Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 Xbox One Review

PES once again excels on the pitch but does a shallow experience throughout the rest of the game take away from the overall experience?

By tomj, Posted 19 Oct 2017

It’s been a month since PES 2018 was released. A month since I first started the game and reverted to my traditional start to any PES game stretching back to Pro Evolution Soccer 2, of playing Chelsea (London FC) vs. Arsenal on Top Player.

A close 1-0 win with a late goal from now-former Chelsea player Nemanja Matic after a nice flick on at the corner was enough to seal the victory. It felt different to PES 2017, it played differently to PES 2017 but at the end of the day it still felt like a Pro Evolution Soccer game. Fantastic touches and a burst of speed by Hazard to ease away from a defender, Diego Costa using all of his strength to shield the ball from Rob Holding before slipping Pedro through and a stunning save from Courtois to keep Lacazette from finding the net in the 6 yard box. The additions to animations this year are definitely noticeable but, at the same time, they fit in with the rest of the action perfect without distracting you from the on-pitch action.

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I was happy, the game was fun and it seemed like a really great step from PES 2017. On the pitch it’s superb, players move with an uncanny realism. Take control of Isco for Real Madrid (MD White) or Spain and watch as you glide past defenders with his low body position or slightly move the ball with a flick of the left stick to break into some space. I’ve never been one to obsess too much with visuals and graphics but it’s tough to review PES 2018 without discussing the crisp and accurate graphical changes.

Player faces have seen a huge improvement, facial hair looks like facial hair rather than a mesh of colour applied to a face and there’s an increase in the number of player expressions. Miss an open goal with Borussia Dortmund’s Aubameyang and his mouth opens in a gasp as he looks visibly shocked. Colours have been improved as well, the pitch and grass has a deeper green to them rather than looking washed out, rain and dirt on player kits feels representative of the action and this all ties into helping the game look detailed and accurate up close in replays. We’ve seen a huge effort from Konami in the last two games to bring another level of detail to player faces and have the most accurate ones in a football game, and it’s certainly evident for the majority of Europe’s top sides (although strangely we haven’t seen more than two player faces for Chelsea since PES 2015). Konami’s first data pack of PES 2018 has already seen at least 100 faces updated and you’d be hard pressed to find a more accurate looking David Silva.

PES 2018 is a visual improvement over PES 2017 and it’s evident from the moment you first kick-off. However, some of the visual issues from PES 2017 and PES 2016 are still there. The lacklustre crowds, the default referee faces that haven’t changed for 3 iterations of PES and the lack of life and atmosphere at particular stadiums. The crowd noises are the same from PES 2015 and there’s a real feeling of a ‘stiff’ reaction to on-pitch action. Grab a last minute equaliser in the Milan derby and the crowd cheers at the same level as they did when the game first kicked off. It feels harsh to critique the crowd and atmosphere without mentioning the fantastic job that Konami did on the Signal Iduna Park and Anfield, both which have brilliant entrance scenes and crowd songs. But the great work here then falls flat and feels the same as any of the other 37 stadiums during gameplay, goal celebrations and post game interaction.

For me, PES has always been about one mode and one mode only. It’s the mode that first made me look online for ‘Master League wonderkids’ and start discussions back in 2004 as to the best tactical approach with the default team that you would always start with. But it would be a disservice to the rest of the game to ignore everything else that has been put into PES 2018.

Exhibition modes have always been the bread and butter of a football game - you can sit down and play a game vs. the AI or play with friends on the sofa and it works well for what it is. However, Konami have really brought a big hitter to the table this year with the return of Random Selection Mode! Pick a league or a selection of club or national teams and the game will generate two completely random squads for you to play with. There’s a brief protect / steal phase where you can try to make sure that you don’t lose Messi from your team but try to steal away De Gea in goal, whilst they’ve got their eyes on protecting Pogba. And once that is out of the way you’re right into the match! It’s a brilliant way of adding some spice to the exhibition mode and a really great addition to an otherwise ‘standard’ friendly mode. Perhaps Konami’s only shortcoming here is that it currently isn’t available as an online mode.

