Pre-release week part 2

Not a single moment of football gaming for me since Monday’s decent session with the PES2018 Demo . My next footy gaming will probably be PES2018 itself next week.

As release day approaches, I always get the jitters, and they always start getting worse at this precise juncture, when early copies start to arrive. I keep an interested eye on the forums and websites that report all the news and impressions. I soak up the general way the new PES is being received – always with excitement, as is only right, and always with enthusiasm. There really is nothing like release week, and the first week or two after.

What if the new PES isn’t very good, or outright bad? The latter has never happened. Even the worst PES editions have delivered value greater than the amount of currency spent on them.

PES2008(PS3) and PES2016 are the two worst PES games in the entire series, in my view. PES2008(PS3) just edges it as the worst. But even these editions have their ardent admirers. So I’m not claiming to be some objective measurer of worth in PES terms. I know what I personally like and what I personally don’t like, and I measure my PES experiences in those terms. Likes and dislikes will be individual to us all, with some points of overlap, but on the whole, we each have our own PES ‘fingerprint’.

For me, PES2008 and PES2016 were terrible. PES2014, for most of its year of life, was in the same bracket – but now I regard PES2014 as one of the greatest ever PESes, that will never get the credit it deserves. PES2014 could have changed the course of footy gaming history, had it only been finished on release. Many PES gamers recall ’14 with a superstitious shudder and will never change their opinion of it. That’s just how it goes.

I fret that PES2018 will be a million-mile-an-hour, high-octane, online-oriented arcade offering. It seems likely from early impressions and screens that recent years’ tendency to eliminate stoppages in play and maximise ‘flow’ [vomit], has been accelerated to the max in PES2018. An entire layer of football gaming might be missing from PES2018. Its PR team might make noises about passing concerns on to the development team, but nothing will happen. The die is cast.

The truth of the matter is that PES is not made with middle-aged men in mind. 15 years ago, yes, I was right on the demographic. And the gaming landscape was very different. Online existed, but it was a minority interest. The game back then was made with offline single-player experience firmly in the foreground.

All that has changed. My impression of Konami’s PR in recent years is that they’re irritated by single-players ‘moaning’ about the progressive dismantling of their preferred gameplay.

I’ll stop that line of thought now. Release week is at hand. There’s a full year stretching ahead for me to whine about fouls etc.

And who knows. PES2018 might pleasantly surprise us single-player gamers out of the box, or after a patch. We’ll see.

Release week is at hand! PES Chronicles will be down for Maintenance for a couple of hours on the evening of Monday 11th September. A new skin, that’s all. Not much different from the current one, probably.

And then we will have at it.

Pre-release week part 1

So, this time next week the first European copies of PES2018 will have started to appear across the continent, and people will be playing them, including many in the UK.

In fact, that’ll start happening this coming weekend. There’s always some shop in downtown Skopje that starts passing PES under the counter on pre-release Saturday – and its purchaser(s) always post triumphantly about their prize on one of the PES forums (or on all of them). You stare at the forum pictures of the in-game menus with Cyrillic writing in them, and ponder the unfairness of life.

From the weekend on I’ll be refreshing forum pages and anxiously following the news in anticipation. By Monday I’ll have that whole ‘day before day before Christmas Eve’ feel. On Tuesday I’ll have entered a Zenlike state of calm as I hopefully get news of my copy’s dispatch, and gear myself up for its arrival on Wednesday.

That’s by no means a sure thing. This year I have preordered with SimplyGames, solely on the basis of their performance the last few years, when they have dispatched on the Tuesday of release week for next-day delivery.

ShopTo never once let me down in the past several years, but they always dispatch on the Wednesday for delivery Thursday.

It would make the world of difference to me to get PES2018 on the Wednesday rather than the Thursday. ‘Only one day’s difference,’ I hear you say. ‘Can’t you wait one day???’ I have to shake my head in sorrow. You don’t understand life, or PES. Only one day? One day is all we ever have. Today is reality, tomorrow is an idea. Having something right now is of inestimably greater value than the idea of something tomorrow. The bird in the hand is worth all the birds in all the bushes.

