Even if the game is not final yet as it is being polished all the way until the September 15 release date, Konami showed us and let us play a pretty advanced version of PES 2017 last week; a code in which we noticed important and interesting differences compared to the build we saw in Milan and LA.
This new version naturally includes the new features announced at the event in Barcelona, the deal between the Catalan club and the Japanese publisher, a premier partnership where both promote their products and brands together. This, in-game, already translates to the care put into recreating both the Barça stadium and players, but it turns out that all this also has something to do with the whole play-style, with the match dynamics.
Of course, the depiction of Camp Nou (with the arena being exclusive to PES 2017 this year and thus not present on FIFA 17), is the best seen so far, and that's not just limited to the stands, benches or even electronic scoreboards, but also adding the surroundings of the city and even an attempt to imitate the special colour coating at the 'coliseo blaugrana', taking advantage of new techniques and lighting sources. Every Barça fan will feel at home and will be touched by the 'himno' chant. Every football fan will welcome the fidelity and the details in both venue and players.
Talking about the players specifically, we'll later explain it's not just a matter of image, but of course we have to admit that the first thing becoming apparent is the footballers' animations, cloning the real ones from the culé team. You can see the typical gestures from each one of them, the running style, the way they complain to the referee or, naturally, the goal celebrations, including that with Neymar when he takes his shirt off (because, as they confess from the PES Team, "as we had him full-body scanned already it just made sense, and if you do so with R2 you'll get a yellow card").
But here the most important thing is how they feel controller in hand. During the several matches we played, we noticed that feeling only those supporters who watch many real matches of this club can feel, such as the way Piqué drives the ball out of the defensive area, Alba's sprint, the diagonal run Messi performs from the right wing and his shot, the clumsy-looking but almost never-so ball control from Busquets, the shot from Rakitic from range, the varying physical opposition from Suárez or the play acting you'll see from Neymar.
On the accompanying PES 2017 gameplay clip, a match versus Atlético, you can already watch some of these plays just like they were from a real TV match, and the coolest thing is that they don't feel scripted to be like that, but happening in a natural, spontaneous way. Take for example that lob assist with the outside of the left boot from Messi and the semi-scissors finishing from Suárez to secure the two-goal advantage (and now you're at it, take a look at the new replay system, more spectacular and easier to control):
Supporters of other teams might think, and it's just natural, that they won't get the same experience, but the good thing is these efforts are being done with many other squads (there's still a bunch of announcements to come in this regard), and at Konami they insist that this is a core example of how they're approaching the game from now on, starting with FCB due to the premium agreement and because, as they put it, they just understand it's "the best controlling the ball and playing as a team".
In fact, we noticed some other gameplay improvements beyond Barça particulars. We enjoyed the more realistic and better implemented physical charges, leading to true battles for every loose ball or one-on-one showdown, and obviously giving some clear advantage to the heftier player (this was rather clear with Atlético de Madrid and their more brutish playstyle). Player weight is also better and the way they run on the grass, with a much smoother and more solid feel to it. Perhaps slower as well to the detriment of its arcade origins, but it makes sense and plays well.
As for the whole new system for passes and touches, it already looks like the main improvement on Pro Evolution Soccer 2017. The accuracy feels noticeably higher, be it with short touches, long passes or through balls. Now it's a pleasure to leave a softly played pass in the path of another player to shoot, or perhaps deliver a really deep ball from distance. And when it comes to playing the ball for a header, physics and curve effect look better as well. In these regards, PES 2017 is taking giant leaps, separating itself even more from the still kind of floaty and perhaps less accurate style from FIFA. With this entry it looks like it'll be a joy to triangulate and pass the ball at whatever pace and speed you prefer.
Compared to the Milan and E3 demos we also noticed a tweaked pace of game and a better response when shooting, as if they had touched up the shooting feedback and now shots feel more impactful and better synchronised with the action and the player animations. Finally, this version includes much better graphics (particularly in terms of lighting and effects), even if some angles still look poorly integrated. The difference versus PES 2016 is more pronounced, which was truly uncomfortable in certain situations.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 once again bets it all on a different, defining gameplay style, and already at the end of July it delivers a really dynamic, varied and fun football experience, with a welcomed addition of more simulation style gameplay. Come mid-September we hope to find the same personality and fidelity we've found with the Barça team in every other major team, but the improvements in the play system tell us that the evolution goes beyond the mere marketing trick: PES 2017 already plays bonito.