E3 2017: Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 Hands-On

June 18, 2017

The eternal war for your football gaming soul rages on in 2018, and Konami have brought their annual effort to E3 in the hopes of, at last, breaking EA’s streak and reclaiming the top spot in virtual soccer simulation. After a run as champions in the mid-to-late 2000’s, Pro Evolution Soccer has been unable to match FIFA in sales or status, eventually leading to poor player/team licensing agreements and little competitive presence.

Konami have taken huge steps in the right direction though, having offered up large sums of cash to the winners of global PES tournaments, and involving even more of the community with a completely open, online beta of PES 18, from July 20th-31st. All of this, along with promised improvements to social matchmaking features, should help Konami on its way to the biggest PES release in recent memory.

Social presence is important, but gameplay will be crux of this competition. Given EA’s decades of experience in sports games, and the familiarity most players have with FIFA’s systems and style, Konami will have quite a task on its hands trying to convert FIFA die-hards. Full Disclosure; I am a FIFA die-hard, but have also owned recent PES titles.

As expected, Konami have opted to build the game on their signature Fox Engine. No one knows the engine better, and they’ve done a great job of adapting a system designed for third-person shooters into one that can simulate a fast-paced sport with a degree of realism.

Overall UI presentation has been modernised, including up-to-date player photos and a streamlined menu system. Visually, improvements have been made to player animations and facial expressions, as well as the general lighting and textural improvements we expect each year. Nothing huge to note in the graphics department, but a little effort goes a long way here.

Significant additions have been made to the gameplay systems, most notably in player and ball control. Close ball control and dribbling have been overhauled and are now much more responsive. This has dramatically increased their useability in beating defenders and opening up a shot on goal; proven in practice by myself and my opponent, a fellow soccer nut from The Netherlands. Nothing scored outside the box, all up close after some dribbling magic. I expected more from an Arjen Robben fan, am I right fellas? *tap* Is this thing on?

Konami have also automated players shielding the ball, which rebalances the attack/defence clash and, combined with new, smoother animations, makes for some fantastic looking skill touches and passes. Whether they’re useful though, is up to your aiming and timing.

While the realism has been upped in PES 18, transitioning between states is still a little jerky. For example, after receiving the ball and taking it in to your control, there’s a frame or two’s lag before the dribbling animation commences, and it can be seriously jarring when trying to time movement and passing. Hopefully this can be tightened up a little before release.

Konami are also bringing some huge player names to the table, in the form of their Legendary Players, which can be acquired and used in several different game modes. Most players will be announced before release, and some will be exclusive to the PES series. Diego Maradona has already been announced, and has been faithfully rendered in the Fox Engine.

The biggest addition to PES 18’s lineup will be Olympic God Usain Bolt, who is available as a pre-order bonus. It might seem like a weird addition to the roster, but Bolt has been training with international super-club Borussia Dortmund and is rumoured to be joining a French 2nd-tier squad in 2018. I was unable to play-test him on the day, but Konami reps assure me that he’ll be the fastest player in the game.

PES 18¬†looks to be an outstanding soccer-sim in its own right. Whether it stands up to the competition this year will depend on how well Konami handle post-release support, which they’re clearly focusing on thus far.

And, for the record, I copped a 2-1 defeat, in which I was absolutely robbed by sub-standard officiating. This is ludicrous, sir.

Check out Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 during the open beta, or on the game’s worldwide release date of September 14th.