PES 2017 Review: Konami Turns Up The Heat On FIFA and EA Sports

The debate about the merits of Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) or FIFA was once an annual affair.  It was akin to a scene out of the movie Highlander: “There can only be one”.  Over the last decade however, FIFA began to strengthen its grip quite firmly as the premier football simulation, while PES lost their goodwill earlier with a number of unmemorable releases during the PS3 years.  FIFA was more accessible, less buggy and played better.  PES 2016 seemed as if it came out of nowhere to level the playing field.  Akin to Leicester City last year, it blew its critics away and set new standards that were unparalleled to anything that came before.  Unlike Leicester City, PES 2017 continues its winning form and may very well lead the pack this year too.


For players of last season’s offering, gameplay in PES 2017 has successfully continued in the same vein, with discernible improvements from the get-go.  Passing retains its snappy feel, allowing the ball to zip around the pitch with real purpose.  One of the biggest highlights of PES 2016 was being able to score fantastic goals out of the top drawer.  Whether this was a 25-yard volley that lands sweetly into the corner, a barnstorming long range effort where the keeper is left rooted on the spot, or a jinking run when you skip past two or three players before slotting it calmly past the goalkeeper.  PES 2016 made scoring goals a rewarding endeavour, and this sense of exhilaration continues in PES 2017.  Some of these moments were so good that you want to jump up and celebrate.


However, PES 2016 also contained weaknesses that gave FIFA 16 a real shot at the title.  PES 2016 was notable for the erratic goal keeping, with shots being fumbled regularly, and a general sluggishness towards cutting out danger in the box.  Team AI would often get in the way of blocked shots, and this extended to co-op mode too, which was often frustrating when a goal seemed more likely.  In terms of its game modes, Master League (the equivalent of FIFA career mode) looked relatively unimaginative, especially when compared to FIFA’s quest for authenticity with transfer deadline day and pre-season preparations.  PES also carried over a number of legacy issues, such as the repetitive soundtrack and the old school menus (and general presentation aesthetics), which seem to come out from a time vacuum – an alternate reality where the retro look is still in vogue and nothing has changed since the PS2 days.  This is before we get to the seasonal lack of licenses and the insipid commentary, which has given FIFA a competitive edge that reviews end up harking back to every year.

Perhaps a bigger, but less obvious reason, is that PES games also carry a steep learning curve for uninitiated gamers.  Players on the field control very differently to FIFA.  This was a problem for Konami over the last decade, when FIFA remained widely played, and there was no real need to look at alternative football simulations.


For those who have played PES before, Konami has managed to bring its A-game again this year.  Player controls are intuitive, and this is an opportunity to again bang on about how great the passing is – probing and purposeful.  The player traits and characteristics which Konami sells its game on are highly evident.  There is nothing quite like scoring a worldie with Dmitri Payet, who is just as good in open play as he is with free kicks, because of the unbridled pleasure that it brings.  The goalkeeping department has seen some much vaunted additions.  Thankfully, these improvements to the goalkeeping department do live up to the hype.  Goalkeepers are now able to beat away shots in a more realistic manner, and are less likely to commit silly errors that result directly in goals.  That new sense of trust in the last line of defence reduces some of the frustrations of yesteryear, where it was possible to haemorrhage truly stupid goals which made no sense in real life.


Konami has also refined its usual game modes, such as Master League or MyCareer.  New features, such as an improved transfer system and better team management mechanics, contribute to a deeper game.  A new edit mode allows option files to be quickly patched in with only a few buttons.  This solves some of the authenticity issues that plague the game.  [Editor’s Note: Konami’s new data sharing system has been a godsend – importing option files are no longer an experiment in rocket science.  No longer do I have to play as “Man Red”, and I can see Ibra and Pogba in their full glory, as I would in FIFA.]


However, the part where Konami has really got it right is to focus on the core gameplay mechanics.  Modes like Master League and MyCareer are playable over virtual seasons, because each match has its own feel to it that you cannot help but to come back for more.  The introduction of Adaptive AI has made it more challenging for players, who cannot use the same methods to stick the ball in the net on a repeated basis.  There is the pure unpredictability in terms of results – whether this is winning games in the last minute, or losing them.  PES 2017 is fun, addictive, and definitely something worth sinking your teeth into.  There are moments of sheer genius, where taking a varied approach to attacking play is highly rewarding, because there are so many different types of goals to be scored.


