Ah, the beautiful game. Every year it returns to us looking even more wonderful than the year before. With its promises of drama, the unexpected, the expected and of course eternal glory or ultimate disappointment. While the professional leagues return to form, so do the gaming versions return, and with almost the same promises. It’s with this in mind that I bring you my review on the latest in Konami’s ever improving PES franchise, PES 2017.
Before we start, TWO DISCLAIMERS. The first is that I reviewed the game based on a promo copy received before release date. It is explicitly stated that the squads are not fully updated so any images you see may be slightly outdated. Not to fear, this will be resolved with a day one patch on release which will apply the latest roster and team updates. The second disclaimer is that the servers have not been functional as yet, so this is a review based purely on offline play including gameplay, graphics, sound, offline modes and of course the AI. An update to the review will be done once the servers are up and running.
With that out the way, let’s get to it. So that I don’t repeat myself too much, you may recall that I did a hands-on of the PES 2017 demo. A lot of that has carried through to the main game so for a lot more detail, please have a look at that. For some more info, and key points, read on:
Animated Or Real Life?
I always like to start with the visuals of any sport game because while I don’t believe they are the most important, they definitely do play a big part. I am very pleased to say that PES 2017 looks and feels incredible. The facial animations are a sight to behold and numerous times I have gone into a replay just to look at the detail on some the players faces, especially when their expressions change in an instance. PES has definitely put a lot of focus on the faces, and it is clearly showing.
[pullquote_right]In terms of animations, I am convinced that the Fox Engine is magic.[/pullquote_right]It doesn’t end there, the stadiums that are included in the game, however limited, look and feel as vibrant as their counterparts. This is aided by the licensing factor and the improved production value in terms of the way matches are presented. The Champions League and Europa League are definite highlights, but there is a lot of effort going into the standard matches too.
In terms of animations, I am convinced that the Fox Engine is magic. The last two years have seen gradual, yet impressive, progression on the amount of animations making it a fluid experience, but PES 2017 seems to have turned that up by about 10 notches. I can’t think of a single time when an animation felt stuck or out of place. It’s ‘poetry in motion’, and an amazing use of the engine at hand.
Gameplay for the Gods
Obviously flowing out of the visuals and animations is the gameplay, which is where the true beauty of PES shines through. The PES games towards the end of the last generation were so far behind where they needed to be that you wondered if there was any way back, but with PES 2015 and 2016 you saw that they were finally back on track. In fact, PES 2016 is the most PES I have played since around PES 6. That’s how good it was. That also meant that I had much higher expectations for PES 2017 which is always a bit of a concern. I just wasn’t sure if they’d be able to improve it “that” much.
Boy was I wrong. PES 2017 is all I have ever hoped for in a football game. The flow of the matches is near perfect (I say near, because as always there are some issues) and the animations make for one of the most streamlined, brilliant experiences you could wish for. The way players move, make runs, shoot, cross, pass and dribble feels intuitive and natural. It’s a credit to the team at Konami for providing something that is such high quality.
The new first touch control sparks some magical moments at different areas on the pitch and while it appears to be a subtle inclusion, it actually makes a huge amount of difference to the overall experience. Taking a touch and deceiving the opposing defender has never felt so gratifying. The same can be said for the new AI Intelligence which has them react to the way you play. I tested this out by attacking constantly through the same channels, and eventually the AI changed their shape somewhat to counter it. I couldn’t quite believe it. I still think it’s a mind trick (not really).
If the new AI and control system adds to the technicality of the game and that excites you, then wait until you try the new advanced options. There is a new option which allows you to change the type of game your team plays. Being a Liverpool fan, I immediately tested out the Geggenpressing option, and low and behold my entire team attempted to exert a lot of pressure on the opponent to get them to make a mistake, but my players got tired a lot quicker. Change it to a false line with a deeper defence and everyone sits a little closer to home, with my false 9 striker coming back to help. Alternatively you can choose Tiki-Taka, the famous term for lots of triangles around the field and plenty of passing in the build up. Whichever option you choose (up to 4) your style is somewhat different, adding a new experience to every match depending on who you play against, and how they play. This new dimension to the game is really what sets PES apart from its predecessor.
[pullquote_left]I am pleased to say that the keepers in PES 2017 are quite easily the best I have ever seen in a football game.[/pullquote_left]A bit like George Best, not all is right with PES 2017‘s gameplay though. While playing the AI is fantastic, they definitely do slide tackle WAY too much, and the timing is almost always perfect. It’s largely frustrating and often appears a bit unnatural. The other issue is that it is much too easy to keep possession. In the majority of the games I played (on SuperStar, obviously) I was able to get at least 60% possession. Now, while I know possession isn’t everything, playing against Barcelona with a smaller team like Leicester who play counter-attack and having 65% possession at the Nou Camp was a little odd. Still, it isn’t always like this, and I am hoping it gets balanced out somewhat.
Goalkeepers, saved, finally.
Technically, this could fit under “gameplay” but goalkeepers almost need their own section. I am pleased to say that the keepers in PES 2017 are quite easily the best I have ever seen in a football game. The saves they make, and the animations used in those saves, are simply stunning. It’s about time AI keepers didn’t ruin a perfectly good game for us.
The Sound (of Silence?)
The stadium effects and crowd are solid in PES 2017, though I didn’t feel a huge difference in comparison to 2016, except for some personalised chants that are included. Still, I don’t feel as though there needed to be huge tweaking in this department so all is good here. However, the commentary is still kind of awful and actually makes me long for a cow’s backside being hit with a banjo (some will get it). Jim Beglin and Peter Drury return and while their lines are mostly in place, there is just so much repetition in each match. So many times I would hear the same phrases even in consecutive games. I know that they have recorded thousands of hours of commentary, but it just doesn’t relate to what you hear in game. It’s a pity, and with NBA 2K as a benchmark for commentary, it’s got a long way to go.
You can play with this, and you can play with that
As I said at the start, this is purely for offline purposes. The modes included there are your standard League and Cup fixtures, Champions League, AFC League, Europa League and Copa Libertadores. Those with licenses are excellent and there is plenty of value to each of the modes.
There is, of course, a training mode which provides you with challenges and teaches you how to play the game if you have never played before. To be honest, I enjoy the training challenges regardless.
Master League returns, and while some of it will be covered in the online section of the review I can confirm that it is still the best mode (offline) that can be played in PES. Starting with a scratch team, or with your favourite team and building them up through the leagues is something that will never get old. The Master League has received a few tweaks in terms of the way you manage players, buy players and organise your team, but because of the squad update not being out, I didn’t want to get into it without full value, so more to come on that.
Be a Legend is the last of the offline modes and if you enjoy playing as one player and taking your career as far as possible then this is still for you. There haven’t been any significant updates to this mode but playing it with the new animations, new AI and new camera angle, it certainly feels like a fresh experience.
Penalty Shootout for the win?
PES 2017 certainly ticks all the boxes. I have written a massive review here, along with my preview based on the demo, and I haven’t even mentioned the online component of which I have no doubt will see MyClub stealing the show. Based on what I have played offline I am very happy to say that PES 2017 is the football game I have been dreaming of since I played PES 4. It’s fun and challenging, whether you are playing against the newly worked AI or against friends (friends who quickly become enemies).
If my time with PES 2016 is anything to go by, I will be playing PES 2017 even more over the next year. In terms of its offerings, and with the option files and squad updates to come, I just can’t see how they can make it any better next year, but I am sure Konami have their plans. Now, if you will excuse me, I am going to practice against Chelsea so that Liverpool can beat them this coming weekend (I can dream okay).