Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series has stiff competition each year, going up against Electronic Arts’ FIFA franchise as well as having to attempt to top and better itself compared to previous iterations of PES. The sports simulation genre is a challenging one, as it needs to find new ways to entice players to pay for another new game instead of just playing old versions over and over again. Full disclosure: this was the first time I’d ever played a PES game. I’ve played the competition’s game, FIFA, for years, and had become accustomed to their design, gameplay, and graphics. I came into PES 2018 ready to be won over and converted into a PES fan. Unfortunately, I came away disappointed.
It’s not generally a fair criticism to decry a game for what it doesn’t have, instead of rating it based on what it does have. PES 2018 feels like it doesn’t offer the same breadth of gameplay options as its competition, and featuring far fewer teams and leagues further compounds the problem. As a North American player who lives in a city that boasts an MLS team, I was dismayed to discover that MLS isn’t represented at all in PES as a series. The different game modes felt uninspired, partially because of how well FIFA brought into play a real story mode with last year’s release. The career mode isn’t fleshed out either, and feels very pedestrian. Additional depth and training modes would have been greatly appreciated.
The graphics in this new release in the PES franchise felt a little sparse, with limited depth to them even when playing on the PlayStation 4. The camera angles were fairly static as well. Every time a goal was scored, the animation had to be skipped manually, instead of just pushing one button and skipping it easily. It made gameplay feel more laboured and time-consuming. The responsiveness of the controls felt like they weren’t that well fine-tuned, and at times felt a little sloppy and lacking precision. The options for different weather effects were quite limited and not well represented graphically. The stadiums that were included were a decent mix, and while there was good variety, I wish the weather effects and the time of day graphic effects in PES 2018 had been more noticeable, which would have added a further dimension to the game. When playing soccer simulation games in the past, I loved tweaking the environmental settings and getting a unique playing experience as a result. The weather effects here didn’t feel like they actually had an impact on gameplay, and the graphics bringing them to life didn’t feel like they were used convincingly either. It’s not a big thing, but can definitely be an atmospheric addition to the game if done well. As it stands, the graphics didn’t do a satisfactory job getting across that the grass was slick, and the gameplay didn’t seem to replicate the additional difficulty of dribbling the ball on slippery wet grass either.
Playing the game in career mode was frustrating, as the camera angle was challenging to get used to, as were the mechanics involved in being able to be successful in the game. It’s always tricky for sports games to handle first-person action with a locked player, especially in games like soccer, basketball, and hockey, as they have to balance the action between realism and actually being able to get the ball/puck so that the player isn’t just running along constantly without truly being part of the action. At times that’s what PES 2018 felt like; that the AI would actively ignore the player and run right on by them.
It felt like not much time was spent on making the menu and interfaces intuitive and easy to navigate. Even just determining the button schemes for gameplay was a chore to locate and not nearly as simple as one would expect. Not everyone has been playing this franchise for years and knows the controls like the back of their hand.
As a long-time fan of the rival franchise FIFA, I was excited to finally try a PES game and was ready and willing to be won over. Unfortunately, the lack of depth found in additional teams and leagues, the unimpressive graphics, and the imprecise controls in PES 2018 failed to win me over. The smaller touches and details were also disappointingly lacking.