I don’t envy those that have to work on games with yearly iterations. Having less than 12 months between products isn’t much time to create enough new content to warrant another $60 purchase from your fanbase, but that’s ultimately what they’re tasked with. While this can be a challenge for series that are struggling to fix areas (there’s a reason why NBA Live had to take a year off before upping its quality immensely), it also is a hurdle for those making a quality game like PES. Konami’s football series has been stellar for many years, so what’s keeping people from sticking to last year’s game?
That question bounced around my head a lot while playing Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 despite it playing like a joy on the pitch. I thoroughly enjoyed every match I played, but I kept waiting for there to be an epiphany where I realize that I was playing a far better title. That never happened, and instead it felt like I had just played more PES (which is far from a bad thing).
I did notice changes, though. For one the presentation as a whole was slightly nicer. From the in-game menus to the cutscenes that play in Master League, it’s a more polished affair away from the football action. There also seemed to be more licensed teams in this year’s installment, although it always remains important to note that a lot of teams and players appear under generic names due to not having likeness rights. While these are steps forward, there remains a lot of room for improvement. The commentary really pales in comparison to FIFA, and I got really sick of having to press the options button to skip replays after a goal was scored (seriously, just make it the X button).
An even bigger improvement that fans will notice is that PES 2018 features revamped animations. These don’t have a profound effect on gameplay, as PES still feels a lot like last year’s installment (which I must stress is far from a complaint), but the on-field action looks spiffier than ever. This is work that’ll likely have long-term dividends for the game, but it doesn’t exactly make for a great bullet point on the back of the box.
There are a few new modes, though, with the main offline addition being the return of random selection matches (which was a feature last seen on PlayStation 2). These are exhibition matches between players where they don’t specifically select the clubs or players they’ll be playing as. Instead they select a few teams or leagues they want to collect players from, and then they get a random assortment of talent assigned to them. Afterwards, players can try to obtain one of their opponents’ players via a trade and protect system, and it winds up being yet another way to play virtual football. While I enjoyed the mode, it’s a lot of extra work compared to just picking a team normally. I don’t see myself going back to random selection often, but it’s certainly nice to see more options made available for local play.
Meanwhile, the main online improvement is the ability to play cooperatively online. This is yet again an improvement that I like in theory, yet can’t find myself using often since most of the people I’d play online with own the competition. That meant that I was jumping into random matches via networking and this led to either surprisingly fun matches or a mess where my team wasn’t very compatible. Like many online modes, this’ll come down to who you have to play it with, and if you have a few mates who are crazy about PES then I could see this being a blast. Unfortunately, the numbers aren’t really on their sides when it comes to what football game people are buying, so it’s more likely that you’ll have to play with random folk.
Small Steps Forward
My favorite PES mode, Master League, also received some tweaks in this year’s installment, as the presentation is slightly sharper, and there are more cutscenes before and after major events. I’m of the opinion that Pro Evolution Soccer features the best franchise offering of any sports game, so seeing this mode get slightly better (even if it’s not a complete overhaul) is definitely a positive in my book.
I’m at a weird spot with PES 2018. While it features a bunch of nice small improvements upon last year’s game, it never won me over the same PES 2017 did. Part of this is due to how impressed I am with FIFA 2018, but there’s also a fair point to be made about diminishing returns. This has a lot of nice steps forward, but it sorely lacks that big stride that could make it a must-buy update.
You definitely can’t go wrong buying Pro Evolution Soccer 2018, as it plays as good as ever, but those who bought last year’s game might want to wait until next year’s installment if they’re waiting for that next evolution. That’s not to say that there aren’t improvements, as the subtle tweaks and additions do add up to a better game, but these are more quality of life fixes rather than changes that’ll sweep the player off their feet. Ultimately, PES 2018 is yet another great football game from Konami, but that might not be enough when they’re trailing a behemoth.
PES 2018 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.