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The Official Evo-Web PES 2017 Review

Discussion in 'Pro Evolution Soccer' started by Chris Davies, 19 September 2016.

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  1. Chris Davies

    Chris Davies At least, I think I am Staff

    14 May 2003
    Tranmere Rovers
    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.

    [​IMG]
    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).

    [​IMG]
    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.
     
    PES94, Dr Force, Mart and 3 others like this.
  2. Chris Davies

    Chris Davies At least, I think I am Staff

    14 May 2003
    Tranmere Rovers
    But the fact remains that whenever a team or a player is referenced, it's reminiscent of Google Maps reading out some directions. The information being imparted may be relevant, but it's always an immersion killer when the name is followed by half a second of silence, and when the commentary resumes, it's in a different tone.

    Even so, as part of one of those little steps forward Konami have been implementing into PES for years, there is genuinely useful information in there - more so than in other football games (oh for God's sake, I'm talking about FIFA again).

    The commentary merges with the gameplay when you find Peter Drury pointing out that one of your players is being man-marked, for example. You might think you'd easily spot this, but sometimes you've got your eye on the ball in the middle of a possession war and it evades the eye.

    As with the previous game, you're occasionally reminded of the previous result, or your recent form, and at the beginning of a match Jim Beglin is often asked for his prediction of who the game's key player will be. This is all well and good, but there are so few lines to cover this information - particularly Peter Drury's responses - that you can hear the same introduction word-for-word within a couple of games of each other.

    But at least the audio team have been kind enough to record the names of major cities, meaning that if you edit Merseyside Blue into Everton, you can change the commentary to match.

    Which brings me neatly onto...

    Licenses
    Reviews of PES 2017 have started to surface over the last few days, and one of the recurring themes is essentially "the unlicensed teams look like, and sound like, cheap knock-offs, and it spoils the experience".

    There is no doubt that it does - but what very few seem to mention is that it doesn't have to be that way. If it did - if you were stuck with names like Merseyside Blue and West Midlands Village - it would definitely be off-putting, and I can understand that some sites will assume that the average gamer won't want to learn how to fix this themselves.

    But there is nothing else to be done here - EA have exclusivity agreements with the likes of the Premier League, with the aim of severely reducing the value of other games and much-increasing the value of their own.

    Okay, so you judge a game by the package that ships, not by whether it's "fair" or not that one publisher can afford licenses that the other can't, and the game ships with lots of fake details that definitely detract from the experience.

    But the edit mode has seen multiple changes, most notably on PS4, where it's now possible to mass-import edited data (including correct team names, badges and kits) from community members around the globe - so it's not like Konami have been sitting on their hands when it comes to this issue. By installing one good option file, you have what is essentially a fully-licensed game.

    If that's not good enough, something that's often overlooked is that Konami have one license EA would love to get back - the Champions League license.

    Where PES offers ways around the gaps in its licensing, FIFA doesn't - and qualifying for the "Champions Cup" doesn't quite feel the same...

    Okay, so the process involves downloading files on a computer and transferring them to a USB stick, and it could be considered complicated if you compare it to other "moddable" games on console. Consider Fallout 4 - on the Xbox One, you're presented with an online directory of modifications that you can sort them by most popular, highest rated, and more. This is a much more user-friendly approach that doesn't require an outside device if you're on console.

    However, look at the same game on PS4 - after much negotiation with Sony, Bethesda have given up. This is a complicated process that requires cooperation with each platform, and not only that, but if changing unlicensed teams into licensed ones becomes easier, who's to say that the license holders (and EA) won't begin to explore their legal options. And that would be a serious problem.

    So the system that is present is certainly good enough for now. It should be noted that, at the time of writing, importing large amounts of teams at once is causing the game to crash. Workarounds exist - such as importing less than 20 teams at a time - but it has to be said, it's typical of Konami to take one step forward and one step back when it comes to new features.

    Also, if you buy the game on Xbox One, you'll have to do all of the work yourself - and I wouldn't recommend that. No data import system exists on the Xbox.

    Master League
    I'm an offline kind of guy. Call me a dinosaur, but I don't sign up to this idea that the be-all and end-all of gaming is playing against kids who don't know how to play football and spend the duration of the game button-mashing and downloading a boxset in the background so that the game runs at about 10 frames per second.

    To quote the Prince of Fresh, the Master League is where I spend most of my days. For the uninitiated - who in reality would have stopped reading this a long time ago - the Master League is a career mode where you become the manager of any team you like.

