A part of me forever holds the Pro Evolution series in reverence. As a person who doesn’t get into the sports genre much — often rarely — even entertain that thought, I’ve regarded Konami’s premier football title as good as it can probably get. There were many milestones and a few attempted concepts along the way, but Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 handles its technical craft so well that I’m inclined to proclaim this as perfect, almost.
Well…it damn sure feels that way if you can appreciate how PES 2017 improves upon itself. Granted, Konami has seldom faltered on the strength of gameplay especially from last year, where player movement and control response are not completely dependent. Broad animations are further tuned to eliminate that telegraphed feeling for added realism, and does a great in translating those unpredictable 1:1 passing conflicts.
Admittedly though, a lot these core elements from the touched-up graphics, physics, to the gameplay are more evolutionary from PES 2016 — and that’s far from a bad thing. In fact, it feels even more fluid without compromising the intricate nuances involved, especially if your strategy incorporates gaining favor from the referee. Yes, it’s an unusual compliment but the game is smarter for it, and requires some forethought if you’re used to tackling opponents, forcing a player off-balance, or happen to contest a loose ball and the flailing resulting matches. This addition seems small but is very dynamic how you can manage the playing field, and not in an anticipated crapshoot way either.
This is more of a testament to how well the AI operates by itself. Depending on your team and environmental conditions, the CPU will effectively derail a common attack and have you thinking quickly and critically on any potential goal shot. Pepe from Portugal is determined to deny Neymar Jr. with unrelenting force, and just as easily gain possession of the ball without a sweat. If anything, the precise passes and natural handling is impressive but the AI defense is debatably the crown jewel here.
PES 2017 takes another step in the managerial direction with the Advanced Instructions feature, where you can take normal presets and straightforwardly enhance them at your whim. This can affect how well individual players take instructions and opponent temperaments, becoming relatively easy to implement with some familiarity thanks to a streamlined menu hierarchy.
Coaching your ideal team makes a return through MyClub and done by an auction system that helps you find, purchase, and play around with scouts and agents for the exact players you want. It helps relieve some that vagueness that plagued our experience of PES 2016 but still retains that nice surprise factor.
The Master League career mode is also better overall if you’re into running a football franchise for the long-term. Now the options to micromanage finances, player policies transfer, and of course assemble the perfect team for the season. Planning is key here because now keeping your happy is a gradual process instead of all at once near the end, although actually figuring out how well your team works together isn’t completely clear, without some clunky trial-and-error involved. Of course if you prefer playing with humans you can play online, and brush up on the basics with an extensive training mode.
We played the PlayStation 4 version of PES 2017 and like before, it’s handily superior over the Xbox One. However, it’s mostly down to minor details in presentation and the lack of Option files, which allow PS4 owners to import original files for fan-created or throwback uniforms — nifty if you wanted to adorn your team in classic livery — corporate licenses be damned. For reference, these features are also available on the PS3 and PC, too.
It would probably be a little cliché and premature to call Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 the authentic choice, but there’s so much built upon the previous entry that it gets my recommendation this season. I’m reminded of the series’ glory days from a decade ago, where you really do feel in absolute control and not just going through the motions that’s more common from FIFA. In short, Konami has finally made a complete thinking man’s football game again and that’s highest praise.