Month: September 2017

Hello Krul World

The puntastic Tim Krul was my big signing at the start of the January window of Season 1.

I’ve abandoned all thought of using House Rules in this ML for now. I am playing it ‘straight’ in transfers in and transfers out, and will see how far this gets me. I did get rid of Giorza, but mainly because I feel he’s too much a known quantity for me already. The £5m his sale brought in won’t hurt either.

The sturdiness of the AI in PES2018 is a pleasant surprise. I am still regularly having my ‘ass’ handed to me on a plate in sudden whirlwinds of devastating attacking play and/or my dopey defending.

My leaky defence needs rebuilding. I searched for Free Agents among the GK fraternity, saw Tim Krul, put in a cheeky enquiry for him, and just about got him by offering Appearance and Win fees (a good addition to the contract negotiations) on top of a reduced wage. My final offer had only a 74% chance of success, but it was accepted. I’ve had higher-rated offers for other players in the 83% range rejected. I really like this ‘do ya feel lucky?’ aspect of transfers this year. I enjoy playing with the various toggles and sliders. History tells us to enjoy such things while we can, because they tend to be mysteriously removed one or two editions later.

Krul started great, performing heroics in a 0-0 draw – the first goalless match I can remember in this ML.

If one of the metrics of a great football game is the sturdiness of its fouling model, another might well be the frequency of its nil-nils.

I’m not judging, for now.

Krul’s impressive turn between the posts was the main story for me. It’s started being said that PES2018 keepers are individuals once again. When was the last time a keeper made the difference in PES? Possibly as far ago as the middle PS3 years – the PES2011-PES2012 zone. Or earlier.

I’m looking for triumphs in PES2018. I’m looking for reasons to ignore the appalling removal of fouls. At the time of writing I have just completed a session of 4 matches in which there was not a single AI-committed foul. Not even one. Needless to say, this was the worst single session of PES2018 so far.

Never in my most fevered nightmare did I ever think Konami would do what they seem to have done with PES2018. They have quite blatantly removed fouls from this football game.

My fingers have worked out PES2018 well enough that I am no longer getting even a pathetic 1 or 2 fouls per match. At least 1 or 2 was something. Now? Fouls are gone. They are GONE.

A football game without fouls is free of consequences. There are effectively no rules. Anything goes. Everything must flow. This is a new low benchmark even for new-style, online-oriented PES. I fear the worst for the rest of the year.

But I am enjoying the here and now. Whatever the future brings, right now is good.

Why is PES so good? Here’s a winning goal near the end of a match that helps to illustrate why.

The goal itself isn’t that special, although it is good. The special moment of PESness, for me, came when the ball dropped to Rice just outside the box, and in that moment I knew I was going to have a shot. I didn’t know it was going to be a goal. For all I knew it would scream hopelessly wide, or just be blocked. No – the greatness was the anticipation of the shot.

The goal won me the match, and a precious – and rare – three points.

I remain rooted to the bottom of the table. But I’m on Classic mode now, so I’ll be receiving no marching orders (in the UK English sense of that phrase).

Default lives matter

A lovely Coutinho hat-trick – with a new post-match scene of him taking the match ball – was the sign that I’d got to grips with Professional.

I went back to Top PLayer after this match, and won the first such match, but promptly lost the next two.

I have already switched from Challenge back to Classic Mode. I have also abandoned any thought of House Rules, until further notice. The difficulty levels having been rezoned, and the AI beefed up n the way that it has, I’m hoping to get a classic-feeling ML environment, i.e. one where the pot of involvement and fascination and challenging matches never fills up no matter how many new and better players you add to it. I’m hopeful that this could be the first PES since PES2014 in that regard.

The main PES forums are in meltdown about the AI, and there’s been plenty of debate about it here, but at the moment, I like it. The single-player game needs an AI like this in order to sustain itself. That involves cheating. With my sci-fi nerd hat on, I follow real-world AI developments quite closely, and it’s debatable if we will ever get anything more ‘intelligent’ than a garden snail. Giving itself lop-sided, unfair advantages might be the best that a computer game AI can ever get.

Sessions are deep and interesting, and everything looks promising. I have to keep reminding myself that this is only Season 1. But things haven’t felt this good at this stage since… maybe PES2013?

I’ve tweaked my camera setting again, after deciding that I need a more zoomed-out view to see player runs more effectively. I haven’t gone back to Wide – I’ve simply zoomed out a few more notches. As seen in this clip of a nice Castledine half-volley at the end of a short build-up:

It still strikes me as odd that Castledine is white now. The change came last year, of course, in PES2017, and has continued to this year.

