PES 2017 Review (PS4)
After the dust settled and the honeymoon phase was over, Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) 2016 quickly lost its appeal. Despite being more responsive all the while adding more animations and Player ID, PES 2016 suffered from end-to-end gameplay due to a lack of fouls and some curious/poor AI defending. As news slowly rolled in regarding the 2017 edition, consumers like myself were cautiously optimistic that Konami would listen to feedback and create a balanced footy experience. Thankfully, this seems to be the case with PES 2017.
By now, you’ve heard all the catchy marketing phrases about how important gameplay is to Konami. “The Pitch is Ours,” “Gameplay is King,” and other gimmicks have been thrown out over the years by Konami, but this year the development team has finally delivered on its promises.
There’s no better place to start than with two of last year’s sore spots, keepers and fouls. Happily, both have seen substantial improvement. In the past, keepers were woefully unequipped to do their job. From animations playing out in slow motion to awkward save attempts, goalies were visually and functionally subpar.
Goalies have better positioning, more awareness and they have more animations at their disposal. In other words, they finally provide a solid last line of support.
Fouls were non-existent in PES 2015 and 2016, but they now have a huge impact on the game. While some fouls do go uncalled, PES 2017 does a far better job at getting them right. The “skip over the challenge” animation that was so prevalent last year has also been toned down, which helps to create more fouls. In 20 minute matches, I have seen as many as 14 fouls called on the CPU -- not counting advantages. Piggybacking off fouls, the collision system is also improved, to the point where body parts (elbows, shoulders, etc.) can trigger the official’s whistle. As players get more comfortable with dribbling, inviting contact and riding challenges can look beautiful at times. Only a user-input shielding control is lacking as right now it’s triggered contextually based off the situation.
Passing has added much needed variety as balls no longer roll over the pitch like a bowling ball on ice. While the default assistance level (1 bar) is still a little “too assisted” for my liking, there is enough error to keep passing percentages down. Perhaps a little more error -- especially in ball speed -- would further bring out one of the game’s new features, the “first touch control.” First touches now are much more realistic and vary depending on the quality of the ball received as well as the player who’s receiving the ball. With no assistance on for passing, you can really see the impact of this new feature as you attempt to master the controls.
Where passing has been improved upon, shooting still needs some work. Mastering shooting in real life means you take into account body position and technique (a rating that was curiously removed years ago) among others, two things that PES 2017 struggles with in regards to shooting. Despite more animations being added, draped defenders still do not have enough impact on the shot and the power generated from your weaker leg (non-dominant leg). Thankfully, the overpowered perfectly placed low angle shot by the CPU has been toned down resulting in more goal variety by the CPU.
On the defensive end of the pitch, PES 2017 has taken great strides. In 2016 you were able to get away with murder. Full-on shoulder barges, missile-honing slide tackles and other amateur defensive tactics have been balanced by the aforementioned improved referee logic. What has resulted is a risk/reward scenario in which timing, the quality of the defender and the situation determines the outcome. A better collision system, enhanced teammate AI and new defensive tactics/levels allow for more realistic defending.
Defenders track runs, defensive midfielders sit in front and protect the back four (or three) and your wide players will track back (sometimes too well where they abandon the attack in synchronized fashion) offering support in defense. An improved stamina depletion system ensures that fullbacks and wide players aren’t completely gassed by the 60th minute, but if you do employ the new “Gegenpress” defensive tactic you must be prepared to substitute accordingly. Defensive controls as well as offensive controls can be adjusted on the fly, and you will often notice the CPU taking advantage of this as they try to secure a result. One area of improvement could be in the slide tackle department. As it stands now, slide tackles feel too “honed in” where the game automatically determines the best angle for you instead of letting you master the exquisite art of slide tackling.
So how is all this incorporated through Player and Team ID? The demo locked advanced tactics and fluid formations, forcing us to play with the clubs as Konami sees fit, but in the full release team styles and Player ID is ever-present and wonderfully varied. As we wait for option files, playing exhibition matches against different clubs offers unique challenges nearly every time out. Breaking down Juventus’ back three feels different than dealing with Liverpool’s swarming press. Conversely, dealing with Real Madrid’s potent counter-attacking style or a big target man like Arsenal’s Oliver Giroud makes defending a welcome challenge. If there is one complaint in this area, it’s that it’s a tad too easy to take the ball of dynamic dribblers like Messi, Neymar and Hazard. Only elite defenders should be able to win these one-on-one contests with regular success.
