PES fans have had a lot to crow about in recent years.
The series has started to find its feet again. PES 2015 showed a glimpse of fight and PES 2016 took a huge step forward in offering a genuine alternative to FIFA. However, as good as those games were they still had a lot of hurdles in the way.
When talking about them to FIFA
fans I found myself trying to defend it rather than speak about it passionately. I'd tell people to ignore the menu systems, or to try and overlook how out of date the squads were. There always seemed to be just enough wrong with them to make it a little bit embarrassing when booting it up for a kick about.
Konami however, had a lot to say in the lead up to PES 2017
. It acknowledged the flaws with last year's game and promised to address them. It announced every club license that it secured like it was a premier league team announcing a new multi-million pound signing. Konami was clearly proud of the game it was about to launch.
Just a few games into my time with PES 2017
and I can see why.
At first I wouldn't blame you if you thought it was the same game again, albeit with Leicester getting a stat boost. But once you get to your first opening cutscene you'll instantly see why this year's PES is the best the series has been to date.
First thing you'll notice is the graphical improvement over last year. PES 2017
looks genuinely stunning. It may miss some of the circus around the pitch that FIFA
has nailed but the players themselves look utterly incredible. It's the first football game that I wish had a photography mode hidden away somewhere.
I've stopped several times during a game to go into a replay and pan around looking at how realistic everything appears. Like all good games though, screenshots can't tell the full picture, because when the game is running these incredible player models move in a way that just looks real.
From players colliding into each other to the way they dink a ball into the box, everything has been tweaked and refined to near perfection and as shallow as these initial impressions are, it counts for a lot.
Behind the improved beauty is the increase in intelligence. As well as players moving in a more realistic way, they're also looking to take advantage of space, to make themselves available for a pass, and they read the game better than ever before. This has always been where PES
excels, but somehow Konami has managed to improve it even more.
While you're on the ball you can look ahead and see what your teammates are thinking. You can visualise the runs, plot your next move and start to work a plan to push the ball forward on goal. If you slow the pace of the game down, you'll soon see players form triangles to give options to the man on the ball. If you're trying to counter-attack, runners will overlap you or make a darting run between defenders into the box.
Everything feels so damn natural. As many hours as I've put into playing football games, it pales in comparison to the amount of hours I've spent watching the real sport. Usually when I go back to the virtual iteration, I'm left thinking about how the AI works and how to exploit it. In PES 2017
I'm thinking more about how players would naturally run. It bridges the gap between a computer game and the athletes it's representing.
If I'm running down the wing, finding myself up against a full back that will do whatever they can to cut out my cross, I can hold the ball up and bring others into the attack because I know that my team will be catching up and providing support. If I look up and see space between the centre back I know that the attacking players will look to exploit it, so a clever chip into the open area will be met by someone that's managed to slip through.
More importantly, I feel in control. If I have an idea, I know that I can execute it. I don't have to worry about the game getting in the way of what I'm trying to do. The only thing I need to be concerned about is whether the AI or whoever I'm playing can see it coming.
Defending is a slightly different matter. I've always loved the way that FIFA
handles the complexities of tackling and jockeying. Its 'Tactical Defending' system gets better every year and reflects the timing and movements that defenders have to master to stop a thrashing in the real life equivalent.