Many years ago, PES was the football game to have. Not even FIFA’s license could pull me away from it. I had been with the series right back to the International Superstar Soccer years and I loved it. In 2008 PES released a shocker of a game and many loyal fans, myself included crossed over to FIFA. FIFA has been my go-to footy game ever since but I always kept an eye on PES wondering if that year’s release would mark the second coming of a legend. Well with PES 2017 I’m pleased to say that we finally have a PES game worth buying again.PES 2017 may well be a return to form for Konami’s football game but it bears the bruises from the pummeling it has taken from FIFA over the years. It has a lot to prove and isn’t without issues but all in all it’s like seeing a good friend after years of absence. Playing the demo, I sighed a breath of relief as the speed and balance of the gameplay felt smooth and natural. With PES 2017, Konami have created one of the best football games ever, in my opinion.
Booting up the game is a strange experience. One minute you are treated to the spectacle that awaits as you see Barcelona enjoy a kick about. Things from there go all Konami and you are suddenly transported back to the 90’s with their terrible menus and the dreaded message board that they insist you acknowledge at every opportunity. The soundtrack isn’t as extensive as FIFA’s but the music they do have is good and enjoyable which is a positive thing as it calms you down whilst you try to navigate your way through the seven stages of hell.
Naturally as you’d expect the first port of call in PES 2017 is going to be the edit options. That’s right, Man Red and Merseyside Blue are back in all their glory. Now if you are on PS4 or PC you can simply download an option file in order to get the proper team names and kits etc. If however like me you are playing on Xbox One you will need a good hour just to correct your teams’ information and the Premier League;s team names. You might think this is a negative and whilst an option file would be very welcome (it’s ludicrous that you can’t do it on Xbox) I had a good laugh as I corrected the leagues. Will we ever see a fully licensed PES? Who knows but it would be as welcome as it would be weird.
All the game modes from last year make a return with a much-needed lick of paint to the user interface, providing a streamlined and ‘easier to use’ system. The likes of the Champions League, Master League and Become a Legend function largely the same. The Master League is the jewel in the crown this year. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played so far and it has become something of an addiction. Everything seems to make sense and you feel like you are managing a real team. The game plan options really do affect what you see on the pitch. If you play a system to take advantage of your opponents’ weaknesses then you will see that reflected in game. The AI seems to be able to read the game very well, reacting to your tactics and it really does change the flow of the game.
I played a few games without delving too deep into the tactics and I was rewarded with a rather laboured draw and a defeat. I started again only this time employing the full force of the tactical options at my disposal and boy was I rewarded. I may have only won one of my first two games whilst earning a draw on the other, but the gameplay felt so much more engaging. The players’ reactions to my input was faultless. The AI somehow knew what I was trying to do and prepared for it, sending my AI players on runs that you would expect and the reaction of the opposition was equally as realistic.
The gameplay then is exceptional and feels so polished and smooth. The tempo and balance are all perfect and even the keepers feel competent and relatively well balanced. The refereeing can be a bit harsh but I haven’t found them to be overly intrusive even if the ref’s whistle does bring proceedings to a halt with the abruptness of a small child running into a closed patio door.
The Player Models are second to none. The movements of the players is frighteningly realistic and the collisions between players just look so natural and authentic. They react how you’d expect real life players to react and it all helps to immerse you into the game. Even the close up shots of players are impressive. This is where imperfections would be easier to spot but PES 2017 pulls it off so well. The pitches look as good as you would expect too and the atmosphere of the Stadia is magnificent. For me, FIFA feels like sitting down on a Saturday and watching a live match on the TV where as PES 2017 makes me feel like I’m in the actual stadium watching the match.
Commentary is provided by Jim Beglin and Peter Drury and like the sound track there isn’t quite the depth as you would find in a FIFA title but it also isn’t as imposing on the game. There’s just enough to keep it feeling real but not so much that it interferes with the atmosphere of a match. I did note that after a game I played and lost the commentators commented on why they thought my team lost and got the assessment pretty spot on. Whether that is an intentional feature or coincidence I don’t know.
There are some issues with the game and I’ve encountered a couple of bugs in the menus. The online stability is pretty awful at the moment although that can easily be improved. All in all though PES 2017 is a masterpiece. It mixes football simulation and arcade perfectly. PES 2017 isn’t afraid to admit every now and again that it’s a game but everything is seamless. From the moment you kick off until the final whistle you’ll feel like you are sat in the stands of your favourite team’s home ground discussing with your mate next to you what changes should be made to get your team the victory. In between games you’ll turn into a master tactician trying to figure out how best to approach the next game whilst managing contracts and fatigue.
PES 2017 marks the return of the franchise into the top league. Once again FIFA has some real competition and truth be told in some aspects at least, PES 2017 is already ahead. Careful planning and dedicated development of next year’s game could see Pro Evo once again claiming the title it held all those years ago but as they say, anything can happen in football.