FIFA 18 will outsell Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 20-1 and, y’know what, I still don’t get it. Ok, I get the fact that EA has all that marketing power in the world and that FIFA has all of those pesky licenses, but come on, more people must be interested in playing what is at this point a far superior game of virtual football, right? Perhaps it’s the online infrastructure and superior Ultimate Team mode, but come on, you still spend the majority of your time actually playing football. Doesn’t that matter? Doesn’t it? Sadly, I don’t think it does.
Bizarrely, many people have told me that they actually prefer the way that FIFA plays. Now, I would have accepted that 4 or 5 years ago when you could make a case for the difference between the two being down to a matter of taste, but since the 2016 vintage, I’d go on record to say that Pro Evo has been an objectively far superior game. So what’s the deal? Well, Konami haven’t done enough have they. Perhaps it’s a matter of budget, but the trick is to get more people to actually play Pro Evo. If they did, I’m sure, given time, that they’d see the difference in quality. Problem is, Pro Evo is still, well, rather unwelcoming.
The ugly menus, the disappointing online infrastructure, the general lack of behind the scenes polish, and yes, ‘Man Red’ and ‘Merseyside Blue’ remain major issues. There might not be anything that Konami can do about it, but as good as some of the player faces are, as great as the animations, lighting and stadium might be, seeing a budget kit and the name West Glamorgan City (that’s supposed to be Swansea by the way) does take you out of the experience, and when you’re accustomed to the kind of accuracy and detail associated with FIFA, it makes for an initially tough move.
Basically, it’s the same old problems. There are some licences (including the coup of attaining both the Champions League and the Europa League), but there is a lot missing. The Master league has been improved, but not enough, Konami’s take on FUT isn’t bad, but it’s still a long way behind FIFA. Oh, and then there is the commentary which, in its defence, has improved slightly, but remains miles behind the vast majority of major sports titles on the market and in comparison to FIFA, is actually a bit of a joke. Peter Drury and Jim Beglin have a few more lines this time around, but much of it is so stilted and inaccurate that it is borderline distracting.
Still, these are all things that long-standing fans of Pro Evo have become accustomed to. A swathe of new fans is unlikely to appear until these things are sorted (or at least improved), but for the established fan base, these are the kind of issues we can live with as long as the gameplay is up to scratch. Luckily, the gameplay in Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is exceptional. It’s hardly a quantum leap from what was seen in Pro Evolution Soccer 2017, but by refining what was already an exceptional game, Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 moves that bit further ahead of the competition in the one area that really matters most.
I keep telling myself that I shouldn’t compare FIFA and Pro Evo so much in these reviews, but as always, it remains impossible to talk about one without the other. The fact is, each are used as the yardstick by which the other is ultimately judged. We judge Pro Evo’s online infrastructure, menus and licences by FIFA’s. We do the same for gameplay, and in this regard, Pro Evo is once again leagues ahead of its far more popular competitor. FIFA 18, like its predecessor plays a decent enough game of football, but as in previous years, it feels floaty, inaccurate and over animated in comparison to Pro Evo’s far more refined offering. Last year was a great year for Pro Evo in this regard, and while the jump is relatively minor, the gameplay has improved again this year.
Some of the changes are rather subtle and somewhat difficult to notice at first, but the one dramatic change comes in the games’ decidedly slower pace. By slowing down the action, a greater emphasis is put on Pro Evo’s crisp passing, deep tactical game, mechanical brilliance and sublime individual attributes. From brutish defenders to nippy wingers (whose increased speed really makes a difference this year) and the finer points that distinguish world class players such as Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo, this more considered pace combined with even better animations makes this the definitive Pro Evo experience, and thus by default, the market leader when it comes to on the field play.
As always, the offensive elements of Pro Evo’s gameplay will invariably grab the headlines, but it is once again the defensive side of the game that truly separates Pro Evo’s beautifully refined gameplay from FIFA’s flashier but looser alternative. Compared to FIFA’s inaccurate and somewhat cumbersome tackling (easily my least favourite thing about FIFA), Pro Evo’s is a masterclass in control and tactical nous. As skilful as your opposition might be, like in the real game, you can always give yourself a chance with a well-drilled team and a strong defensive unit. Lower ranked teams are noticeably slower and less accurate in their passing, but they are often strong too, and if used wisely, can keep out more talented opposition. It might not be as flashy or exciting as the offensive side of the game, but it really shows the gulf in class when it comes to truly recreating the feel (rather than just the look) of the beautiful game. Yes, keepers can still let you down and the referees always have a shocking decision in them, but for the most part, this is a game that celebrates the defensive side of the game as much as the offensive.
With improved animations, a greater sense of physicality and top-tier physics (from ball movement to player interaction), on the field, Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 plays a better game of football than ever before. Sadly, as I mentioned previously, those same old issues undermine what is an otherwise exceptional game. I appreciate that little can be done about the licences, but what about the front end? The commentary? The aging game modes? Master League is still great fun, and it has seen a few refinements when it comes to signing new players, but it has remained largely unchanged for years, and while MyClub is decent enough in its own right, it’s still miles behind FIFA’s FUT mode. If Konami and Pro Evo really want to complete with FIFA in the sales charts, these are the things that need to be fixed, but in the here and now, Pro Evolution Soccer remains the purists choice and comfortably the best game of virtual football that money can buy.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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