One could write an entire review on Gran Turismo and not feel the need to draw comparisons to a competing title. Similarly, Tekken 7’s value isn’t beholden to other fighters, yet I can’t even make it past the opening paragraph without asserting the inevitable ‘how does this year’s Pro Evo compare to FIFA?’ Well, let’s find out
I must declare upfront, I’m less of a football fan (I lie to people that I support Chelsea and Kaiser Chiefs to avoid social exclusion), and more of a football videogame fan, so while I may not know most of the players, save the ones from Lays and Nike commercials (just kidding), and pretty much depend on a ‘through ball’ attack to score goals, I have honed my craft (through balls) over two decades, being weaned on the heady delights of International Superstar Soccer 64 and FIFA 97’s gimmicky indoor mode.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is somewhat underwhelming at first, with minor differences to last year’s edition. It felt a little sluggish, with noticeable choppiness as my PS4 struggled to keep up (standard PS4, not PS4 Pro). The margin for error on sliding tackles is very small and after a handful of red cards I abandoned the circle button altogether.
Once I let my critical gaze slip, I could admire the pacing, and appreciate how realistically the ball reacted to my touch. Intuition is baked into the series – that unshakeable feeling that makes on the field play feel just right. This is perhaps why it felt similar to Pro Evolution Soccer 2017. It’s a winning formula and something Konami hoped will hold up against the juggernaut. Set pieces have been tweaked, and I felt a stronger sense of control, retiring my ‘hit and hope’ strategy I’ve nurtured for so many years.
Matchmaking was erratic and I often struggled to find a game. I hoped to get in more 3v3 co-op as I enjoyed the limitations. Master League is a time sink but is daunting and unrewarding for the average fan. I plonked more hours into the Champions League, still one of the major drawcards for the franchise. Random selection match makes its long-awaited comeback and proves to be as infectious as it was in Pro Evo 6. It’s a great party mode, especially for times when everyone wants to be Barca as it gives you a random set of players.
This year’s soundtrack, while still not as delicately curated like FIFA’s, does offer a string of catchy licensed songs that suit the game much better than the in-house cacophonies of previous years.
While gameplay remains king, all the other elements serve to undermine that immersion. From the outdated user interface and clunky menus that resembles an internal powerpoint presentation, to the often-muted crowd audio and repetitive commentary, everything except the actual football is handled like an afterthought. On several occasions, the goalkeeper would phase out, in a robotic, emotionless manner after I’ve scored, breaking the immersion and taking me out of the match. Other times my team would be celebrating near the photographers and I’d get a glimpse of a poorly rendered camera that looks straight out of Pro Evo 6.
In many ways, Pro Evo 2018 is like a Masterchef contestant cooking the perfect steak, and then plating it on a serviette with a dollop of tomato sauce.
The authentic presentation was never a major drawcard for me, but I’ve recently grown to appreciate it. Perhaps it’s my old age or poor work-life balance but I now yearn and expect a more complete experience, and I find my faith and loyalty to Pro Evo increasingly tested. So while those seeking a ‘true football simulation’ can overlook Man Red, London FC, and Neymar in Barca kit on the title screen, I can’t. It’s not too hard to download a patch for PC and PS4 (will take about half an hour from start to end) but you do miss out on the other little inflections that recreate a televised football game. Authentic licensing will never trump gameplay (Superman 64 being the best example of this) but authentic licensing coupled with fairly solid gameplay is a compelling proposition and one that EA summed up perfectly all those years ago with the ‘It’s in the game’ positioning statement.
Alvin Toffle famously said ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.’ While FIFA continues to innovate, adding women’s teams (crossing fingers Banyana is in next year’s edition) and game-changing story modes like ‘The Journey’, PES focuses on polishing its flawless gameplay to the detriment of the other elements. It fails to relearn.
Pro Evo 2018 is an immaculate recreation of the world’s favourite sport, in a time when that simply isn’t enough. If you’re a die-hard fan then this review doesn’t matter as you’ve probably purchased it. It offers a lot of value to the franchise agnostic but might not be compelling enough to warrant the annual purchase.
Last Updated: October 5, 2017