In any case, I think I’m being quite mature about my willingness to wait even until the Wednesday. Time was I used to head out from the Monday and trek all over Coventry city centre looking for a retailer that had broken the release date. I sometimes found one too.

They were great days, looking back. They were the days when PES was confident enough in itself to be so unlike FIFA that it was impossible to confuse the two. If you didn’t like a football game in which it was so hard to score that you often didn’t score for your first 4 or 5 matches, PES was not the game for you. Those days are gone. This is an age of ‘fun’ and ‘flow’ above all else, and it is a worse age for it.

I haven’t got any actual football gaming to write about today, in case that’s not already obvious. I’ve been consciously abstaining from footy gaming this week. I will come hungry to the full game next week.

A few sessions with the demo have satisfied me. I’ve been messing about with Advanced Shooting and Advanced Through-ball for the first time in several years. I’ll have more to say about them on Friday.

2018: A PES Odyssey?

So here it came. PES2018, in demo form at least, doesn’t feel like a massive step forward, or even much of a sideways step. It feels more like a single step forward, as with any other numerical iteration in the series. But this is only a demo. Just Exhibition games. Maybe the full version will bring us that ‘whole new vision’ thing? Who knows.

Will Neymar still be at ‘Barca’, as they’re known, in the full game? Will he be on the cover in his ‘Barca’ kit? On the title screen? The PSG thing was awkward timing for Konami. Their marketing and art teams must be having the proverbial kittens. Is it wrong that I’m amused? No, because Pro Evolution Soccer is not, never has been, and never should be about ‘big stars’ and big teams.

I know the marketing imperatives have changed down the years, but pardon me for feeling some schadenfreude when post-Seabass PES comes a cropper in its dogged pursuit of crowd-pleasing glamour and glitz.

Right. The game. First things first, and my long-promised/threatened vow to record the average AI fouls in my first 10 matches, and post them here. I think I said I’d be amazed if the average was above something like 4 AI fouls per match (itself a pitifully low figure, but I would have taken it). I also said that if it was above an average of 6 or so per match, I’d perform some kind of amusing public forfeit.

My first 10 matches, across various difficulties, with different opponents, brought this amount of AI fouls:

1-0-2-2-0-2-1-0-1-2-0

Which yields a grand total of:

an average of 1.1 AI fouls per match in the PES2018 Demo

  • 4 out of 10 matches without a single AI foul.
  • No match featured more than 2 AI fouls.
  • No match featured a free kick in shooting range. (David Beckham. PES2018. What’s missing here?)

So 1.1 is the figure. I’ll do the same for the full game in a week and a half’s time. See how things are under real match conditions.

That’s my hobbyhorse out of the way (for now). What do I think is good about the PES2018 demo?

Loads. I like the general cut-and-thrust of the gameplay. Good pace, good rhythms. Lots of seemingly random events can occur in the box now – this has taken a mauling on the forums, but I like it. I don’t want to have total control over chaotic scenes in the penalty box (so long as they don’t occur too often). I’ve seen some things that have made me grin with delight. Balls ricocheting from defenders’ shoulders and in off the bar, and that kind of thing.

The AI, so curiously passive most of the time, impressed me enough in a couple of encounters to make me hope for a much improved experience in the full game.

Playing with lesser players and lesser teams brought the authentic tang of PES. The bigger players and bigger teams are too arcadey-feeling, too online-friendly, which I know is the whole point. House Rules will be in full force in my Master League from the start – for the first time in my PES history. What a shame this has become necessary.

Passing, while not anywhere close to what PA1 should be, feels less assisted than it did last year.

I love the new ‘shadow cursor’ that shows who you’ll switch to when you perform an L1 player switch, or use secondary pressure. Why did I only hear about this when I started the demo? Anyway, it was a nice surprise.

