly find yourself working your way up through the team with hopes of an international call-up. FIFA 17 offered a similar style mode with previous titles and Pro Evolution‘s version feels all too familiar. MyClub, on the other hand, acts as more of an auction house where instead of purchasing players, gamers bid on scouts. Players are not purchased via the usual method of making a bid but won by the lottery of a spinning roulette wheel. Gold cards contain the opportunity of revealing a world class player for your team with the likes of Pogba, Ronaldo and Coutinho lying in wait for lucky players, while silver cards are more of a mixed bag and with a heavier influx of light coloured cards likely to be what you’ll receive when the wheel finally stops spinning. While there is an offline mode for MyClub it lacks any real appeal or challenge and taking your team online will rely on either your opponent having a weakened team or you striking it rich with the card lottery.
While there is always the option to edit individual teams to match players to their real-life counterparts the license issue remains with the Pro Evolution Soccer franchise. Team names, stadiums and players aside, PES 2017 is a truly fantastic footballing experience even with its lack of enthralling game modes and cluttered user interface. With every flick of the analog stick related to a new skill technique and a more refined way of play thanks to far more intelligent A.I and all round improved, sharper ball control Pro Evolution Soccer has never felt so good. Players will always sit on the fence when it comes to their footballing fix with video games but for me, PES 2017 might just have earned the coveted crown this year.