The online beta back in July was a really bold move from Konami and one that showed they had a lot of faith in the product even 3 months before launch. And their faith in this has largely been rewarded. There was always a worry with online modes for PES games and, ever since the rise in popularity of online matches, PES has always played catch up to FIFA. But games do feel smooth, the odd input lag and button delay that plagued PES 2017 appears to have been almost completely rectified. There’s still the occasional bit of lag, the occasional moment where they definitely only scored because of lag but it’s online gaming and it was a huge step forward for PES to even get to the level that they’re at now.

We’re a little spoiled with online variety in PES 2018 as well - divisions, co-op, quick match, PES league, team play lobbies and myClub! Divisions has been a mode that I’ve always enjoyed; picking a team and playing against another user online of a similar skill with a similar level of team. Win a game and you gain points to promote through the divisions - it’s a nice mode for gamers that don’t enjoy the lottery of myClub but still want the challenge of earning their way through the ranks. The one downside to this mode is that there’s a huge reliance on the powerhouse teams - in my last 10 games I’ve only played against a team other than Real Madrid, Barcelona and PSG once. Konami teased us with a ‘rating setting’ on the beta but it doesn’t seem to have all that much of an effect - perhaps a telling sign of the smaller player base on Xbox?

Perhaps that player base has fully committed to myClub, Konami’s answer to Ultimate Team. There is a certain lure to myClub, start with a small team of unknown “white ball / bronze ball” players and build up your squad, earning GP by winning games and tournaments before rolling the dice and managing to pick up Ronaldo or Griezmann for your team. And in contrast to FIFA, Konami are more than happy to help the players attain their top level squads and “black ball” top players. I’d only logged into myClub three times before receiving a ‘daily play bonus’ that allowed me to grab Marco Reus, Javi Martinez and Marco Verratti. It’s a nice change of pace from FIFA where you almost feel obliged spend actual money to earn any semblance of a half decent side. The variety of tournaments available on myClub are nice, playing against the AI is a nice change of pace if you want a break from playing against another person online but it’s not changed at all from the last version of PES 2017.

Tournaments have the same structure, the scouting auction house hasn’t changed in the slightest and the coin and GP rewards are a complete cut and paste from PES 2017, so much so that on release day one of the awards was “Play your first Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 myClub match” before hastily being patched. It’s a fun mode, it’s not quite the powerhouse that Ultimate Team on FIFA is and I’m not sure it’ll ever reach that level, but in an ever changing environment for gaming it does feel like there is a necessity for some form of online ‘career’ mode where you can build your own team and squad. And to Konami’s credit they aren’t hiding all of the best players and managers behind a paywall - you can build a really strong team just from their in-season rewards and winning tournaments against the AI.

There are plenty of offline tournaments available on PES as well where you can challenge yourself against the AI. The Champions League is back, as is the Europa League. Nothing has really changed here asides from the final of the Champions League being played in the fictitious and disastrous ‘Ultimate Stage’ arena that holds a million people. League & cup modes have also stayed the same (although there is a strong case for the ‘why mess with something that isn’t broken?’) and these modes do feel like an afterthought in the game, but Konami can see playing figures and numbers. They’ll know exactly how many players use these modes and it may just be wasted resources to put any thought into these.

The real test of any PES game, for me, has been its Master League mode. Master League can make or break a PES game in the eyes of its passionate community. Communities like Evo-Web and WENB have boycotted entire games because of a poor Master League (PES 2010, we’re looking at you) and it’s always been the mode that I devote most of my PES time too. And yet I’ve tried 3 or 4 times now to get into Master League and I can’t quite find the same glitz and glamour that existed in previous Master Leagues. Maybe it’s the oddly formatted menus with options down either side that remind me of Nokia’s odd square 7600 phone, maybe it’s the lack of playing diversity on the pitch or maybe it’s that Master League hasn’t really changed at all in the last few years.