The oddness here isn’t just that he is white, given that the eternal champion we knew as Castello-Castolo-Cinalton-Castolis was famously a cool black dude. PES2012’s Cinalton and PES2016’s Castledine were physically modelled in a somewhat different style, granted, being more reminiscent of the late David Rocastle.

It’s arguably more odd that this change has just been accepted by the fandom. One of Master League’s most beloved characters is white now, and that’s simply that. Where are the campaigns? Where is the outrage?

I continue to be vastly irritated by the online flourishes that contaminate the offline, single-player world. I hate seeing this crap:

(I know I can fiddle with Settings in the game to stop these notifications. I will do so when I remember to.)

GP is the currency of online PES. ‘Online PES’ is a phrase with roughly the same meaning as ‘Shit-filled doughnut’. Seeing the pitchside adverts for online is bad enough. Having these messages pop up quite regularly is pushing me to the limits of my zen-like tolerance.

The game devs clearly imagine that I’m going to see enough of these fatuous messages – Pressed X in a menu! GP acquired 300 points! – that eventually I’m going to think ‘Wow, it’d be a shame to let all these imaginary GP points go to waste, might as well head online and check it all out’.

I’m not saying I’ll never at least have a couple of online matches. I usually do, every year – PES2017 was probably the first PES game where I never played a single online match.

But online football gaming is not football gaming. It’s a football-themed online game. Which is something very different from a football game. And it necessarily brings a set of gameplay values that are killing Pro Evolution Soccer, year on year.

Business as usual

Good times in PES2018, eventually. I’ve calmed down and started focusing and playing. I’ve broadly compared PES2018 over the last few days to PES2012 and FIFA15 for different, wholly positive reasons. I think this game is going to be fine.

For that to be achieved, the AI will have to hold up in the long term. I’ve seen enough signs of the AI’s good play and outrageous unfairness to suggest that, yes, it will hold up, and then some.

No-fouls isn’t going away as THE issue of our time. The outrageousness of no-fouls is about what it represents, just as much as what it is. No-fouls represents the entrenchment of the series’ online-fun-first philosophy of recent years. For this reason alone, no-fouls is an absolute anathema to me and, I would make so bold as to affirm, to all serious single-player players of PES. Konami, we don’t want your stinking fun.

See the two adverts on the pitch behind the goal there? My constant thought: Get that shiteClub shit off my screen.

But the gameplay I’m experiencing now in PES2018 – that whole F-word question aside – is probably the best sustained gameplay since the fully-patched PES2014. Or, if you’re a true PES2014-phobe and don’t like anything being compared to that game, the best since the early seasons of PES2013. I’d even push it all the way back to PES2012 and say the quality is high enough to stand comparison there.

I’m still in Season 1 of my Master League, so view this praise accordingly. Let’s see how things are in Season 2. With 50-odd matches in total across all modes under my belt, though (far more than any reviewer would ever play), I believe I’ve taken the temperature of this PES.

Here’s my month of October in Season 1:

No goals. Proper canings from the AI. On Top Player – and then on Professional.

I have switched cameras. I’ve nearly always been a Wide man, but have hankered for a different camera for some time. A regular blog commenter, Darryl, posted a suggestion that I tried and liked. Here’s a vid where you see me switching to the camera at the start of a match, and amusingly, scoring almost immediately:

That’s a Customised Long camera, with the settings at 7, 0, 10. I have since tweaked the 7 to a 5 and feel settled on that slightly more zoomed-out view.

This lower, closer-in view discourages the ‘angry hornets’ style of play that any PES can easily decay into.

Next are two pleasing looped headed goals from the AI. I’m playing in my 3rd strip in this match, an all-brown custom kit that’s a tribute to Coventry City’s celebrated ‘excrement kit’ of the 1970s, as provided by another regular commenter, Paul, of PESFX.

The interesting thing here aren’t just the AI’s two looped headers, which helps to demonstrate how interesting the AI is this year, in my current view (other views are available).

For the AI’s first goal, right at the start of the clip I try a dumb, Hollywood pass (with Hettich) diagonally forward through midfield, that the AI cuts out very simply. The AI is a big topic out there at the moment. I wonder if there are PES players who expect to be able to make passes like that, and view the inability to as signs of ‘poor AI’ or whatever? In my view, we shouldn’t expect to be able by rights to make that pass at this stage with the Defaults. Trying it is a sign of (my) laziness.

