Pro Evolution Soccer went through a bad patch during the PS3/Xbox 360 era, where it was clearly overtaken by a FIFA on the rise. However, with the move to the current gen, PES finally began gaining some ground to it's rival. The transition to the Fox engine (the same engine used for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain) ensured greater visual quality, and an unprecedented fluidity to the animations. PES 2015 was the game that started the revolution, but it was with PES 2016 that Konami managed to stabilise the quality of the gameplay. This year, PES 2017 follows the same winning formula, adding and improving some elements, but without messing with the core gameplay.
What this means is that PES 2017 plays a lot like PES 2016. There are many improvements, but most are minor. The first impact booting up the demo is visual, especially with the quality of the Barcelona stadium and its surroundings. Any Barca fan will rave about the detail that Konami have managed... something most other Spanish fans cannot say, since Konami lost the La Liga license to EA Sports. There are nine teams in the demo: Corinthians, Flamengo, Boca Juniors, River Plate, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Arsenal, France, and Germany. The squads in the demo are from the 2015/2016 season, although Konami has already stated that this year they will be much faster updating rosters. Regardless, the purpose of this demo is to show the gameplay, and this area is truly where Konami shines.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 is a football simulator, an excellent football simulator, but some touches seems a little more on the arcade side when compared to FIFA - and that might be a plus. Even if the strength and speed of some passes and shots, or players reactions, sometimes don't seem realistic, it's hard to deny that Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 is a lot more enjoyable game than FIFA 16 (it's too soon to compare it with FIFA 17 as we haven't played enough). This is the kind of demo where we can spend hours playing friendly matches, because the game is just so much fun.
Part of it comes from the freedom it gives the player to actually play football. A football game will only be as good and as fun as the player holding the controller can actually make it. If you know and master the controls, and if understand players movements on the pitch, you can pull off some spectacular plays in PES 2017. One-twos, through-balls, over-head goals, killer crosses... if you know football and the controls, you can play some amazing footy on Konami's pitch.
The game flows well, and by that we're not talking about frames per second (which are 60, as always). We mean organic player interactions with the ball and other players. Physical confrontation is more realistic and can cause a bigger variety of falls and stumbles, while the ball seems more free than in PES 2016. It is easier for a player to lose the ball to an opponent (or team mate) because it veered too far from his foot, and this increases the dynamics of any given match.
We also liked to see more animations in context. Heel touches, falls, shots, passes ... there are animations that arise as a result of the context of the player and the ball. The way a player stretches his foot to maintain control of a ball about to leave the side line, or the small side-touch to leave a soft ball to a teammate, are details that add magic to the gameplay.
More specific elements such as goalkeepers and referees also seem to have received some treatment. Keepers have new animations that allow them to react to most types of shots, and they don't seem to make so many mistakes as in the past. As for the referees, they always seemed fair both technically and disciplinary. They even added to the infamous spray for freekicks as another little touch of realism.
What still needs to be improved
Auto-play. Although the overall game is a little more loose and fluid, it is not as loose as we would like it. There are a few passes, especially into space, showing how the movement of players sometimes gets stuck on rails, following the direction that the game sets. This can be frustrating, especially when some passes go inches from defender's feet, almost like magic, or as we are unable to change a forward run because their movement is not free till they touch the ball. This is possibly our biggest problem with the PES 2017 gameplay.
Another area that remains very limited in PES 2017 are the celebrations. In this particular department Konami is lightyears from what EA Sports is doing in FIFA. The celebrations sequences that you can trigger emerge completely out of context, and are very repetitive. You can be alone by the goal, and the scenes just goes to the corner flag for the fans. We hate the way it forces us out of the illusion of playing a real match, even if it has no direct impact on gameplay.
But how fun is it?
While not perfect, and PES 2017 repeats some past mistakes, it is better than PES 2016, which was already very good. It is undeniable that the new Konami simulator is a fun game, and it contains a joy in their football that is contagious. We do not know how it will compare to FIFA 17, how Konami will respond to the terrible update issue from last year, or how the absence of further licenses will affect the game as a whole, but one thing seems certain. Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 is fantastic on the pitch, and some would say that's where it counts the most.