Reviews of sports games are, by and large, crap.
As someone who has played damn near every football game that has been released since FIFA 97, I can usually tell from an opening paragraph whether whoever has been tasked to review the latest FIFA, Madden, or NBA2K, has played the previous version or spent more than two hours messing about in 'Exhibition Mode', and more often than not it's clear that they haven't.
You'll get fluff from the back of the game's cover about whatever buzzword is being pushed this year, but EVERY single year it is not until the game has been out for a month or so before you get an idea as to how it actually is as a game. Too many times has a game been given a 90+ review score, only to be hated by the community in a number of weeks.
That's why we've done away with numbered ratings and instead will be suggesting that you should buy, try, or skip these games, starting with Pro Evoultion Soccer 2017.
I'll start off by saying that PES 2017 is a good game, and this will be a positive review.
PES has taken a lot of stick since it fell off the map after PES 2008, and rightfully so as the games that were produced in the following years were abysmal, but from PES 2013 on we have seen a noticeable improvement every year. That has continued, despite PES 2016 being a very good game in it's own right.
Here are a number of things that have stood out from the testing I have given the game this week as well as my time with the demo, where I played a lot of games against CPU and human opponents.
PES 2017 has the best passing mechanics I have ever felt in a football game. One of the main complaints for the game's direct rival, FIFA, is "FIFA bullshit" where things just go arseways for no reason, but it can be infuriating when you tap a pass to a player near you only to see the ball fly off as the game thought you were trying some ridiculous through ball.
Quick, intricate passing feels so natural in PES 2017, and it is most clearly noticed when playing with Barcelona for obvious reasons. You can really zip the ball about, but the feeling of threading the exact through-ball you envisioned into your striker's path is unlike anything else available.
My main gripe about PES 2016 was that it felt like every shot in the box went in. This year has seen a drastic improvement in goalkeeping, specifically in positioning to better prepare keepers to make a save.
They still punch crosses a tad too much for my liking, but I guess that could be said for real life goalkeeping in modern football too. Definitely a positive change overall.
This is where Pro Evolution Soccer's Fox Engine shines brightest. Your teammates actually have brains.
I'm trying to avoid direct comparisons to FIFA where possible, but PES dominates in this respect as your teammates will actually respond to what you are doing with the ball, rather than just mindlessly run forward or stand still which is a consistent problem for EA Sports.
If you are playing patient, your teammates will show for short passes, but if your getting forward quickly you'll see teammates manipulating space which is where the passing system is it's most satisfying too.
In this respect, PES is the closest to real football that you will get. I play a lot of football games, and never before have I seen opposition teams, both CPU and human controlled, set up two solid banks of four and task you with breaking them down. That happens often in PES 2017, and rather than be criminally frustrating, the challenge is something that seasoned players need.
You simply have to pass the ball to drag the opponent out of position, you CAN'T dribble pass four or five players en route to goal, unless you are Lionel Messi or Neymar, and that in itself is a big plus as good dribblers actually feel different to bad dribblers.
Patience is key, but creativity and spotting a run is ever more so.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 is fun to play on your own against the computer. That is more than can be said of it's rival.
The computer will take risks, and make mistakes, which is a breath of fresh air as opposed to the robotic excuse for a single player experience that FIFA has become. Not only will they try to play football, and take shots, but they will adapt to what you are trying to do and force you to mix it up. This is something that has been promised on the back of the box for years, but now finally it feels like it's happening.
This is something Konami have always cared about, but only recently has the execution been to a level where it feels satisfying as you play. It's not about crowd chants or commentary, it's about the reactions of the players and what emotions it evokes in the person holding the controller.
When I score a goal in PES 2017, I feel like I've accomplished something. A perfect example of this is a goal I scored while streaming the game on Facebook Live for Balls.ie:
— Mikey Traynor (@Mikeyt086) September 13, 2016
With Vagner Love, of all people.
I can't remember the last time I got out of my chair after scoring a goal. It wasn't the best goal ever, but that's the point.. It felt so good that it forced me to react. As for the players on the pitch, arguments over cards and celebrations with the crowd make it look the part.
Also, trophy celebrations make you feel like you actually accomplished something, and they are nothing short of a pisstake in FIFA. At this point I realise it may sound like I don't enjoy FIFA, which is not true at all, it's just that I find the weaknesses in that title are the strengths of PES, and I don't think that's an accident.
The game modes:
Sadly, where PES 2017 comes up short is in what you can actually do in the game. Master League is still in there, but the transfer systems are just strange. You'll see Vincent Kompany sign for Man Utd, you'll see Marcus Rashford signed for pittance, and even when you leave out the transfers, it all feels a bit flat.
Only England, France, and Italy have two-tiered leagues, which means that seasons get very repetitive quickly without European Compeition, and you see the same teams every time.
Online, MyClub is a clunkier and inferior take on Ultimate Team, whereas the division mode is exactly as it says on the tin.
The one thing that PES 2017 has going for it in the game modes department is MyPlayer, an answer to 'Be A Pro' mode where you control only one player on the pitch. It actually works well in PES because the AI isn't insufferably boring.
Overall though, there's not much more than a grind in Master League and Online divisions to keep you coming back.
Tackling can still be a bit ropey in PES 2017, as the pressure button will send your defender zooming in to win the ball, but sometimes they simply stop short and allow the dribbler to walk through them. Slide tackles are actually incredibly satisfying, but when it comes to stopping someone one-on-one, typically this is where the game doesn't feel as rewarding.
It seems silly to include this as a complaint, but it's ridiculously grating. Firstly, there are only 12 songs on the entire soundtrack, that means after two days of playing you already despise every single song.
'Where Are You Now?' by Justin Beiber, a song that I was sick to the teeth of back in May, will no be playing in the menus of PES for the whole season. PES does not need licenced music, the old soundtracks are a testament to this:
It has always been an issue for some, but if you are on Xbox One then you cannot avoid how silly it looks when Barcelona are facing off against MD White in El Classico online. Microsoft do not allow for the uploading of images in game, which means you cannot correct these failings like you can on PS4.
For Playstation users, all you need to do is downlod an Option File and press a few buttons and your game looks far more polished, but the fact that Xbox users have been left out in the cold with nothing done to help out makes this another negative score.
PES secured exclusive deals with Barcelona and Liverpool which is nice, but Bayern Munich are not even in the game..
Buy. (Try if you are reluctant)
PES 2017 is a fantastic football game. It really is the best PES game for a long time, and should be the foundation for a game that continues to get better and better and start to convert people back to the series they once loved.
IF you are someone who cannot get on board with the licencing issues, then you still have to try the game, it deserves a chance. There is a downloadable demo with 10 minute halfs, get that, pass the ball around, and see if you don't love it.
Even if you are buying FIFA 17 this year, PES 2017 is so different that it can, at the very least, be the game that you turn to when you are driven up the wall by FIFA, and we all know that is inevitable.
But really, if you love football games and enjoy playing against the computer just as much as against other people, you should buy PES 2017 this year.