Last year’s top soccer game returns as Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 hits current and last gen consoles as well as PCs – who are getting the next-gen version for the first time. We played the game on PS4 – here’s the review.
Besides the annual release cycle that brings us a new Pro Evolution Soccer in September and a new FIFA in October, there is another familiar cycle. Every few years, one of the two pushes forward with a major new innovation (often a new engine), after which it takes a year for the game to refine itself and realize its potential. It happened with PES’ new engine two years ago, with last year’s excellent PES 2017 as a shining result. FIFA introduced a brand new engine last year, so we’ll see how FIFA 18 turns out when that arrives next month. This year, however, neither series is pushing major new innovations – making it a year for optimizations instead. Since there wasn’t much with PES 2017, does that mean we’re looking at a glorified roster update?
If we were, it’d be a problem for PES, since its roster is traditionally what keeps it from overtaking FIFA in the sales charts. With fewer licenses in place, PES can’t use as many of the real team and player names as FIFA. While I’m fine with that in terms of team selection since I don’t have a favorite team I tend to go with and I don’t recognize a ton of players in close-ups anyway, it does take away from the in-game experience when the commentary gets stripped to something generic without player names. If you’re a fan of one of the licensed teams though, you’re in for a treat – player likenesses are excellent when playing with the likes Barcelona or Borussia Dortmund.
Luckily, the game does feature a handful of changes and optimizations as well. The most significant among these has to do with game pace and an emphasis on dribbling skills. PES 2018 plays a tad slower than last year’s edition, which gives players more precise control over their dribbling movements – although practice definitely makes perfect, as an online match against a skilled opponent can painfully demonstrate. An important part of dribbling in PES 2018 also has to do with its physics engine, which accounts for a player’s stance and position while dribbling. That might sound vague, but when playing you can see how a player’s center of gravity shifts as he turns and goes past a defender, which affects his speed and ability to accelerate. This differs from player to player, with dribbling maestros like Messi and Ronaldo appearing seemingly unaffected by all this.
Another change has been to the goalkeeper AI, which appears to be more forgiving this year and sometimes too much so – almost to the point of being unrealistically bad at times. In a game that prides itself on realism, the goalkeepers stand out as something that needs fixing in an upcoming patch.
Besides a few visual enhancements that you don’t really see unless you spend some time studying the slow motion replays, most of the other changes in the game are part of the menus and game options – with the ability to play online co-op and an enhanced transfer system, just to name two. Most players will likely stick to what they know though, whether it’s playing online, playing a season or league, or picking it up for the odd friendly game every now and then.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 has a few subtle improvements over the 2017 edition, though the step forward is smaller than it was last year. It’s a release that would benefit from a patch for the goalkeeper AI in the next few weeks, but also a game that fans of the series will be excited to pick up – why completely change what was so good to begin with?