Every year there is a battle between the two heavy hitters in football video games - FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer - but that duel has held more weight in recent years as the latter has improved drastically and become the preference of many, and now Konami is back to refine their formula even more with PES 2018. If the beautiful game is for you, this year's instalment should definitely be worth considering, because as well as new features there's also even more polish on top of PES 2017's style of play.
How much is changed from last year though? Well, there have been many things marketed to us in the months prior to release, and this includes enhanced control. This won't be apparent all the time, but the quick reactions of players (especially high quality players, and when you hold R2/RT for close control) will be very useful for those who want tighter dribbling to navigate around the opposition. Of course, this isn't a sure fire way to worm your way through a defence, but for those who want precise control over where their players go, this is surely welcome.
Another welcome feature this year is contextual shielding, and again it'll be most evident to the best of players. It's clear here that players work to shield the ball from opponents, getting their body in the way when appropriate, adding not only an extra layer of detail but also of immersion, because we can't tell you how many times we've seen the same thing done on the real pitch. Strong players do this much better than others, so strategically holding up play is simple if you know how.
One of our biggest praises of this year's PES, though, is the improvement of keepers. It used to be that if you got close to the keeper, most shots would glide past them and into the net, but they've seemed to have had a lot of work done to them to make them more effective at saving. It's not enough to try and finesse into the bottom corner now, as you often need to outwit and outplay them, leading to more realistic and pleasing plays - it now feels like a genuine game of football in how you need to score past them.
A great way to do this is the pass and run option, which we found ourselves using a lot (passing with L1/LB to create a forward run with the passer). Through balls in PES in recent years have operated in a more effective way than they do in FIFA, meaning that a chipped through ball or a defence-splitting pass should work most of the time if you time it right. Attacking in this way is also incredibly satisfying, then, and is a good way to try and outsmart the newly proficient goalkeepers.
Shooting at the end of these attacks still remains interesting and varied as well, as not once did we see a goal that looked like a copy or reproduction of another, either in terms of positioning or animations. Each goal feels unique and rewarding because of the combination of difficulty in getting it past the keeper, and worming your way through the defence, and we'd say that's pretty much one of the most important things in a football game - feeling like you've earned your precious goal and that joy when the ball eventually nestles in the back of the net.
One gripe we would have about the shooting is something we noticed when whipping the ball in low from the wing. If this ball was to come to the feet of an attacker very close to goal, it was frustratingly often that they'd scuff the ball wide from that position, rather than burying it in the goal like we hoped. It's a bit annoying to make an explosive run down the wing, drill the ball in, only for attackers to consistently fluff their lines mere feet away from the goal mouth.
Variety doesn't just apply to shooting, though, as there are many different ways a game can unfold. For instance, when we were playing during what seemed to be a torrential downpour, this changed the game hugely, making our defenders slip and slide all over the place, while also slowing the ball and made gripping the pitch in general a bit of a nightmare. We've never seen rain affect a match as much as it did then, and it totally changed the way we played.
Defensively, there's not much to report in terms of big, earth-shattering changes, but the same PES rules apply - mistiming a slide tackle will still more often than not lead to a foul and a yellow, since attackers rarely jump over them (something that slightly irked us), making standing tackles and pressure, either from teammates or the player, the preferred route for dispossessing the opposition and keeping your goal safe.
UI has been improved from last year too, even if it isn't perfect. For example, many of the big names now have actual portraits, which adds to the authenticity of the whole experience. You can now feel like you're actually substituting Jordan Henderson, for instance, rather than his virtual mock-up. In-game, though, the UI could still be a bit more useful, as clear indicators as to advantages and who is carded would have been very much appreciated.