    There's still a lot of room to grow in this area - for one thing, there's no communication with your players, or your staff (and you used to be able to change your staff). News articles come and go, but they feel worthless - this player says he loves the club, that player says he's happy he scored.

    Why isn't the striker I'm not playing complaining to me or asking to be transfer-listed? Why can't I tell my out-of-form midfielder that if he wants to stay, he needs to improve? Why can't I tell my youth player that if he wants a run in the first team I want to see his attributes improve through training harder?

    There are some new features, such as Konami's version of transfer deadline day. But in trademark "not quite implemented right" style (see the edit mode crashes), it seems pointlessly restrictive. For example, you are only permitted to submit one response per hour of deadline day - so if you're in negotiations with more than one player, the others have to be ignored until the following hour. If you're talking to four players, and there's one hour left, you'll only be able to sign one of them.

    The longevity of the Master League comes primarily from the feeling that every match is truly unique, coupled with the challenge of trying to increase your "team spirit" score (one of my favourite features of the last few years, and something that makes it more challenging to build a winning team).

    I'd love to see more meat to the mode (and more lower leagues to work your way up through), but as-is, it's still captivating - especially on the pitch.

    Here's a sample of what I'm talking about: starting off as Middlesbrough (the option file I'm using only has Premier League kits, but I still wanted a challenge), my first game was against Bournemouth (on Top Player difficulty).

    I set the team out defensively, but within ten minutes I was a goal down thanks to a sharp Bournemouth move in midfield and a mistake in my defence (I was concentrating on shutting down the playmaker, and left a gap for the striker to expose).

    For the rest of the first half, I kept to the same gameplan - a patient 4-5-1 designed to prevent the opposition from keeping possession easily - but there was little creativity from my midfield and it stayed 1-0 until half time.


    The second half of the battle of Bournemouth. (Against Middlesbrough.)

    In the second half, I decided there was no point trying to hold onto a deficit. I raised the attack level - a returning feature from PES games past - and started to get forward a little more. I broke into my "advanced tactics" for the first time, pushing up the wing backs and forcing the front line to stay forward and central, in an attempt to guarantee some passing options in the final third.

    It was riskier - and I nearly conceded on a couple of occasions - but I held on. The commentary team mentioned that Downing was now being man-marked - the adaptive AI spotting my over-reliance on him, and trying to force my passes to weaker players.

    In the 90th minute, one of the wingers managed a run down the left side, and hit a low cross into the box. The striker, who just about managed to get onto the end of it, scooped the ball up and into the net.

    The effort that went into the goal, in terms of tactics and skill, is something that PES rewards you for in spades. The satisfaction is on another level - it was a true fist-in-the-air moment. If I'd kept all of the settings at their default, I'm sure it would have ended differently.

    ...although that's not where it ended, because once I'd scored, I got greedy, and didn't "undo" my tactical changes. The wing-backs stayed forward, I lost possession, and after Bournemouth played a long, desperate pass over-the-top, and left my knackered 30-something defender to deal with their live-wire striker, it was 2-1.

    If the game was Match of the Day, I would have turned it off before Gary Lineker and co. ripped apart the greediness of this newly promoted Premier League side.
     
  3. Chris Davies

    Chris Davies At least, I think I am Staff

    14 May 2003
    Tranmere Rovers
    The story that each game creates is what sucks me in - the requirement, almost, to adjust tactics and spot what's going to happen before it happens. The game feels truly unique in this regard, and it's something PES has always done well. But with the improved gameplay, it feels a lot more balanced now, and as a result, much more rewarding.

    [​IMG]
    This is what PES can do to a relationship.

    My biggest complaint with playing against the AI in older PES titles is what I've always referred to as "AI cheating" - this is a hangover from the days of primitive console processors. If you were playing as a small-fry team and you came up against a big fish, rather than just making the better team play more intelligently, sacrifices had to be made to the responsiveness of your team. Otherwise, a win would still be unrealistically easy to come by.

    These sacrifices have been in the game for a long time now, and in the days of PS4s and Xbox Ones, it feels outdated, and more to the point, incredibly frustrating.

    Playing on Top Player difficulty, I'm yet to feel cheated by the AI, which is a massive relief. On Superstar difficulty, I find the better teams string together first-time passes with a level of vision I can only describe as psychic, and this saps away some of the realism for me. But there are plenty of very good players who are looking for the ultimate challenge, and I imagine they get a kick out of Superstar.

