PES 2018: Technical review & Analysis
Evolution is the name of the game!
The battle for binary based Football supremacy has long since been a 2-horse race with EA’s licenced FIFA branding and star names hogging the mainstream limelight. PES has a history almost as long FIFA’s, starting within the World Soccer routes in 1995 then onto International Superstar Soccer. The Pes name started in the early noughties but the Japanese release kept a firm grip on the Winning Eleven name throughout and this brings us onto the latest entry in 2018 with a whole host of new features, so let’s look at those first.
Old dog new tricks
Sports games regularly demonstrate the evolution over revolution better than most, normally tied into an annual update the amount of changes possible are dictated by that time frame and team(s) that can work on them. From MotoGP, F1, NBA, Madden and of course FIFA, the course is always improve on what you can and do not break what works, that said we see a vast increase in many facets here from Konami. New animations and control has now been added to enhance air control for chesting or heading balls down from long pings across the pitch. Shimmies and step-overs have always been a key element in PES and one of the main features that sets it aside from the competition, being able to have fine control of the ball while running, weaving and passing has always been it’s biggest strength. The more time you take with the game the easier it becomes to hold onto the ball while you manage a long run up the wing. The way you can tap the ball ahead or use the right stick to feint the players is great and has only been improved here with far more control and finesse possible. This is not only from your wealth of input choices but also the games vast array of motion captured animations that now include back heels, lob sided kicks, flowing ball control and the subtle wealth of motion that it achieves so well. Unlike FIFA where runs are pretty much impossible on decent difficulty, PES succeeds with your commitment, 2017 or even 16 players will feel at home here as it instantly feels like coming home. But it is faster, more nuanced at times and will still take a few games before you get the hang of these new changes in action. Weight and momentum is all within the movement, players are pushed off the ball, slide on wet grass, lose balance and more which makes the action very realistic.
A football title needs to take into the account the all-important areas that players wish to dive into, the online tournament and E-sports section returns here with co-op games of varying levels and just pure 1v1 face-offs. As this review is all completed before the servers are live and the game is out thanks to a review copy from Konami I cannot test that as yet but I will update if anything significant is found or requested in the comments. Exhibition matches, create your own player, tournaments including the fully licensed champions league are all in and in terms of the full branded display is the highlight of the title yet again. Most will while away hours as a manager and player in the fully equipped master league that also see new additions over its wealth of extras last year. A new transfer system is now included which will allow a day 1 update once the servers go-live to shift all the players around to the correct clubs after the window closed. Pre-match interviews, Pre-season tournaments and even locker room..ahem shots are all included to bolster the already rammed expanse of budget management, player moral and job security, which is now much harder to keep hold of. A classic team of historic stars is also included in the game, enabling a nostalgic trip down football past and bring some classics back onto the pitch to relive those glory days, as nice addition that enhances the games value even more.
Visuals & Presentation
You can play the games or sim them as you see fit and a typical “mixed” bag of music tracks will accompany the lacking menu system. The GUI overall could be adequately described as functional, never making life difficult but certainly in need of a face lift to elevate its stature. Thankfully the presentation of the game has taken another large leap forward thanks to the visual package on offer and the Fox engine that powers it, not quite a huge leap up on the Pro version though, it does supports a native 4K/60 presentation but sadly does not looks phenomenal for it, why you may ask? Well it is because it only uses the 4k geometry mode and not a total 4k Buffer. This means that only the edges of objects are rendered with a 4K resolution but all textures, effects, DoF, MB, lighting etc are all sampled at the same 1080P as the base PS4 version which renders at 1920x1080 as per previous entries along with the same silky smooth update and fast response. This is a waste for a sports title that would benefit the most from increasing the detail resolution over the edges as the specular highlights and sub pixel shimmer is largey coming from here and not the vertex points so the base post processed AA does little to resolve this in action and the 4K pro version only lightly improves on that. Worse still it only outputs the 4K mode on a 4K screen so 1080 players are left with the same image as base players, I do hope they have a day 1 patch lined up to resolve this.
1) Add in Downsampling.
2) Increase the base resolution to 1440p or higher if possible which would make a world of difference.
That said it is still a very sharp and clean game on both models and clarity from grass, models and crowds has all been enhanced from the 2017 release (Review video below).
Player models are again of a general high quality with instantly recognised faces, hairstyles and beards alike even if the kits do not match the actual players teams, you get the idea and this can be quickly resolved as I covered in last year’s review by the team edit function which resolves the biggest issue quickly allowing kits to be imported, name corrected and even voice over fixed to match. It also nicely demonstrates that the title supports a range of texture assets from 64x64 up to 2048x2048 with player kits, logos and the like, but the bigger the texture source the less you can import. If you really want to you can create your own kit and use that as free advertising…now there’s an idea.
