Annualised sports games have probably one of the toughest jobs in the industry. It’s hard enough to iterate yearly with a genre or franchise that has room to breathe, but sports titles work within the confines of the games they’re trying to replicate. There isn’t space for new ideas or different takes. Instead there’s just a space for iterative improvement, which brings its own sets of troubles when you start reaching better and better milestones. PES 2018 seems to be at that point, which makes this year’s entry feel a little muted.
That’s not to say PES 2018 is an any way a worse game than last year, and there’s no way my limited time with the game at E3 could’ve given me a window into inner workings of this sequel. Instead, I was given a chance to play around with some of the new features Konami is hoping players will focus on with their change of engine. The dusty Fox Engine iteration that has powered the past three games is gone, replaced with a more modern toolkit to allow its creators to maximise the realism in this year’s release.
And that’s immediately visible. Player animations and physics-based control have never looked better in a PES. The way players shift their weight with more precise on-ball control perfectly mirrors the well implemented movements when you’re on defence. The beautiful game feels a lot more natural now, even if it’s still a little way behind its biggest competitor in that regard. Tackles can still look and feel clumsy, even if the contact between players looks less arcadey finally.
Ball control is a big emphasis this year, and PES 2018 wants to give its players a lot more finesse with their feet in play. Using the right thumbstick lets you fine tune your movements in a way that previous entries couldn’t, while also immediately feeling familiar and welcoming. The feeling is incredibly important though, and it’s evident that Konami spent a lot of time fine tuning this more delicate control. You’ll find yourself flicking into dribbles and side-stepping opponents with greater ease, which only makes the still sub-par tackles stand out even more.
PES 2018 still feels incredibly fast despite the focus on more nuanced ball control though, so if you’re a fan of this brand of football you shouldn’t let these changes worry you in the slightest. The pace still makes every match incredibly pulsating – as the ball whips from one end of the field to the other before you really have a chance to comprehend how you lost possession. Shooting from range still feels great too, and PES 2018 is no stranger to making you certainly feel like a well-played athlete in the best way possible.
When the game slows to a crawl though, a few more changes are evident. Konami has updated both the free-kick and corner system, responding to fan requests regarding aiming and assists. Free-kicks now resemble FIFA a lot more, placing a bigger emphasis on spatial awareness rather than using an imaginary marker to place your shots. Penalties benefit from this system too, making it feel a lot more like the realistic take EA has been implementing for some time now.
They’re all small touches to a game that fundamentally still feels pretty much the same. But that’s also discounting all the additional content Konami aims to offer in MyClub improvements and strange player additions (Usain Bolt playing football? That sounds a little broken). It’s hard for annualised games to really stand out from the massive showstoppers at a show like E3, but PES 2018 was still entertaining to play nonetheless.
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Last Updated: June 23, 2017