While PES and FIFA consistently try to match one another feature for feature, the two have managed to stay remarkably different contenders to the footie crown over the years. The big addition this year for PC gamers is that we finally have the same updated engine as the PS4 and Xbox One version. It’s only taken four years Konami. *slow clap*. Still, we spent the last three years grumbling so why not appreciate what’s here with us now.
PES 2018 looks heaps better than PES 2017. The animations and player movements are still a little jerky and almost over-responsive, going the opposite direction of FIFA’s over-animating, but this is a great looking representation of the beautiful game. PES 2018 still doesn’t reach FIFA’s production levels but it’s an important step in the right direction.
As for the gameplay changes, you may have to bear with me a little on this one. I played PES 2017 on both PC (PS3 version equivalent) and PS4, both of which have some fundamental differences between one another. As such my memory of which is which is a little on the hazy side, especially when we had FIFA 17 to the equation. That said, PES 2018 feels noticeably slower than the series has before. I’m used to the ball ping-ponging about and zipping to player's’ feet, yet there’s something a little more deliberate about what’s on offer this year. Much of this has no doubt come about as part of the new strategic dribbling and real touch features added this year. Without using a gamepad you wouldn’t even know these features are here, yet using one it’s easy to notice subtle improvements to ball control and retention. Rather than nimble players being forced to either pass or try to beat a man one on one, the ball can now be shielded much easier from stronger players.
It’s nice, but in truth, it’s only putting PES 2018’s move set more in line with what we expect from FIFA, including skill moves assigned to the right control stick. You can still get muscled off though, while two well-drilled defenders will be able to rob the ball with ease. These little scuffles for the ball add a nice layer of grit to proceedings - real football isn’t all Hollywood passes and silky skills.
The changes add a bit more a satisfying heft to PES 2018’s moment to moment play, although this ultimately shakes out in doing less with the ball over the course of the match. There’s a precision to play which is welcome though. Cross-field passes can be drilled to a wing back’s chest; crosses can be swung in from deep, and delightful through balls can be lofted with a deft flick of the outside of a boot.
Tactically I think PES has always played a better game than FIFA, even if the latter excels in the feeling of playing football. In PES 2018, Konami has taken this concept a step further. Never has park the bus been truer, and heckling your team to stay back in defend in numbers can result in you playing scarily deep, resorting to nothing but hoofed clearances as a means of respite while the clock ticks down. Likewise, shift to all-out-attack and it’s everything bar the kitchen sink. No longer is just a keep waddling up for a corner in the dying seconds, but you can push your central defenders right up to act as additional forwards. Just don’t concede possession, whatever you do. Get desperate to claw a one-goal deficit back and your tactical naivety can all too easily be exposed, resulting in an absolute romping.
The major sticking point with PES 2018, as ever, remains with the team names. I’m not overly familiar with the kit colours of various La Liga teams so I have no idea who ‘CT Blue White or ‘GA Blue White’ even are. Some of the lesser known leagues seem to have fairly accurate team lists but the likes of the Premier League has just two official teams - Arsenal and Liverpool. With Arsenal, they’ve got the most important team sorted thankfully, but I do feel bad for everyone else who supports the lesser teams. In all seriousness though, the inner workings of the licenses are very curious. All the right players are in there with the correct names and likenesses, and Man Blue’s David Silva looks the spitting image of his real-life counterpart. Giving the teams their proper names is an absolute no-go though, which is always a pity. Fortunately, you can edit the teams yourself, or just wait for the inevitable mod pack that sorts it all for you. It just feels like an extra hurdle thrown in the way by FIFA’s usually money-grabbing shenanigans (the organisation, not the game).
Mouse and keyboard support is also an abomination, although to be fair it’s hardly an ideal control method for any football game. Still, it would be nice to see Konami at least attempt to accommodate those without gamepads a little better. There are no keyboard prompts in-game. Indeed, you can’t even view the keyboard controls from within PES 2018 itself. If you haven't got a controller to play PES 2018 with, I probably wouldn't even bother, it really is a must if you don't want to be wrestling with the controls all the time.
Despite the usual problem with licenses, everything else about PES 2018 is pretty fantastic, and I’d suggest it offers a different enough feel to playing football compared to FIFA that there’s no reason why football diehards couldn’t pick up both, aside from the monetary cost.
PES 2018 is Konami’s classic back at its strongest on PC, and the small changes to the feel of the gameplay have genuine ramifications on the pitch. It might lack the big budget feel of FIFA, most keenly felt in the match atmosphere, commentary and the lack of TV-like production values, but it plays a damn fine game of football.