PES 2018 Hands-On Event at Anfield (23rd June, 2017)

By Tomas Barry 06.07.2017 5

PES 2018 Hands-On Event at Anfield (23rd June, 2017) on Nintendo gaming news, videos and discussion
Cubed3 was recently at Anfield Stadium, home of Liverpool FC, to get an early hands-on impression of Pro Evolution Soccer 2018, which is scheduled for release on 14th September in the UK and Europe. As well as extensive testing of the E3 build, Cubed3 also had the chance to speak with the ever-enthusiastic PES Global Brand and Product Manager, Adam Bhatti, about how this iteration is shaping up, as well as reflecting a little on the brand in recent years.

Pro Evolution Soccer and FIFA have thrived upon their rivalry. In some ways, since many football games have been and gone during their time, the two brands are rather like Barcelona and Real Madrid, dominating in turn over the decades, never letting many others challenge. However, when put in more practical terms, due to the financial power behind FIFA's publishers, they are rather more like Manchester City, whereas PES could be perceived as a slightly less powerful outfit, like Liverpool, a team no less capable of picking up all the spoils, but will still be viewed as sleeping giants of sorts, considering recent history.

Image for PES 2018 Hands-On Event at Anfield (23rd June, 2017)

Just as there is no denying that LFC's best period came during the trophy-rush of the '70s, in the same way, the PS2-era of PES3, 4, 5 and 6 seems like the golden era for the franchise, particularly in terms of popularity. That's not to say that PES hasn't been an extremely impressive game, though, but just like a football team would do, Konami has been very pragmatic about how it competes with its rival brand. Just because Bayern Munich might spend 160 million in one transfer window, does that mean Borussia Dortmund should just go home? Much in this vein, the PES team has always known there's something to work towards, and ultimately still to be won each year out on the pitch, away from the market stats and restrictive elements, such as the club licensing.

In terms of the core gameplay, PES quite regularly trumps FIFA. Launching back into another tireless football metaphor, then, despite standing under a hefty financial shadow, PES also knows how to utilise its history, to keep fans happy by making progressive changes to core gameplay, working in cycles much like a club would, and working towards bigger and better things. These themes resonated throughout the conversations had with Adam Bhatti, who was quick to point out that the PES brand wouldn't be here without its incredible fan-base sustaining it. "They're so passionate about what we do, because they believe in what we do, and that's going to really help us."

So while there's a sense that FIFA might inevitably win the title, PES is no-doubt a top-four team, and Adam Bhatti is clearly a manager who sees the big picture. Speaking with him, there was a sense that this year's objectives were a fresh set, based on his experience and his position over some time, as well as the PES team's expanding knowledge and experience built up over the years.

"PES 15, 16 and 17 were part of cycle. We made incremental progress with those titles in various areas…  [in terms of] how we were building those games, they were linked. They all felt like you were playing the better version of what was before, whereas PES 18 feels like a different cut of cloth."

This description of PES 2018 seems extremely apt. After all, when you must compete with the equivalent of a wealthy club like Paris Saint-Germain or Real Madrid every single year, objectives do change. This year's entry seems wise, calm and collected in just that spirit. While best core gameplay is a satisfying accolade to pick-up each year, there are other even more impressive and exciting elements about this year's iteration that could make it a very significant season for the PES brand.

The hugely successful PES League, a form of eSport competition, which launched via PES 2017 last year and went from strength to strength, will no doubt be influencing the shape of this year's game. Players were able to download the mode from within the game, or download it separately for free, in order to try to qualify for the knock-out rounds, as well as for place rankings amongst thousands of others. The tournaments were streamed across Twitch, YouTube and Facebook, and clearly helped spread the PES community further across the world.

Although details remain scarce on this front at the moment, the PES team will be looking to grow this competitive aspect of the brand. Consolidating this side of things and using that experience to improve this year's game for everyone will be high on the agenda. This is especially true since such a competitive multiplayer experience is not really offered by its competitor, and as such the PES League is one of the new leading forces helping PES 2018 to gain supporters.

It's a very promising sign that the PES League thrived so much because it wouldn't have made such a splash on the competitive gaming scene without having such great core gameplay. Without any further delay then, it's time to talk about the three to four hours Cubed3 had with PES 2018 on the day.