There’s a huge discussion to be had on playing diversity and the difference in team styles vs. the AI. I’ve never witnessed a Burnley player back heel the ball in real life and yet they strung together a 30-odd passing move before a back heel finish ended up in my net. Going away to Fulham in the FA Cup, a team that has a rating of 2 ½ stars, with my all-star Man Red team and Fulham managed to have 92% passing accuracy and were stringing first time passes around in the final third like they were Guardiola’s Barcelona. If they aren’t stringing first time passes together with 10 back heels then they’re launching a long ball to the winger. Over and over and over again.

I’ve played around with the edit mode, I’ve adjusted team styles, formation and fluid formation to do everything I can to make each team have a slightly different style and it almost feels fruitless at this stage. Every team feels the same, there’s almost only two different styles; long ball to the winger or tiki-taka. Matches feel end to end, games against other top sides are complete goal gluts at times and it really does feel like Konami have misjudged difficulty settings for this game.

I was always someone who played on ‘Superstar’ on PES 2017 and found it a good challenge but equally rewarding when I was able to win. Konami did tease during release that they had tweaked the difficulty settings so that offline users would have an added level when trying the harder difficulties. But it’s frustrating to even play against these levels when you can’t get the ball back. I appreciate a challenge, I have always loved a difficult game and AI to beat but there’s a different feeling from never having the ball and losing to the AI’s perfect passes and shots to actually having a ‘tough’ game where the AI goes toe to toe through the match.

Combine perfect AI passing with a low level of fouls (read low level as almost non-existent) and you have a game that feels frustrating to play offline. Games will end with just one foul between two teams (not including offsides) and it took me 4 weeks to win my first penalty against the AI. Konami have taken note of this and we are, apparently, due a patch in the next few weeks to address the lack of fouls. There’s certainly an element of physicality in the game - I’ve had players kicked in the chest in the box without the referee even daring to blow his whistle, goalkeepers taking out a forward going for the ball with no hint of a foul but the actual balance of fouls vs. blowing the whistle does appear really off balance when playing against the AI.

So why do I keep coming back every (other) evening to PES 2018? Because it’s a fantastic game. And it’s a game that works really, really well online. I’ve moved from being a Master League player who would easily play 2 or 3 games a night against the AI to now playing against other people online in friendly lobbies where we can pick our teams. Playing against other people generates the fouls that we crave, it generates the difference in playstyle that is so blatantly missing against AI and it still has those incredible PES moments when you punch the air after a last minute winner.

But it’s disappointing that we have to move away from the modes that we all loved. The league I’m currently playing in has 16 people in it. Every single person was previously a Master League only player who’s now moved to playing online. I still want to enjoy the offline game modes. I’m still spending hours and hours in the edit mode making all of the Xbox kits look as close as possible to the real life variants.

We can hope, going forward into PES 2019 that Konami will put some thought and care to the offline players and there are still hopes that we may get a gameplay patch to address the AI playing style and fouls in the next few months. PES 2018 is a great game. On the pitch it feels incredible and I’ve really enjoyed the matches that I’ve played online, particularly since finding the online league that I’m now a part of. But it’s a frustrating experience playing PES 2018 offline and unless a patch is able to address the issues of fouls and playing styles, then an increasing number of people will move away from either the offline modes or the series all together.

It’s difficult to put a number to rate PES 2018. The actual “on-pitch” action is some of the best that has ever been produced. But the lack of stadium atmosphere, the non-existent crowds and the frustrations for offline players really do have an impact on the overall enjoyment of Pro Evolution Soccer 2018.

Also, check our Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 PlayStation 4 Review.

Tom Chattaway, NoobFeed
WEPES Moderator, Reddit, Twitter

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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox One
Publisher(s): Konami, Konami Digital Entertainment
Developer(s): Konami, Konami Digital Entertainment, PES Productions
Genres: Sports
Themes: Football
Release Date: 2017-09-12

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