    My only real disappointment, gameplay-wise, is the lack of pass error. Without engaging manual passes in your controller settings, both human and AI passes are always on a perfect path. The only mistakes that are made are when the ball is intercepted, and that's not due to a less-than-perfect pass, it's due to the positioning and/or reading of the game of the defender.

    This is sometimes exaggerated when playing the Master League (and online in myClub) with a team that has a low "team spirit" rating. To represent the team's lack of familiarity with each other, passes are telegraphed to opposition players, rather than being slightly off or misjudged.

    It seems like such an odd juxtaposition to modernise the engine and make such an accurate reflection of real football (sometimes eerily so), but then opt to keep passing the way it's always been.

    I don't think this is considered an issue, though - and it isn't an issue any more than it's an opinion. It's the way that the PES development team wants to do it. Less frustration and more fun - making it easier to create passages of play that are works of art.

    With a competing product that does things one way, there's no harm in doing it differently and providing a choice - but for me, considering just how much more realistic the game is on the field, it would only make the feeling of putting together a great passing move stronger if the default pass-assist level (and the AI's passing on all difficulty levels) was less "perfect" and more locked into the player's passing attributes and the situation he finds himself in.

    I've also struggled with scoring shots from outside the area - so much so that it almost feels like this has been "nerfed" based on how easy it was to do this in last year's game. However, I would much rather it was like this compared to last year's constant wonder-strikes situation, and not only that, the manual shot modifier (holding down the shoulder-button of your choice to activate the manual direction indicator) helps override this.

    Online Modes (including myClub)
    The number one reason why PES is outsold by FIFA (no matter how it plays) is the lack of licenses. I would venture that in the current gaming climate, there is one other area that's been holding back the success of the game - and that's the online play.

    The programming involved in online play, or the "netcode", has required a bit more attention for years now - online matches in PES always seem to have a worse connection and a lot more button-lag.

    There are other frustrations too, including replays that either party can skip (meaning you'll never see a replay again), myClub's desire for you to have a world class team immediately (providing no feeling of progression whatsoever), and the prevalence of Barcelona and Real Madrid in every other online mode.

    I've played ten games of myClub in total now, along with a few games in each other online mode, and it would seem that the overall connection quality has slightly improved when being paired up with other players from the same country, but the button-lag still makes it very difficult to dribble, for example - because you're having to predict what's going to happen in the time it takes for your input to result in the player's movement, and you end up either performing a dribble after the opponent has gone past you, or running straight into the player because he repositioned himself in-front of you.

    However, of the ten myClub games I played, three were some of the best online matches I've ever played, thanks to the new "advanced tactics" really making a difference.

    Three other matches were some of the worst I'd played, with one running at about 15 frames per second, and the others I had to play were against those kids I mentioned in the Master League section. Throughout both games, they pressed through-pass in every passing situation, countering over and over, and holding down the "pressure" button permanently whenever I had the ball. Brainless play but easy to pull off if your opponent has a much lower "team spirit" score.


    Just one example of a player finding success by holding down "pressure" and spamming "through-pass".

    I rarely play PES online and although there's something to be said about those tactical battles I experienced, I just can't bear those matches where your opponent button-spams his way to victory. But if you liked playing PES online before, there are improvements.

    myClub's biggest new feature is a new scout-buying system - you still can't buy the exact player you want (and I prefer it this way, because it means a greater variety of opponents), but if you save up the "points" you're rewarded with for playing online matches, you can bid on online auctions for different levels of scouts with specific specialties (for example, a level 3 scout with knowledge of French players).

    But the game throws points and free scouts at you through different promotional periods - the current one is called the "early bird special" - so rather than having to work your way up and get yourself some rewarding victories with less-than-stellar players, you're instantly gifted with enough virtual wealth to put together a team of superstars.

    Some people will love that you get top-drawer players so quickly - and again, it's not a fault with the game, it's a design choice. It would just be nice to have the option of playing with worse players in a special competition - the equivalent of FIFA Ultimate Team's "Bronze Cup" - because without that, you never get to experience what it's like to evolve a poor team into a good one.

    Conclusion
    The focus this year, then, has been entirely on gameplay - and no matter what else could be considered missing, the gameplay is the bedrock of a game like PES.

    For years, it has felt one part special, two parts off, and for me, it's never been complete enough to compete with its fierce rival.

    As of now, it seems that years of potential that weren't backed up with enough execution, have finally lead to a game where everything on the pitch has truly "clicked". What's off it can wait for another day.

    After all this time, it looks like the king is ba- oh God damn it.

    9/10
     
    Last edited: 19 September 2016
    kilay, Albiore, juce and 25 others like this.
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