Far be it from us to wade in, but it can basically be summarized thus: FIFA always had all the licenses, including the official kits and team names, whilst PES was generally regarded as having superior gameplay. FIFA dramatically improved its gameplay in the late 2000’s/early 2010’s, while PES’s declined.
At that stage, in the early 2010’s, FIFA unquestionably held the title belt. Things stayed that way for several years, with FIFA dominant. Then, in the mid-2010’s, PES started to make its comeback. PES 2017 was a watershed moment, with the gameplay the best it had been in years, and a whole section of former PES fans were brought back into the fold. That meant, of course, that in turn all eyes were on PES 2018, to see if it could continue its predecessor’s momentum, and make another march on the crown.
PES 2017 was so well-received, by critics and gamers alike, because its gameplay was particularly realistic; in fact, it made FIFA look almost like an arcade game. Players moved like actual, physical entities; like human beings, basically. The ball felt heavier, and it moved more slowly. Accordingly, every move had to be carefully considered, because if you made a false one, there might be no coming back from it.
Generally speaking, PES 2018 follows suit. The ball seems heavier, if anything; long passes takes a genuinely long time to reach their destination, making them always feel like considered risks. The ball doesn’t stick to a dribbler’s feet, nor does a well-timed tackle automatically secure it; it can bounce around for several moments at a time, until a player genuinely gains possession. In the midfield, therefore – where the real battles of football are fought – a fascinating conflict unfolds.
Executed effectively, there is no single ‘right’ way of playing PES 2018. Guardiola disciples will be able to tiki-taka to their hearts’ content, but a perfectly-plotted Big Sam-style long-ball approach can still triumph. This tacticalflexibility comes in large part from the team instructions screen, which you can fiddle with before each match. This is where you outline your strategy to your players: whether you want them to rigidly stick to their formation, or have the freedom to roam; whether you favour short, sharp passes, or a more direct approach. This system was present in the previous version, but it seems even more responsive in PES 2018; it feels much easier to actually see the physical manifestations of your commands.
Having said all of that, there has been a noticeable general shift from defence to attack. PES 2018’s matches are, generally speaking, far more goal-heavy than those in 2017. In 2017, scoring felt like a massive achievement. It’s not exactly easy in PES 2018, but it’s noticeably easier. If anything, the attacking AI of your teammates seems to have been improved, whilst your defenders’ have suffered some kind of intelligence loss. It’s not game-breaking by any means, and arguably makes for more entertaining affairs, but defensive purists may take offense.
Whilst PES 2018 still largely lacks for kits and official licenses (a point on which there’s no need to linger; it’s been discussed to death), there has been a noticeable graphical upgrade over the previous edition. PES 2017’s visuals always seemed somehow dull and gloomy. This version’s, by contrast, positively pop off the screen. They appear brighter and shinier, and the entire presentation package has been ramped up a notch, making every match feel like a real occasion. The player likenesses – particularly for the more famous players – are also remarkable; almost certainly the best ever seen in a football game.
Massive new features are pretty scarce on the ground, but that’s not really Pro Evo’s way. Master League (the single player career mode), was already fantastic, and has seen only incremental changes. The respectable online options have been bolstered by a new co-op mode, which allows 2v2 and 3v3 matches between friends or soon-to-be-friends. There is one final lovely addition: Random Selection Match, which essentially throws together a rag-tag bunch of players from a chosen league on each team, then sees them do battle. It might not sound like much, but for friends who have long-running, competitive offline sagas, this will add new life to their rivalry.
In all, PES 2018 is a case of evolution, not revolution. That being said, when there was such a strong platform to build off – as was the case with PES 2017 – that’s certainly no bad thing. The new graphical bells and whistles are certainly welcome, but if gameplay is your biggest priority – and if you prefer your football games to feel like… you know, actual football – then PES 2018 is definitely your best option.