PES 2017 has corrected some of its faults as much as it has not really solved others.  The new first touch takes a bit of getting used to.  Retaining possession can be tough on the higher difficulty levels, because of how unpredictable the first touch is, even with some of the finest players in the game.  Coupled with the fact that defenders can shrug off most attackers relatively easily, the quick lofted through ball remains an overpowered solution to break past 1-on-1 situations.  The enchanting spell of realism is also broken by a number of moments, such as when the AI is able to hit ridiculously powerful shots that appear more in tune with the world of Shaolin Soccer, than a real game of football.  The legacy issues with the general presentation, as well as the lack of licenses (however patch-able), means that PES always looks old school and outdated.  This does not compare well to the snazzy feel of FIFA.


Having played FIFA 16 and 17, it is clear that PES is a different beast altogether.  There is no doubt that EA has also stepped up their gameplay this year, because FIFA 17 also offers real improvements.  The introduction of the Frostbite engine has improved core gameplay mechanics, resulting in better dribbling, varied animations and a realistic collision system.  It simply looks, plays and feels better.  However, the direction of EA’s offering has been different to PES, and this arguably brings with it some of its bigger bugbears.  Over the last two years, FIFA has focused on the importance of the midfield battle.  Like a war based on attrition, passing in FIFA 16 became stifled in midfield.  While this may be more “realistic” of the elite game in real life, it became impossible to bypass midfield with anything other than a slow waltz.  The very fact that FIFA introduced the ability to drill passes seems to indicate that there was a need to speed the game up.  While FIFA 17 has remedied this to an extent, the issue remains a prescient one.  The ball can become congested in tight spaces in the middle of the park, where possession switches hands quickly with no clear way out – one tackle is followed by another, and so on and so forth.

FIFA’s yearly refinements also resulted in a number of imbalanced gameplay innovations, which led to situations that players would then use to exploit repeatedly.  This was evident by how overpowered pace was in FIFA 15.  FIFA 16 then tried to compensate for this by strengthening defenders and allowing midfields to stifle play.  Underpowered teams could nick games by packing the midfield and disrupting any momentum in the other team’s efforts to control and pass the ball.  The problem is when more and more of these additions are stacked on top of each other.  It feels as if gameplay becomes less responsive, and more and more about watching animations that you cannot control.  While FIFA has once again refined its gameplay and presentation visuals in FIFA 17, such as the much hyped introduction of the Journey, it is not necessarily more fun than PES 2017.


The irony of FIFA 17 is that its tagline, “Own Every Moment”, seems to better represent PES.  Scoring goals, bossing other teams and winning games is immensely satisfying.  Every game feels different and the anticipation lies in never knowing what could happen next.  This is not to say that it is not punishing at times, because dominating possession does not mean controlling the game.  Not taking your chances will leave you open to being sucker punched by a quick and clinical counter-attack.  The pace of the game in PES 2017 can border on frenetic at times, which some critics will say is much more “arcadey”.  However, one could also say that this replicates the cut and thrust of those telling moments in big football matches, and brings a sense of exhilaration for the gamer.

TRY PES 2017

PES 2017 is a return to the early glory days of the series on PS2.  Football matches are unpredictable, challenging and rewarding.  Most of all, it is fun, which is a point that realism should never detract from in a virtual football game.  Having played PES 2016 from pillar to post, it could be said that PES 2017 also offers real longevity.  This game could very well keep PES fans going until PES 2018.  This does not change the fact that FIFA 17 remains a strong favourite this year.  FIFA is easier to pick up and play, and its high visual standards will always detract some players from PES.  Furthermore, the steep learning curve on the higher difficulty levels of PES requires an investment on the part of the gamer.  Winning games against the adaptive AI requires a fair bit of practice.  And perhaps a little frustration when you come up against the very best, and the AI is just as capable of conjuring a goal out of nothing.  If you are up for the challenge however, PES is definitely worth a try, and there is quite the chance that you may just be rooting for a different team this time next year.

Images courtesy of Konami

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