There were about fourteen PS4 Pro systems setup around the room, ready to go, as well as two stations for the PC version. It certainly felt like a show of confidence that the team started the event simply by letting those in attendance loose with the game immediately, which was the build used at E3 in May. There, indeed, was no need for a brief since the experience really does speak for itself this year. From the moment of first sitting down, through to the final hour, people were still discovering tiny details to appreciate and make use of, all of which added up to an extremely impressive gameplay experience. Those in attendance had access to Exhibition Mode and three vs. three, with five teams available in total; Brazil, Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund, Barcelona, and Atlético Madrid.

One particularly striking improvement was the way players seemed to take generally far more contextual touches than before. Players seemed far more capable of controlling the ball with their upper body, such as appropriately chesting-down a lofted through-ball. When playing as Liverpool, Coutinho used the outside of the boot for a simple pass when it was appropriate, but then moments later in the same area, produced a far safer pass in technical terms, because he was under more player pressure. This alone had a significantly positive effect on the feel and authenticity of the action.

Elsewhere, there was a noticeably slower pace, plus a weightier feel to the players and the ball. These tweaks all seemed to work in conjunction, since a slower general pace seemed to promote both more thoughtful passing, as well as more tactile footwork. Threading Suarez in with the perfect through-ball from Rakitić felt exceedingly satisfying. Generally, the spaces in-between felt like they mattered more, and because the player and ball weight felt far more realistic, a skilful and quick player like Messi felt dangerous not because his stats beat all, but because one thoughtful touch and shift from him and he could be away. He now seemed that bit more alive and, as such, the core experience was that bit more authentic because of these balancing factors.

There were also some notable gains in regions where PES may sometimes fall a little short. It's taken some time to get round to mentioning, but this year's iteration looks absolutely gorgeous. Now that the team has acclimatised to the Fox Engine, the attention to detail is quite staggering. A lot of effort seems to have gone into facial details and reactions this year; seeing Henderson scrunch his face after expelling a shot way over the bar, was a 'wow' moment. Adam Bhatti did mention the use of 3D capture model data, noting that, naturally, "partner clubs [such as Liverpool] do get special treatment;" however, it must be said that Antoine Griezmann and Fernando Torres, of Athletico, looked equally detailed and reactive, but haven't received precisely the same technical treatment. In other words, there are significant visual improvements all over the place in PES 2018. Even just the menu system seemed to have had an extra helping of care and attention, to ensure the polish factor is upped this year.

Another impressive aspect relating to this was the animation quality, particularly the fluidity of transitions. While there has been a steady and gradual improvement in animation quality over time, some of the more minor nuances have continued to be overlooked for a while. This year, special attention seems to have been paid to how players move from one animation into the next, with a more realistic impression of players adjusting to keep their balance or land after an attempted header. As a ball trickles out for a throw-in, players look around speculatively like they have a mind of their own. When the AI needs to re-arrange players' positions for you, it does so without sticking out like a thorn. No two players were ever caught performing an eerily identical animation across the pitch from one another. The illusion seems very much complete and you would need to be purposefully on the lookout, not playing the game, to break the excellent sense of immersion that is struck up by this combination of factors.

Something else well worth touching upon is the PC version. PES 2017 on PC was a slightly disappointing hybrid, "which was better than 360 and PS3 but it had limiting features compared to PS4 and Xbox One." As Adam Bhatti explained to Cubed3, this was down to the challenge of developing and adapting the Fox Engine, as well as producing it "in a way which fitted in with our whole resource management and development cycle." Considering that the majority of the PES fan-base resides on consoles, this makes a lot of sense. Adam's honesty on the subject, though, was very refreshing, although it was probably all the easier for him to be that way since PES 2018 on the PC looks great and performs astoundingly well. While the PS4 Pro version was a high-fidelity treat, there was definitely an extra visual sheen to the PC iteration. In graphical and performance terms, if you have the system for it, it looks like PES 2018 will absolutely shine on PC, perhaps making it the ultimate platform for the game.