Skin quality is much better than last years as are the kits themselves with a rudimentary physics simulation on cloth giving shorts and tops some level of movement that is backed up with the heavy reliance on normal maps and blends, a symptom of the engine design with it favouring texture work, lighting and decals over more geometry. Hair and beards have also see a boost here with a dithered effect apparent on the fins to simulate depth of hair but the basic post processed AA can miss this at times giving heavy shimmer even at a native 4K due to this only covering object edges and not details or textures. Crowd sounds are the average level of mixed chants and reverb as is the stadium music. They have improved the range of pre-game intros and this helps reduce the fatigue of them, but soon you will simply skip to the action anyway.
Sounds of the match
Commentary is really starting to show its age though with many lines present from last years game and repetition sets in very fast. It can also be out of sink with the action and simply turns on the Excitement phrase whenever the shoot button is pressed, it can help sell the mood but for next year I would like them to re-record larger chunks of this and mix the samples up much better within the games.
In terms of its materials they have really improved the quality from last years effort in many areas, shirts, socks and boots all have higher details also get dirty from decals after muddy slides and tackles. 38 Stadiums are created in the game and they are all differ In design and flows, grass is much, much better and more consistent that before, which sounds petty buy you spend a long time looking at it as it gets marked in play. Texture details are far higher and resolve much better far near to far distance and the split between grass sections, astroturf and running tracks is more convincing.
Animation is where the game really excels though with its IK integration enabling loose ankles to affect the players legs as they run or the physics integrated into all movement and collision, such as when players are stuck mid air and spin round, or pushed off the ball in a tackle in play and even more In the slow motion replays these look incredible. As does the way each player controls the ball when passed or punted a few yards in front to keep pace, these little touches thoroughly convince that you are watching a real game a times. Mixed in with the sheer volume of game types, stadiums, control and finesse over it all is where it shines the brightest. PES is not as easy going as FIFA, it takes more time to get accustomed to the flow of it, the wealth of options and freedom you have. This means you need to stick with it for a while to get into it, use the training modes, read the tips and soon it all pays off with its satisfying depth and skill required and is where I prefer it over the competition by a 300yard sprint.
So is everything perfect them with the title? Of course not as with anything there is always scope for improvement. When players are tackled still has the effect or rendering them stunned for a second which is frustrating at times. Fouls STILL are more weighted to you than the opposition in play making anything other than run and dab X a dangerous cat and mouse with the ref and his deck of cards. Facial animation is very, very mixed with some half decent areas but on the whole very weak and basic for modern levels, moreso when the camera can linger on them for so long in pre-game sections or replays. This also helps reduce the quality of the player models which are again an assortment of very good to very placeholder levels, many of the non key players are simply stock models from a bygone era, lipstick on a pig at times, largely due to the higher quality in the most famous players here.
This is also true of the arm movement and lack of verts and skeletal rigs used for the players, these are designed for the motion captured play but more, shall we say, human movement can appear awkward at best with clipping being a long running issue with the title and even FIFA but due to the amount of interaction it can be jarring. The lack of facial expression and small touches such as more blinking or mouth movement would help here. As would increasing the rigs and polygon budget, even though the cloth movement is much better and kit contours to players better, without normal maps everywhere they would largely look like cardboard kits and in the close-ups they need more maps to blend between, at a slower rate to improve this.
Lighting is a strong point again of the game and engine, although Fox Engine was one of the first big titles to use a Linear workflow within its material system, here it is sparingly used on parts of the game. The atmospheric scattering is good in the cloudy, rainy sections and rain is much better here with a decent depth to rain as it falls and distorted droplets on the lens. The best looking sections come from the sunny matches as always though and highlight the excellent shadow and Ambient occlusion work which helps the ball contact with the ground and players as they slide, it can leave a thick black outline sometimes but it still a welcome benefit and helps players feel more grounded in the world.
Post effects is where they need to step up the game, the heavy use of a gaussian blur mixed with a soft bloom can look weak places and I would prefer a more subtle use of this in play and replays. The per object motion blur is welcome but needs to be altered from its 60fps target aperture speed as it holds the image twice as long but is still designed for half the image time. So the samples band heavily in motion and due to the 30fps replay sections in the game (the rest of the game is an unwavering 60fps as always) it stands out like a sore thumb and even ruins the image quality at times when it does.
The DoF can have really nice Bokeh shapes in some of the deeper shots and this looks excellent when focused shifts back and forth, I hope the spend time on an update or next years title to improve these 2 areas most along with the player models. Also it is a great shame that the Pro is not used more than the basic 4K edges we have here, even dropping down to an overall 1440p across everything would help improve the shimmer across the title and the presentation on the bigger platform, plus add in Downsampling so 1080 players can also benefit, this should be a simple patch to release quickly giving the option in the menu screen would be the best choice for those that prefer to stay as is, not sure why but you never know.
Post Match summary
With the option to correct all the players names, teams and kits being very simple and the big strides they have made to the presentation and quality of the package as a whole I can thoroughly recommend this to all PES players without any issues at all. If you were not sold on last years FIFA then jumping over could not be done at a better time than this as we have the best PES we have since thus far. It still does not match the sky high presentation and budget the big EA monster has, but in terms of capturing the feel of the beautiful game and depth in play it can more than hold its own. This may also be the year that PC players finally get a game that stacks up to the latest console versions tested here, but I will confirm that once the title it released on PC later this year.