Pro Evolution Soccer 2017Price:
PC, PS4, Xbox One
After 20 hours on the pitch in Pro Evolution Soccer 2017, I've got a newfound respect for defenders. They clearly know what they're doing: after all, with the game's new adaptive AI, it was five hours before I scored my first goal.
The side effect is that I remember the goal well. It was a few games into the PES's returning Master League, a chance to fill your team of choice (East London for me: for the uninitiated, this is the unlicensed version of West Ham that boasts all of the same players but not the kit, badge or real name.), Danny Welbeck was up front in his debut, a cracking pass from Victor Moses out on the wing set him up, and it screamed in past the keeper. Welbeck was restrained in celebration, not because he wasn't excited about scoring on his debut, but because I'd forgotten I had to direct the goal celebration myself and was taking a drink of water.
After five hours of trying to work out if the game was much harder or if I was just worse six months after I'd abandoned PES 2016, it was a relief to finally get a goal in. It was hardly a deluge from there though. Over the course of multiple 10 minute matches, it was rare I knocked in more than a single goal - crosses into the magic final third of the pitch seemed to trigger an invisible trip-wire that saw defensive midfielders and the defensive line trap me into a cage each time. Crossing out of the box was no good, they'd quickly swamp anyone else. Scoring from inside the box has always been easy in PES, but here the struggle wasn't grabbing the goal, but getting into the box.
Perhaps it's related, but for some reason Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 doesn't feel as good as the 2016 predecessor, but not for a reason I can discern. I know, I know, this is why you read a review - to be told about the good, the bad and the ugly by someone who can accurately tell you why.
The trouble is that on the surface it appears to have much of the same bells and whistles as Pro Evolution Soccer 2016: PlayerID is back, and it's still impressive to see each player's essence distilled down to a tiny avatar that has the same way of running, the same pace or skillset. The FOX engine that brought PES 2016 and Metal Gear Solid V to life is back too, mostly used here to accurately model what happens when you pelt a football into the ref's big stupid face by accident, but also for some other ball physics that keep the game unpredictable. There's even much improved AI; a much-touted feature known as Adaptive AI meaning that your assault on the goalmouth will often lead to you being swarmed by angry defender bees. Pass to a player often? The AI team will work its hardest to shut him down.
These features and more are great, and it shows that the PES 2016 you know and love is here in this iteration, and it even boasts a few improvements, but somehow it still feels like a slight step backwards rather than the improvements we might have been expecting after last year showed everyone PES 2016 was worthy of the football crown.