It's been a while since I last felt like I was really into a football game. I've played every FIFA and PES to some degree since the Mega Drive days, becoming obsessed with some (ISS Pro, PES 3, PES 6, and to an extent FIFA 15) and merely wasting time with others. PES 2017, although I'm yet to play it nearly as exhaustively as the series' PS2 entries, has a real chance to become the next game on that list. As is always the way, Konami's latest has a handful of foibles that can frustrate, yet it still manages to beautifully replicate that bloody awful spectator sport we love and hate in equal measure. PES 2017 is football. Unless you actually play football for a living, in which case football is still football.
AI might seem an odd place to start in a review of a game that is all about the feel of the pass, the sting of the shot, and the oohs and ahhs of those amazing goals and near misses, but AI plays an integral part in the success of PES 2017. For the most part the AI players in PES 2017 don't behave in annoying ways. Players can make mistakes and they don't always run into the space you were asking (screaming) them to do, but this doesn't come across as as a fault.
Players behave naturally (apart from when they glide across the floor when the ball and player aren't quite on the same page of the physics text book) and importantly have clear ability advantages over one another. PES has never felt so diverse in terms of player stats actually making a difference on the pitch. Whether it's strength, control, heading, balance... players resemble their real life counterparts just as much in terms of how they play as they do their in-game appearance. You've probably read that in every PES review ever written, but we've been wrong every year until now!
Anyway, back to the things that ought to matter the most. Passing is quick, neat, and tidy, providing you're not trying to hit a crossfield ball while slightly off balance and running back towards your own goal as Chris Smalling. There doesn't appear to be a 'best' way to play in PES 2017 (please don't contact me in six months after someone finds an exploit), so it seems equally possible to have success playing a more patient game, waiting for the space to open up as you dink the ball about, or breaking at pace. In fact, you might find yourself changing tactics over the course of a game, the opposition AI doing its best to shutdown your goto attack routes and star players.
When you do get in on goal, whether it be via a defense-splitting through ball or a smart one-two on the edge of the box, you'll feel confident in your chances (providing Mr Smalling isn't back on the ball) thanks to yet another iteration of PES where shooting just feels right, but the keepers are often up to the challenge. I can't remember the last time I gestured in annoyance/respect at a goalie so frequently, but it makes finding the net that bit more satisfying.
How people play PES varies wildly, with some only ever challenging friends locally (my entire University life), others attempting to dominate online, a portion dedicating seemingly endless hours/weeks/months/ to Master League, and more recently I expect a lot have sunk time into myClub. Online play this year has been bolstered by a dedicated PES League option, while myClub returns. As much as I want to get into myClub, it comes across as a decent but not as addictive alternative to FIFA's Ultimate Team. Online play on the whole is solid, with games running smoothly aside from the odd lag spike presumably caused by an opponent unstable connection.
With everything seemingly so brilliant, PES 2017 is surely the best football game ever made? Well, it might be, but there are some issues. Defending on the whole is solid (not too difficult yet not game breakingly easy), and I'm all for some erratic decisions from referees (it's often one of the things that makes watching real football so emotional), but I've been on the wrong end of a few too many pieces of blind adjudicating in PES 2017. The biggest offender by far has been an unwillingness by refs to blow for what can only be described as the most blatant obstruction any human could ever perform. I've turned and knocked the ball past the defender, only for him to step across and take me out. I know some will argue for a physical side to football, but this is beyond that and straight up cheating. It's rarely given as a foul, when in some instances it warrants a sending off.
Presentation has been one of PES' sore points in the past, but on the whole PES 2107 looks great. Player likenesses are better than ever, the game runs smoothly, and the animations are gorgeous. It's a shame, then, when you see someone who looks nothing like their real life counterpart (Son from Spurs stands out as an example where you wonder if the artists have ever seen a picture of him). Equally baffling are (in what is a move so PES it's actually quite funny) the awfully designed league tables. You might wonder how such a simple thing could be messed up, but somehow Konami has done it. The order of the columns is bizarre and none of those columns show you how many games each team has played!
Strange refereeing aside, none of those issues are more than oddities and PES 2017 is a wonderful football game that just begs to be played. Give me another 200 hours and I'll tell you definitively how PES 2017 ranks against the series' best, but right now I'm enjoying it an awful lot. Fun yet unfair, thrilling yet at times borderline broken, but it just wouldn't be PES if it was perfect.
Version Tested: PS4