Since the ‘experimental’ PES 2014 arrived, sporting a new engine and more than a few teething problems, the series has risen from being an also-ran in the yearly title race with its EA counterpart, to being the champion-elect. In fact, last year’s PES 2016 could really have kicked the twenty-year-long franchise into the stratosphere, but the immaculate outfield play was hampered by zen refereeing, greasy-palmed keepers and most regrettably of all, a disastrous fiasco regarding the roster update that cost the game a lot of the goodwill the fans and critics had built up for it. PES 2017 rectifies those shortcomings and somehow manages to make the already sublime stuff even better.
Kicking Off Again
PES Team have listened to the feedback of the past year as best they can, to the point that even some of the more ludicrous and difficult demands made of them have been pandered to, all without sacrificing the core game’s stellar play. Rippling nets, a stronger edit mode, realistic crowd numbers, referees who don’t think they’re officiating a rugby match, PES 2017 offers up these improvements and more.
From first kick off, the graphical improvements and overall presentation are clearly apparent. The stadiums under the lights on a clear summer’s night looks beautiful, making great use of the FOX Engine’s impressive lighting, though daytime lighting still has the edge in terms of accuracy. Still, the atmosphere of an evening kick off has more-or-less been nailed down, the greatest showcase of that is for the Champions League matches, which feel more alive with atmosphere. Player models are a step up also, the beauty of Olivier Giroud’s suave hairdo and neatly-trimmed beard are almost fully-realised, while the sheer gruff magnificence of Joe Ledley’s beard is stupendously recreated. You can almost see the food crumbs and nesting Jays stuck in it.
There’s also now more players being visibly distinct just by watching the way they move from a distance. I could spot Theo Walcott’s signature half-hearted dash for a stray pass with just a glance at the screen. There’s an aroma of hot, buttery-smoothness to the overall play that wasn’t entirely there last year, and PES 2017 in undeniably a better-looking game by far. Amusingly, there is the odd animation glitch that saw players fall in some eye-wateringly painful positions that no man, nor woman, should be able to bend. In a way, I still enjoy the weird, excruciating contortions, but they are thankfully a rarer, less obvious, beast than last year.
I didn’t know if I should bother talking about the commentary at this point. I can’t tell if it’s any better than last year, or that I’ve just grown numb to its repetitive dullness. At the same time, it’s almost part of what made PES stand out, so I can’t say if I’d want it changed at this point. Either way, it is not very good at all.
The presentation has received a much-needed facelift as well. Menus are still a bit plain in some places, but there’s a more rounded, design to them that finally does away with the underwhelming static grey boxes (in certain places anyway). During matches the small touches all add up nicely. The slight zoom out of the camera upon kick-off, the revised replay system that takes on a more televisual style, the snazzy triangle-patterned transition ident and plenty more help give PES 2017’s front end more of a personality.
PES 2017 review continued over the page.
Pass N’ Move
It was also quickly apparent that the already-solid passing of 2016 has been tweaked further to produce an even more responsive upgrade this time round. It keeps the pace of the matches a bit quicker, even while the game plays a tad slower as a whole. As a result, it’s a bit more engaging for the player as every pass flows beautifully. Soon after that you see the next big change. The physicality.
I chased down a loose ball near the opposition penalty area and clattered into the defender, hoping to barge my way to goal like I have so many times before in PES 2016, and the referee blew for a foul against Giroud. I’d barely clipped the defender, but it was enough to be considered a foul. Throughout the day, fouls seem far more consistent than the previous two editions, the little nips and barges registered as fouls more often, but the referee tended to go easy on the cards in these situations, only saving them for persistent offenders and the more sloppy/cynical hacking. This is a blessed relief, having this consistency creates far less frustration than the warped systems of 2015’s Red Card Bonanza and 2016’s blurry-eyed officiating. Of course there are still questionable decisions now and again, but it’s rarely as comically wrong as it could be in recent years.