Tactically, PES 2017 has added more options to choose from. Apart from the previously touched upon attacking/defending levels, corner kicks now see more options when sending a cross in or defending it. “Zonal,” “man” and “mixed” marking strategies are available to counter attacking options such as “dash” and “far post” runs. Oddly, these same options, or even any other options, do not carryover to set pieces where the movement is stagnant more often than not. Fluid formations is back, and when coupled with advanced instructions such as “hug the touchline” some very distinguishable real-life strategies can be replicated, even down to Pep Guardiola’s system where the fullbacks tuck inside creating space out wide for your wingers to be one-on-one versus a defending fullback.
One issue I have noticed regarding tactics is how strictly the CPU will adhere to them, especially formations where the AI players will abandon attacks once the ball is disposed to retreat and mark space. What results are too many open pockets of space allowing for easy transitions from defense to attack. Hopefully the community can tinker with some of the newer tactical options to alleviate this without sacrificing the variety and unpredictability that PES 2017 offers.
On the whole, Master League is relatively unchanged. Fans of the series long for the days when Master League reigned supreme and innovations were plentiful. Sadly, while there are some improvements, Master League still could use renovations in keeping up with the likes of Madden 17 and NBA 2K17. The menus and news stories from 2016 are back, as is the option of managing a national team in conjunction with your club of choice. Additionally, you will also receive job offers midseason as well as at the end of the season if your performances are up to par.
In a simulation with my beloved Chelsea, I did notice a news story that another manager switched jobs, but a full-fledged “managerial carousel” is still not available. Sim scores (terrible in PES 2015), goal/assist tallies, and realistic top four finishes (sorry Leicester fans) are in line. In my sim, the EPL’s top four consisted of Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton, with Sergio Aguero winning the Golden Boot as the league’s top scorer with 29 goals. Teams of the month/season were also believable with names you’d recognize chosen for honors.
When it comes to transfers, Konami has added transfer deadline day, a 15-hour experience where you can advance hourly or skip it completely. While it’s great that this special day is included, further fleshing out to include a transfer log of that day could add to the immersion. Forewarning, the music when advancing an hour is very annoying. When it comes to transfers, there are limitations in that you can only pursue five players at a time but there are more options to consider, such as team role and team spirit. Terms must be set before you can make a move and details such as goal bonuses can be negotiated. Adding Leonardo Bonucci on a pre-contract deal upset my team chemistry and prompted Gary Cahill to question his role at the club. Easing them into club by rotating the squad did help to get team chemistry back up. Lastly regarding transfers, you can set the frequency at which you advance during transfer windows from “every 5 days” to “every Day” to “whenever there is an action.”
Once your team is settled, you again have to manage your finances, including both a transfer and salary/wage budget. You can receive bonuses when you string together a few wins in a row, and by selecting a favorite player you have the ability to target a player who can see dramatic improvements. Along those lines, skills training and progression/regression coincides with match time and targeting focus. I did notice that certain fringe starting XI players like Marcos Alonso had his OPR (overall point rating) decreased as he wasn’t selected only to see it rise once he received match time. Players playing out of position can also learn new positions as ratings fluctuate depending upon their comfort level in that position.
Monthly reports are back giving you a better idea of how you play in terms of trends (when in matches you concede/score, from what areas are you most vulnerable on defense and so on). When combined with the stats database, analytic fans like myself will be satisfied, although further fleshing out with the inclusion of club milestones (goals/assists/appearances/caps leaders) would be a welcome addition. Lastly, farewell matches have been included and are a nice way to send off a player who has announced his retirement. I personally thought this was a nice little touch as I paid homage to John Terry one last time in front of the home supporters.
Despite these improvements, the addition of more fake leagues could help create some much needed depth, and better menus could make navigating the mode a little easier. Perhaps some terminology refining could be in use as some of the table headers are a little confusing and don’t translate into English as well they should.
Become a Legend
Sadly, this once innovative mode has been placed on the back-burner as no significant updates have been added. While the enhanced gameplay will make this mode playable, the lack of new features apart from the ability to request a new position make this mode a rightful afterthought to most PES fans.
To say Konami has struggled to adapt to the online age is an understatement. Whether it be poor servers, difficulty in finding a match or input lag, PES has suffered for years with its online infrastructure. While it’s not perfect, PES 2017 has improved in all three areas. Once I broadened my matchmaking search options to include all levels, I was able to quickly find matches. With connections varying from “level 3-5” the only differences I noticed was in input lag which was only noticeable on level 3. Perhaps when the game releases globally and I connect to users with less stable connections I will experience more issues, but as of right now those who prefer a human challenge should be happy with the improvements to Konami’s online environment -- provided the person on the other end has a strong connection.
