Football games are an interesting breed. They come out, boots swinging every year and we have to look them dead in the face, dabs and all and accept the fact that they can’t change too much between each instalment.

Whether you’re a Fifa or a PES kind of guy you’ve got to admit that at some point, the degree of change between yearly releases is slim. You’re buying a roster change and a graphical update, and if you’re lucky a couple of new modes that might keep your interest, but we all know why you’re there, sat playing it in the first place.

The minute to minute gameplay of football games is by far and away the most important fibre of their being, and if you don’t get that right, you’re out of the competition. It’s why people sit and play these games for hours each day for months. It’s the perfect storm with a few friends.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is a good football game. It hits that note. You feel it. You put a deadly cross in and the ball just taps the boot of Suarez, top right corner. The issue is, when you assess a football game in 2017, you must realize that the only two competitors are rather close with the execution of their gameplay. The Fifa 18 demo is out there on the PS store, and to acquire some comparison I had a few matches to test the waters.

After getting to grips with PES it’s easy to say that this is the more intricate game on the market. It takes a lot more skill to pick up and play and if you want to master it, there is a hill you can attempt to climb if you’re brave enough. Casually, therefore, it’s harder to recommend. You will be punished for mistakes but in spite of this, the sweet feeling of accomplishment after you score a goal that you’ve┬áspent 30 seconds setting up is incredibly satisfying.

If you’re up to the challenge the training menu is your best friend, and once I had a decent hold on the gameplay Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 quickly became one of the finest video game football experiences I’ve ever had.

The licensing problem personified.

Despite the great heights, there are a few points of contention, namely the Goalkeepers and the distinct lack of fouls. I went three matches in a row and I was never given a free kick. I even changed the difficulty to see if that was the issue. The CPU really doesn’t want to foul you, which detracts from a genuine experience and will remove the chance of tense games, putting you face to face with the cogs behind the machine rather than feeling like you’re playing against a human.

The goalkeepers also make some cracking saves but seem to be incapable of holding the ball, and I’ve lost a few frustrating games to the goalie basically swapping positions with my left back or just straight up dropping the ball after putting his hands on it. Maybe it’s a move towards authenticity but it comes off half-baked and exaggerated. Low crosses across the box are also terribly easy to score, making online a playground for those who want a cheap win rather than a fun game.

However, the player animations are gorgeous and smooth, the criminally underutilized Fox engine put to its limits to provide a lifelike scene from the pitch to the stands. Stewards are visible and the crowd have come a long way from being blobs of abstract colour. Visually and mechanically, the game is a triumph, but this doesn’t translate to the menus.

Traversing the menu’s (and by god are there a lot of them) in Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 often feels like wading through treacle, and it doesn’t help that they’re dull and uninspired. Every time I hit one I’m reminded that I want to be back on the pitch where the game excels. There are options and modes but there isn’t enough care in the UI to make any casual player find them.

One thing that doesn’t quite hit the mark is the commentary. Often there is an exaggeration for something that seriously didn’t need it, or it just feels outright theatrical and unnecessary, to the point of comedy. The audio mix doesn’t blend well with the crowd here so it sounds like your football mad uncle is sat on the sofa shouting right beside you. The banter gets old quick.

A couple of cool new modes feature in the game, with 2v2/3v3 co-op and a ‘random selection match’. The latter is perhaps one of Pro Evolution Soccer 2018’s best ideas, allowing you to play with a random group of players from every club in the game, letting you select from a number of presets and trade between sides. It is pretty much the answer to what fans have been doing in their spare time by tinkering with the team composition in the menus. This option saves a ton of time and is a lot of fun.

Master League adds pre-season tournaments and some more visual elements to break off from the menus but still doesn’t have the homely feel of Career Mode. I believe this is, at the end of the day, down to the licensing issue which seems to plague Pro Evolution Soccer and ensures Fifa players don’t drift over and give the mechanically superior game a try. I don’t want to play as Tyneside, and I certainly don’t want to see Rolando Arrons hopping about in a school gym kit that hasn’t been changed for a decade. It looks silly, and despite the option of downloading a fan made ‘option file’ it feels like too much of a stretch and will be even more of a pain for casual players looking to see their favourite players in their favourite kit.

Recognizing your favourite team and feeling great when you beat your rivals is half the battle, so if you’re a fan of Liverpool, Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund or Barcelona (among a few others), you’re safe, but if you don’t fit in the games licensing bracket it’s a dodgy logo and a bittersweet feeling. I know this is old news, and it truly feels harsh to hold this trump card against them, but it is something that needs work.

All in all, if I had to score this game on its gameplay alone, it would do extremely well. Minute to minute, it’s the finest football game on the market, without a doubt. But, as soon as the commentator screams out of nowhere or you’re pulled back to one of the clunky menu’s, you start to realize that the game is a beautiful diamond covered in mud. Football fans sick of casual play will adore this game, but the casual gamer looking for fun with friends will find recognizable faces and accessibility in its rival.

A PS4 review copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 was provided by Voltage PR. Our Editor-In-Chief Jordan Oloman spent 10 hours picking away at Man Blue’s defence and scoring tasty volleys.

Review overview
Visuals - 84 %
Audio - 66 %
Gameplay - 89 %
Fun Factor - 70 %
Summary Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 holds the best footballing experience on the video game market but covers it behind dull menu's, uninspired commentary and a licensing issue that will always divide fans. Those looking for challenge and satisfaction will find great joy, but the casual players may look for recognizable kits and faces over incredible gameplay.
77.25 %
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Jordan Oloman
Joint Editor-In-Chief of Quillstreak. Geordie Archaeology Graduate living vicariously through Nathan Drake. Loves old-school Adventure Games and anything made by Double Fine. Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp Wannabe.
https://twitter.com/JordanOloman

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