So, with the refereeing becoming so giving again, it was also just as pleasant to note that goalkeepers are feeling a lot less generous. Last year’s biggest bugbear for many was the ‘keeper’s lack of fortitude, with many of them going all Hollywood when it wasn’t required, then bottling the easier chances like Spurs bottle finishing above Arsenal (or like Arsenal bottle Champion’s League knockout stages, for neutrality). The balance is redressed here, with ‘keepers making a lot more of the simple, sensible saves and still maintaining the wonder saves and quirks that the big name keepers have. In a match against another human player, I was spared capitulation early on thanks to the consistently strong saves by the helmeted part-time drummer himself, Petr Cech. I went on to comfortably win that game, but if that’d been last year, I would have been trying to claw myself back into the game after mere minutes. My only concern is that on occasion it goes a little too far the other way from PES 2016, with some rather unlikely super saves occurring just when you were dead on to score, but it didn’t occur enough to consistently stop me scoring goals.
Was this the end of the positive changes? Does Cristiano Ronaldo have a hall of mirrors that he likes to strut down, flexing his lean, muscular physique to his adoring legion of reflections? Well, I can only tell you about PES 2017 for sure (the Ronaldo stuff is pretty much a given though, right?), and the answer is no, there’s more!
Take the A.I. for instance. It’s far more adaptive to your play than before, not taking several games to figure you out, but actually changing tactics on the fly in game to counter your strengths. When I’d heard this initially I was sure it’d just be a bunch of well-meaning buzzwords, but I saw it at work with my own eyes. I had been ripping apart the backline with some trickery-laced runs by Alexis Sanchez, getting into scoring positions over and over with the help of the diminutive Chilean, but at the start of the second half, the defenders gave Alexis short shrift, getting closer to him, pressuring him into rushing his passes. It genuinely threw me off for a bit, but the beauty of their counter was I could adapt myself. I switched Alexis to the right, and plopped Welbeck up front in place of Giroud. A front three of Walcott, Welbeck and Alexis was too much speed for the newly-organised defence to handle, the pressure told and they conceded a free kick on the edge of the box, which Ozil stroked into the far corner with a majestic grace to make it 2-0 and put the game to bed. An altogether satisfying result, and a nice way of getting me to pay proper, full attention to the flow of the game. There were many instances like this against the A.I. that greatly pleased me. That gets boosted further by the new quick tactics. These give you custom tactical changes to employ whenever a game shifts enough to warrant it. All at once, PES is both simple to play and more hands-on than ever.
Master League, a mode so bloody good that I’ve been playing it in some form for well over a decade now, has been revitalised as well. Transfers are now a bit closer to how they should be, with separate budgets for wages, and a touch of deadline day madness giving you ample room to get those last minute deals done. Viewing stats, honours and the like hasn’t quite been made simpler, but there’s definitely more detail to get stuck into this time around, which is a fair trade-off.
Most importantly, Master League is still as compelling a single player mode you’ll ever find in a football game.Something I’ve always felt was lacking in its rival. It’s such a simple premise, but one that works incredibly well because of how excellent the game’s core is.
The other modes are pretty much business as usual. Become a Legend remains an interesting enough mode, tasking you with the control of a single budding footballer and his journey from the reserves to International glory, but it remains an acquired taste. Then there’s the slew of cups, leagues, training and exhibition modes with the fantastic presentation of the Europa League, Copa Libertadores and the UEFA and AFC Champions Leagues being particularly enjoyable and immersive standalone challenges.
Then there’s the online/local multiplayer side, of which I’ve only sampled the odd morsel so far. Nothing quite tops a 1v1 PES experience, always the crown jewel of PES’ game. Playing a couple of dozen games against other people solidifies that claim further. Outside the gameplay, online remains a relative unknown in terms of quality, as it is early doors, but that’s something I’ll be coming back to in the next few weeks. If it just keeps close to what worked last year, then it will be just fine (barring any fresh update horror stories, which should be far less likely).
A Good Thrashing
There could have been just a few tweaks here and there this year and I’d be fairly happy with that, but PES Team has clearly listened to the community’s concerns and shaped PES 2017 accordingly, delivering better. There’s no doubt this is the most satisfying and crisp PES for years, a testament to the build in quality year-on-year since the move to the FOX Engine. This year, there is little doubt who the King of the Mountain is for sports titles.