Konami’s Ultimate Team combatant returns for its third consecutive year and boasts a more streamlined experience equipped with a new tutorial for those who aren’t as familiar with the mode. New for this year is a change to how you acquire scouts, namely through an auction. Also new is the ability to further scout your opponents through advanced trends and statistics, while team management now offers the ability to undergo tactical training sessions aimed at increasing your “team spirit.” There’s a lot of depth in MyClub, and as long as Konami steers clear of a player auction the mode will offer a great alternative to the strictly offline experience of Master League.
Presentation in PES 2016 was one of the game’s weaker points, and in 2017 it’s still lacking. In-match overlays are still infrequent, the menus are outdated once you get into a match and things like the league table showing before a league match are missing. The Champions League anthem and draw are still capable of producing goosebumps but more variety is still needed overall as sports games start to implement real-life TV packages. Replays are hit and miss. While the angles are improved and the slow-motion automatic replays have been removed, the motion blur Konami uses is still a bit much.
The Fox Engine has produced some of the best looking faces in the entire sports genre, but on the whole the graphics should be better. Textures are noticeably bland and players still wear huge blocky shorts reminiscent of the past. Player models are better and you can really tell the difference between certain players, but overall Konami needs to find a better way to show details from zoomed out playing cameras commonly used by its players. Visually, the game animates much better but still suffers from the occasional sliding, which is much more evident in replays. With more powerful consoles on the horizon, hopefully Konami will commit to a true foot-planting system without sacrificing responsive controls. Once again, the PS4 offers sharper visuals than the Xbox One, leading many to think that Konami really does prefer Sony’s hardware. Despite the plethora of camera options available, there are several camera options where the actual camera cannot keep up with the speed of play, specifically shots and clearances up the field.
Apart from the year PES incorporated opera into the soundtrack, the game features catchy tunes and some enhanced in-match audio. Peter Drury is back, and if you’re a real life fan of his work you won’t mind his animated style. To his benefit, more audio lines have been added creating less dead air. I’ve also noticed more match-specific audio meaning that Drury and Beglin will comment on trends they see during the match. In a Liverpool-Chelsea match, Drury made a comment that Hazard was being “marked out of the match” and that Chelsea needed to get him more involved, a nice and accurate observation at the time. Crowds are also livelier and smarter, meaning that they will react to what they think is missed calls by booing/whistling. If you’re lucky enough to be playing in an authentic stadium, you will hear club-specific chants like “Messi, Messi, Messi” at the Camp Nou. Still I can’t help but wonder what custom audio chants, a feature on the PS3/Xbox 360, would do for this experience. Hopefully Sony and Microsoft work with Konami to add this back into the equation.
Your enjoyment of Edit Mode entirely depends on your gaming console of choice. PS4 users have the luxury of option files whereas Xbox One users are once again left in the dark. Where to point the blame for this is hard to decipher but the end result is that the situation on the Xbox One needs to be resolved. While we’re still in the early days of option files for the PS4 (both from a creative and functional perspective), it’s no secret that the authenticity associated with realistic kits, competition names and club badges can only bolster the immersion factor.
There’s also no bigger cause for community consternation than licenses, and this year the ugly side of sports gaming is even more prominent. Gone are the licenses for Spain’s La Liga as well as South America’s Champions League equivalent, Copa Liberatadores. Also missing are Bayern Munich, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus. While the players are still there, the club badges, and just as important, their authentic stadiums have been removed due to exclusive deals with EA. Included this year are clubs such as Liverpool, Arsenal and Dortmund, and one hopes that future patches can add teams to help fill out the Champions League proper. As the license war continues to shake out, it’s quite clear that there’s only one loser: the community.
It’s safe to say PES 2017 is off to a much better start than previous years. Enhanced gameplay through smarter and adaptive AI helps to create challenging matches that play out randomly. Attacking principles are countered by smarter defenders, especially keepers fostering a balanced game capable of replicating those moments of magic that only PES can produce. Option files and patience in editing can go a long way towards extending the viability and longevity of this year’s version, and as long as Konami keeps up with post-release support (transfers, ratings updates, etc.) PES 2017 could be a disc firmly entrenched in your console this year (assuming you didn’t go digital).
When it’s all said and done, PES 2017 is quite simply the best PES in years and puts 2016 to shame. If you’re on the PS4/PC and you need your footy fix, this game is an easy recommendation. If you’re on the Xbox One and you need all things an option file can provide, the strong gameplay might not be enough.