REVIEWED ON PS4 Be warned - this is a massive article covering a lot of ground. Each section has its own headline so if there's a particular part of the game you're interested in, you might want to skip ahead! A video review may appear in the near future, which will be a little more concise. Preamble Read through the reviews of any PES title over the course of the last few years, and you're sure to find one phrase peppered all over them. I don't know when it began, but if you type "PES" followed by "the king is back" into Google, you get page after page of articles, reviews, forum posts and more, about every version of the game since the dawn of the PS3 & Xbox 360 generation of consoles. Not only do I hate this phrase because it's become a well-worn cliché, but after FIFA's rebirth back in 2011 as a product that finally took gameplay seriously (David Rutter's team creating critically-acclaimed FIFA 13 a year later), I just tired of finding PES to be second-best. Don't get me wrong, I don't think any game should be assessed based on how it compares to another game in the same genre, and I'll try not to do that throughout this piece, but let's be realistic here; most gamers aren't going to buy two football games, whether they're both excellent or not, and sadly for Konami, in that situation, the better proposition in the eyes of the public (particularly in the land of the Premier League) will always be the one that has all of the real team names and kits out-of-the-box. Even if you're a gamer who happens to play football games pretty much exclusively (like me), when both games have the same goal - i.e. to recreate professional football across the same competitions (licensed or otherwise) - you're going to end up with a favourite and spend most of your time playing that one, whether it's because you think it's more realistic, more fun, more challenging or more authentic visually. Since that FIFA reboot, EA began to tick a lot of boxes on the road to realism. Player movement became less rigid and allowed you to play with more freedom - and speaking of freedom, changes to the ball physics made the ball feel more detached, providing a lot more variety in every situation (passing, shooting, tackling, even goalkeeping). Every year, I would buy PES too, because I didn't want to miss out on anything - and every year, the game would take a few steps forward, with critical reception improving a little each time. Metacritic shows how much the game's critical reception has improved in the last three years. But for me, the gameplay as a package had too much missing to be an enjoyable experience. PES 2013's players were still on rails. 2014's input lag was like trying to play an online match with an opponent on the other side of the world, when you were playing against the AI. 2015's effort was a marked improvement, but it was rigid and repetitive, and with 2016, finally, came more freedom in movement - at the expense of useless goalkeepers, an AI that only knew one way to score (the dreaded bottom-corner goal), and referees who were only on the pitch as part of their weekly exercise regimen ("what's a 'foul'?"). Of course, no game is perfect, and FIFA is no exception - in-fact, over the last couple of iterations of FIFA (excluding 17 which hasn't been released yet, giving PES the perfect opportunity to jump into the hands of those desperate for a new football game), AI opponents started to abandon tactics (and even reality) in order to, as I call it, "play to the difficulty level". I reached a crossroads with FIFA after watching Burnley turn into Barcelona and beat my full-strength Liverpool side in an FA Cup match, with the full-time stats hammering home how complete and ridiculous their dominance was (90%+ pass accuracy was the sorest point). I needed another footballing fix, and I tried to love PES again, but for all the potential, it was... Just potential. The view from my football-shaped eyes was that it was being held back by the very thing it excelled at in the early days - the gameplay. So. I have been a PESsimist (if you do another pun like that I'm not letting you publish this - Mart) for a long time, and seeing all of the videos, and reading the whipped-up frenzy that always comes along at this time of year from football gamers everywhere, my gut feeling was that it would be another year of hurt. Then, I played the demo. Highlights of one of my first matches on the PES 2017 demo. PES 2013's rigidity through to PES 2016's comedy goalkeepers - gone. All the best bits, including tactical importance and AI variety - still present. But on top of this, advancements in player freedom and ball physics made the match engine feel a lot more modern. After an agonising wait, I received a review copy (thanks again Asim). Would it be any different? What mode changes are there? Could this be the PES of my dreams? Presentation This is the first thing you see and hear (along with the soundtrack, which is impossible to review given that taste in music is one of the most subjective art-forms there is), and the least important aspect of the whole shebang. (That's just my opinion, of course, but if you've ever bought a copy of PES when you've got super-slick FIFA on the same shelf, chances are you agree.) The UI was pretty slick in PES 2016 - I loved that the game "pinned" the game mode you most recently played (along with loading the most recent save file) to the home menu. That's still the case here, though there are less of these slots this time around. Navigation is easy enough, as is performing all of the team management tasks available. The edit mode is easy to use, but with a few caveats, which I'll touch on later. Graphically, not much needs to be said - the screenshots and videos speak for themselves. The players who have their own painstakingly created (or 3D-scanned) head-models look stunningly lifelike, especially when visibly sweating, or producing clouds of breath on a cold night in Stoke. Those who don't have their own unique head models - faces generated using the in-game face editor - can be a little (to a lot) less accurate, but that's to be expected (especially for the unlicensed teams). Liverpool are one of the two licensed Premier League teams this year, with the other being Arsenal. Pre-match screens showing team line-ups now feature player headshots (as long as you don't edit the player's appearance), which is one of those little features that makes no big difference but adds a little layer of TV-like authenticity. Speaking of which, some games will start off with an outside view of the stadium, dependent on the stadium (some licensed stadia have this outside view, but the generic stadia don't). Again, it's a small change, but it all adds to the build-up and makes those matches feel a little bit more special. There's a roster of around 30 stadia in the game, which, to be blunt, isn't enough to make each match feel unique from a presentation perspective - it doesn't feel great starting up a league match and thinking "hang on, I've played in this stadium for the last three games, and they were three away games". (Yes, it can easily be said that each of those games feels different, but it's an area where - look, I said I'd try not to make any comparisons to FIFA, but when every Premier League stadium is present, along with a lot more, it's impossible not to feel short-changed.) More stadia are due to be added before the end of the year, though - including the new Anfield, thanks to Liverpool being one of the two-permitted Premier League teams licensed this year. These new additions to improve the atmosphere - pre-match graphics, new stadia, even the ball that's used in the Premier League - are all welcome, even if they're not exactly an overhaul in presentation. One area that seems to have had less work this year is the commentary. I've read lots of complaints about the commentary (provided once again by Peter Drury and Jim Beglin) - and there's no doubt that FIFA's audio guys have nailed this side of things (as with so much of its presentation) thanks to the way they've recorded different intonations of team and player names (and I realise this is another FIFA comparison, but, it's just a great example of what can be achieved with commentary). I don't think it's terrible by any means - the commentators themselves tend to deliver their lines with energy, and they are totally believable in their roles (I don't know if anyone else remembers when Mark Lawrenson provided commentary for PES, but even if you do, trust me - it's worse than you remember). Mark Lawrenson doing his impression of a schoolboy reading a book out loud.