Maybe that's exaggerating a little, but the enthusiasm for this year's PES 2018 certainly feels like its over-flowing from one aspect to the next. Another great addition this year is the three vs. three and two vs. two online and local co-op modes that allow for quite a lot of possibilities, all of which will be improved by the presence of friends and beer. Playing co-operatively adds another dimension to PES, particularly since it's easy to see a group of friends playing locally together, getting hooked for the duration. For those interested, it will definitely add even more longevity to this year's version. As Adam Bhatti touched upon, another strength of this mode is that it's "an easy way to bring everyone together," since it's an opportunity to gather gamers with split-allegiances locally, giving them a real chance to experience PES multiplayer. This seems like a clever way to steal away potential fans, whilst also advertising something else to potential PES-converts - that this brand is far more proactive when it comes to producing new modes. To illustrate this one last time, on top of the three vs. three, and the fact there's still plenty to be revealed on the eSports side of things, there's also the return of Random Select Match to PES 2018, which was a popular mode in the past that fans have been asking for again ever since. Compared to this, the competition really does appear to be stagnating, and perhaps a little too happy to sit on modes with cash-flow.

It was interesting to hear Adam Bhatti speaking about the rationale behind having Usain Bolt as a player in MyClub mode, something that was highlighted in the reveal trailer at E3. "We got on websites that we wouldn't have otherwise. Like Forbes, front-page was Bolt plus PES, and people were like 'What's PES?' - that exposure is what the brand really needs." Although this may be a mutually beneficial deal, since it's been mooted that Bolt has aspirations to move into football, the willingness to pursue and embrace these opportunities signals PES is in a very good place right now. The core fan-base has an awful lot to look forward to but, equally, this year's edition looks set to have far more pull-factor than ever before, with so much of its house in order.

The PES team indicated there will be plenty more details, particularly regarding the eSports side of PES 2018, at Gamescom in August. Before then, though, on 20th July through to the 31st, there will be an open-beta for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners. This will give the community its first chance to try out PES 2018 in Exhibition Mode, as well as the three vs. three mode, which Cubed3 will be covering in-depth, too.
Box art for Pro Evolution Soccer 2018








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Brilliant write up. I think what people forget about PES is it's popularity in Japan. It's incredibly popular there and its probably the only reason KONAMI continue to develop the series. 

Personally PES 6 (2006) put me off PES for quite some time. I made the switch back to FIFA for 08/10/13 however I had PES 2012 for the 3DS and now 2017 for XB1. For me it is miles better than FIFA 17, not that FIFA 17 is a bad game but PES just plays better for me. 

As good as '18 sounds and as much fun as I have had with 17 I only buy sports games on 3 year cycles. So most likely not buying it until 2020...unless it came to Switch of course Smilie

( Edited 13.07.2017 19:00 by Guest )

I find it odd that given how successful PES on Wii was, not even one version came to Wii U, and Switch is being overlooked for PES18.

( Edited 13.07.2017 19:00 by Guest )

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

Yeah it's a shame about no Switch version, but again, based on chatting with Adam Bhatti, it seems to be another case of resource management. Like plenty of other developers, I think they couldn't really safely anticipate how much of a roaring success the Switch would be so early on. Obviously anything less than that, and it could be risky launching in year one, so especially for PES, you can understand the impulse to wait a little. 

In leu of PES 2018 on the Switch though, they should re-release some of the PS2-era versions in the eShop! Smilie I would love to revisit those.  

( Edited 13.07.2017 19:00 by Guest )

Tom Barry [ Reviewer - Editor - Resident Sim-Racer @ ] 

I'd buy a revamped ISS or ISS Deluxe! Smilie

( Edited 13.07.2017 19:00 by Guest )

Adam Riley [ Director :: Cubed3 ]

UNITE714: Weekly Prayers | Bible Verses

I used to play ISS all the time on my Cube. Unfortunately I just think that KONAMI don't believe there is an audience on Nintendo consoles for a football game. To be honest if the prices were the same then normally i'd buy it on the Playstation/Xbox equivilant because we know Nintendo versions are the crapper version of the game. The Switch's portability is the only reason i'd get a Nintendo version, although it sounds like FIFA is so cut down for the Switch that it makes me think twice about it. I can image PES would be in the same exact situation as well.

( Edited 13.07.2017 19:00 by Guest )

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