Konami seems to have taken the route of absolute transparency with their latest installment of Pro Evolution Soccer by releasing an online beta for fans to kick around in. The game offers up two teams, Brazil and France, with a full complement of some of the world’s greatest players to date allowing you to test the tweaks done to the overall gameplay and net code before its release in September.
The PES 2018 beta lets you try out your skills in two online game modes, one being quick match multiplayer pairing you up with a random player of presumably similar skill level, and 3v3 online co-op where you and some friends take on another team of football nuts. The 3v3 setup is a unique complement to the game compared to its (only) rival and offers interesting stats in game while you play. If you’re a ball hog, you’ll get notches added to a tally at the bottom of the screen where name tags used to be, counting all your errors and time on the ball spent. These stats then get displayed in a well crafted wheel graph at half-time and full-time, giving you the opportunity to see who’s been pulling their weight or who thinks they’re Ronaldo but is actually a selfish six-year-old. It’s interesting to see what your play style actually is based on these stats which in turn makes you aware of your shortcomings and whether you should fill a specific role in the team.
Quick match gives you the option to choose the level of internet connectivity so you don’t end up against an opponent with either a superior or inferior connection. This is based on your ping, with level 5 filtering connections sub 50ms and level one slated for 250ms and up. I tried out level 3 and was surprised at how lag free the games were. Taking a chance to play with both teams utilising their default tactics, the differences are almost palatable with Brazil being a more aggressive attack team compared to France’s possession game with slow build-up play. You get both the full suite of tactical changes to your teams formation and positioning as well as a lighter, preset type approach with changes that change up your team for various strategies.
Matchmaking does take a while for either mode with waiting times up to five minutes before establishing a connection. This is a beta though, so don’t expect everything to be 100%. Almost all connections were stable except for one disconnect that was soon followed by a message stating that changes for the servers were being implemented. Other than that the online experience was smooth as silk and if it’s anything to go by, the final version should be a dream to play. The inclusion of overhead camera angles from set pieces are also a welcome addition to the game making it easier to see where your players are on the field.
Attacking and ball control seems to have gone up a notch with off-ball players doing darting runs in behind the defense awaiting a pinpoint through ball and free roaming movement from supporting players. Being the game that’s all about control, PES 2018 has done so for all the outfield players, not so much the goalkeepers though. The abused lobbed pass to the opponent’s box has been nerfed a bit, but not enough to not be an annoyance when facing someone who keeps spamming that very tactic. The defensive commands does give you the opportunity to combat this, but it seems the players turn around times are a bit slow. An interesting observation that I made was when the opponent activates the offside trap, your front line immediately does a u-turn to try get back into formation. It’s not very realistic because real footballers don’t always check to see if they are offside or not until it’s too late, whereas in the game it seems the player realises this before the ball gets played.
Then there’s the goalkeepers. It seems they have flappy birds for mitts and can’t grab hold of even some of the faintest touches towards goal. Shots from outside the box can sometimes get them flying across the goal line parrying it back in field instead of either slowing down the ball or catching it. One instance saw a lobbed shot floating straight towards the keeper and instead of catching the gift from the opposing forward, it got parried into it’s own goal. Konami definitely need to sort out the butter finger keepers.
Overall, the online play seems flawless at this stage with matchmaking being the only gripe thus far. The flighty forwards with pace do feel a bit light and defenders putting in a tackle feel unconvincing with very little physicality, the same goes for shoulder-to-shoulder challenges that seem to be a gamble. Passing and ball play are near perfect and with intuitive AI to boot. It seems they’re on the right track for the next season and not too many issues to worry about. And that’s about it…
Oh, and the “goalkeepers” with no hands.