Note what exactly happens for the AI’s second goal. I have good possession, and eventually circulate the ball to my DMF, Hettich, whom I then run into the box and almost get the ball to. The AI keeper hoofs a long ball to where Hettich would have been, had I not brought him forward. A CB is covering, but doesn’t win it, and the AI hoists an aerial pass to the wing (yes, I know, but currently don’t care much), and then the CB can’t get to the Millwall striker who nods in his second floated header in one match. A little 90-second encapsulation of why PES2018 is pretty good at the moment.

I’m not getting carried away yet. We have yet to see what damage Team Spirit will wreak on a fully mature Master League.

Here I think we might be OK. The difficulty levels have been rezoned this year. Professional is roughly equivalent to last year’s Top Payer. Superstar is like a Superstar+. I have heard so much about Legend being bad and monstrously unfair that I just know it’s going to be great for me.

I like a Challenge

I got underway, feeling as grand as a ship captain setting sail for lands unknown. That’s a decent avatar of me. I can’t quite achieve that whole Lex Luthor-style, billiard-ball-bald look, though. There’s always a shadow of hair, Lombardo-style. So this totally smooth-headed avatar represents an impossible ideal that I will never attain.

Challenge mode. I have to finish in the top 9. Okay. Will do.

Another cunning Konami stunt, moving the menus from the horizontal to the vertical and hoping we’ll passively accept it as being a revamp. Is there another example anywhere in gaming of a developer so comprehensively shafting a beloved game-mode, year on year, than PES Productions does with Master League? I mean, if there were no Glory Years to remember, this would seem fine, probably, but there are so it’s not. It’s almost as if they don’t want us to play it! I know, crazy talk…

The new Team Status screen. This, plus a slider to negotiate contracts with, are the new additions to Master League.

I decided to go full-throttle old-school with the formation. I need to win games. Goals win games. A 4-3-3, then, similar to my Glory Years’ 4-3-3 (the same formation I was still playing with in PES5, this summer just gone).

Game on!

This is the stuff, right here. Nothing feels better in gaming, in life, than the feeling of the nights drawing in, a sudden chill in the air, the central heating pipes clanking under the floorboards, and the warm hearth of PES flickering on the screen…

I lost that match. And quite a few others too.

Top Player, PA1, before anyone asks. I’m not a great player, and probably should have stuck to Professional for at least half a season as I normally do, but I fancy making Challenge Mode challenging. I will stick with Top Player. If/when I restart, though, following the sacking, it’ll probably be on Professional.

I’ve won one match so far.

Here is the table from a few matches ago – I’ve played more since this was taken, but am still bottom of the table:

9th is a long way away from here.

I’ve toyed with the formation, switching to a version of the 4-3-3 with two DMFs and a sole AMF. Trying to beef up the defence.

It hasn’t really worked out. I still concede, on average, about 2 or 3 goals to the AI per game. I have to go on record as saying I love this aspect of PES2018.

Whatever else happens from here – and the fouls/free kicks situation, year on year, has dragged the series into quicksand – I’ve been waiting since PES2012 for an AI to feel consistently deadly again. Here it is. Brilliant.

I don’t even care that most teams mostly play the same way. There’s never been great individuality at the team level in any football game.

Random thing: I always press L1+dpad-UP to make my kickoffs feature the traditional two players. The game remembers this setting for the rest of the match. Wish it could be permanent.

All hail a momentarily confusing usage of ‘marching orders’ in the American English sense:

These menacing board messages do keep popping up. I saw this one after an atrocious run of results:

Which made me fear for my future after losing the next one. But all I got was a sarky message about potentially clearing out my desk soon. I hear that there is no wiggle-room in Challenge Mode. I will be sacked, probably in mid-season.

I’m tempted to jump before I’m pushed, and restart with a renewed sense of purpose and focus. Every match matters. But this is the first time such a feature has been included in Master League, in this way, and I want to pay tribute to the old girl (meaning, Master League) by letting it sack me at least once.

On the pitch, PES2018 plays a very good game of football. But there is a dark, dark cloud on the horizon. The end-times are at hand. Never in my worst nightmare did I think that the low-fouls of PES2016 and PES2017 would lead to the situation we have today in PES2018. Almost literally no fouls at all.

Roughly 1/3rd (maybe even half) of my matches feature zero free kicks for either side. The remainder feature a pathetic 1 or 2 at most.

15 or so matches in, there has not been one single match with more than 2 AI fouls on me, and that was itself a rarity. Appalling and unforgivable.

So the time has come. I solemnly pledge now that there will be no PES2019 in my life or on this blog if this keeps up. And PES2018 is on borrowed time.

The no-fouls issue, unless it is resolved properly, and SOON, has effectively destroyed Pro Evolution Soccer.