I was going to write a long, long denunciation of the laser-guided backheels – oh dear God the appalling BACKHEELS – but time and space ran out. To be fair I haven’t had the backheels as often as some seem to. I’ve seen them maybe once per match on average. These backheels are possibly the stupidest, most un-PES thing I have ever seen in any PES. Yes, even more un-PES than no-fouls and super-slides. The backheels are… eh, I’ll have to save the backheels rant for another time. Suffice to say that they’re a symptom of a much deeper malaise in the current heart of Pro Evolution Soccer.

The full game should be in all our hands in under a fortnight. No matter the wailing and gnashing of teeth, no matter how much we cry ‘no fouls!’, it’s still something to look forward to.

Is that the sound of a certain clock ticking? This demo, and I would bet the full game, shows abundant evidence that the single-player experience is a vastly reduced priority now. There’s something almost grudging about any attention given to single-player at all. The disgusting myClub adverts that appear on every pitch in Master League say it all. Are there any Master League adverts on the pitches in myClub? No, and why would there be? Why would Konami ever want anyone to play Master League?

There’ll come a point when single-players will feel that the series has abandoned them. No-fouls is the huge elephant-sized canary in the coalmine here. When single-player depth is sacrificed in the name of online-centric ‘flow’, there’s only so much leeway even a devoted fan will give.

Rendezvous With Rafa

I have felt at a bit of a loose end in these becalmed days before things get moving on the PES2018 demo front. Friday’s post will have my full impressions on that. I won’t have much time to play the demo tomorrow (Wednesday), so Thursday will be play-time and then impressions Friday.

In the meantime, I have popped back onto the PS4 to see an old friend: FIFA16. This FIFA never wowed me in the way that FIFA15 did, but such things are often a matter of timing. FIFA15 came out well before PES2015 and so it got a couple of months of solid play. Time to bed down and build the bonds of affection. FIFA16 came out after PES2016, and never really got a look-in until after I’d racked up 12+ exhausting seasons (on what was a pretty poor PES game, hindsight now tells me).

First of all it was a pleasure to be back on the PS4. Where was I with FIFA16? Seemingly in the Championship payoffs. I breezed past Sunderland, 1-0 on aggregate, and faced Sheff Weds in the final at Wembley. Beat them 1-0 too.

Nice header back across the keeper from my on-loan starlet, Marcus Rashford. He was a virtual unknown at the time of FIFA16’s inception, who cost me only £6m in a subsequent transfer deal I made before logging off.

Note Alan Smith’s commentary line about Rashford’s header going in the top left corner of the net, when it plainly goes to the top right corner of the net. Grrrr. This FIFA-ism never fails to annoy me, every single time I hear it, and I must have heard it hundreds of times in FIFA by now. It’s not an error on EA’s part, as such. It’s their conscious decision to go with the American TV convention of describing the left and right sides of the goal from the viewer’s point of view, rather than from the goalkeeper’s point of view, which is our convention here in dear old Blighty land.

Promotion to the Premier League, and I met Newcastle in pre-season. A cutscene weirdly showed me what looked like Benitez on the touchline, but it couldn’t have been him, as I believe Rafa was unattached to any club when this game was made. Unless there’s been an update to rosters. Anything is possible with EA. One day they’ll have our matches analysed, Sky Sports-style, by virtual pundits on virtual giant iPads in virtual studios. Not even joking. I would bet they’re working on it.

I played most of that pre-season tournament, and enjoyed it – but not overmuch. The PES2017 disc was still in the PS4. I put that on for a game, and immediately felt at home. That’s the acid test: habit and routine wins out. Almost any FIFA might well be an objectively better package and even a better game than almost any PES, but the PES flavour of footy gaming is the footy-game flavour to which my taste buds are adapted, for better or worse. It would take a PES2008-style PES catastrophe to change me now.

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