Month: October 2017

The holding pattern

A long weekend off work brought the opportunity to play PES2018 a lot more than usual.

I managed 4 separate sessions of about 4-5 matches apiece and progressed almost all the way to the mid-season transfer window in Season 2.

Richarlison will be coming in January, probably Shelvey too. I’m waiting to see if Newcastle will accept a 70% likelihood reduced fee. Quite a few players will be going. You get lots of offers for players in PES2018. It’s possible I could have a Default-less squad by the end of the season. Oh, Master League, how you have changed.

I played quite intensively on Friday and Saturday. I went from post-Season 1 to the stage you see above – played 19 league matches, and got knocked out of the cup in the second round. I gave the game a rest on Sunday. I had to.

PES2018 feels just like PES2016 and PES2017 after a while. Yes, we can point to this or that mechanic or animation that’s different (and much better) than those games. But the overall feeling of frantic flow is exactly the same.

nuPES, as I unaffectionately call the games since the advent of the PS4, has done quite well to last 4 editions without insulting me too much, but the point has been reached, and I do now feel insulted by its lowest-common-denominator general gameplay. I ain’t some kid. There’s a lot riding on the Great Patch.

Veldwijk continues to rack up goals, and would have a lot more if he wasn’t hampered by the infuriating and transparent nuPES ‘thing’ of nerfing him for a match or two after he plays great. Seriously, if Veldwijk gets a goal or two in one match, he might as well not be playing in the next match.

I managed to get my first players into the Team of the Month, for November, Season 2:

That L BAKER is a 16-year-old Youth and is now my first choice CMF adjacent to the DMF position. He’s not an AMF as in this picture – not yet.

The Veldwijker 3

I have scored my first proper long-range goal in this PES2018 Master league. In fact, it’s my first proper PES2018 long-ranger, full-stop. I don’t recall scoring one quite like this in my pre-ML Exhibition and Tournament warmups:

BOOM. The scorer there is my new big man up front, one LARS VELDWIJK. This was one of the goals from a stunning debut hat-trick against Millwall. (Naturally, the nuPES nerf meant he did sod-all for a few matches after.)

He’s this year’s F FRIDAY, it already seems, and just like last year’s big man, I picked VELDWIJK up from the Dutch league.

I looked up the pronunciation (isn’t the Internet a marvel?). I’m going to go with the most common UK version. Veld-witchk. The second syllable is close enough to ‘witch’, with a hard K at the end.

Over the years, people often ask me what buttons I press to score these goals. I press the shoot button. That’s it. Goals like this come along if you try them often enough. This must have been my 100th attempt, at least, to bag a long-ranger in this ML. This attempt was the first one that didn’t either whistle wide or land in the keeper’s gloves. Persistence and the shoot button are the only real ingredients of getting a PES long-ranger.

It’s nice just to belt one in from 30 yards every so often. The long-range goal is football gaming’s equivalent of the explosive headshot in an FPS.

Back at the worktable of my ML, my pre-PES2018 mutterings about House Rules are on hold for now. I have filled my boots with new players in the transfer market. I have a huge, versatile squad. I will see where this road leads me in PES2018.

There is my full Season 2 squad, on the right here.

J CORREA got the star signing cutscene.

Veldwijk has been the star so far – 5 goals in 9 games.

Puncheon and Baker are promoted Youths.

Besic was my most expensive signing from Everton at £9m.

Cris is on-loan somewhere and shouldn’t be in this picture.

F Grillo is one of my most important signings – an LB who can deputise as a CB when required.

Cumulative stamina takes its toll this year, I’m finding, so a squad this size feels pretty much required.

I’ll be dumping Arcas and Castledine as soon as I can. Both players are shockingly anonymous for me this year.

Canning and Erikson and Candemir and the other Default dross can go ASAP too. I have no attachment to them, no sentiment.

These were the promoted/relegated sides:

Hmmm. If I can find a bookmaker to put a few quid on those sides being the real-life promoted/relegated sides come next May, I might take it. Only a quid or two, though. The accumulated odds for all 6 outcomes would be very favourable, especially with Palace’s start making them seen near-certs for the drop.

The first three games of the season were tight, tense affairs – the best football gaming that PES has to offer. Then the results started coming. Veldwijk won a couple of games on his own. At the time of writing I’ve just completed a session where I lost badly a couple of times – once to newly-relegated Huddersfield, who rightly seem better than the average D2 opponent – which all leaves me like this after 9 matches of the new season:

Veldwijk is a star already. It’s not just the long-ranger. It’s all-round play. Small, nippy strikers in nuPES are far too common and samey. I’m talking about the tiresome CF/SS/AMF hybrids, who might as well all be the same player. Much more interesting to play with big, lumbering men up front who can’t play anywhere else. I wonder what a Veldwijk-Friday partnership would be like? Probably rubbish, in a Gerrard-Lampard kind of way, but I’d like to see. So I have cheekily popped back into the transfer screens and laid down a marker for the great man:

No chance of signing him yet, but the time will come.

PES2018 is simmering along nicely. No, this isn’t anything like the Master Leagues we enjoyed in the Golden and Silver Ages of the series. But it’s very decent nonetheless.

If the fouls aren’t fixed, PES2018 will never be a classic edition of the series.

But when was the last true PES classic? By true classic, I mean a PES game that was popularly-acclaimed as being so, rather than a ‘personal’ classic. Thus, my precious patched PES2014 – definitely a personal classic – doesn’t really count.

By this strict criteria, the last popularly-acclaimed PES classic would have to be PES2012 or PES2013. Both of those had enough dissenting voices that we might even have to go back to PES2011 for the last classic PES.

There have certainly been no classics in the series since the current generation of consoles came along. PES2015 comes the closest, but even that was and is by no means popularly acclaimed.

PES2018, I feel, is unlikely to reach classic status (but you never know).

A PES doesn’t have to be a popularly acclaimed classic to be worth the time and effort. Most PES games in history haven’t been widely-acclaimed classics, let us remember. PES3, PES5, PES6, and PES2011 – that might be it on the popular classic front, and at least two of those choices are debatable.

I can almost hear the voices: ‘I’d say PES2 was a classic…’ So would I, but the question is about popular acclaim, not personal affection.

So I’m putting aside notions of whether my experience with PES2018 is or isn’t ‘classic’, and just playing it and enjoying it.

Vrany which way but lose

Wrapping up business at the end of Season 1, a certain amount of taking stock seems to be appropriate.

The acid question: do I like PES2018?

The answer’s not ‘no’,  but it’s not ‘yes’ either. It’s too soon to tell.

Sometimes I do love it. With a few tweaks – especially a certain very simple tweak that will prevent most matches playing out in a continuous, trance-like flow – this could be the Best PES Ever.

At other times, I dislike PES2018 quite intensely, it has to be said. PES2018 is a potential End of Year review to end all End of Year reviews, if certain things don’t change. Quite apart from the F-word, I find myself disliking the wider values it represents. Commercial appeal. Lowest common denominator gameplay. Tricks and flicks, stars, tattoos, and faces. Time and again since roughly PES2012 or so, the supposedly hardcore PES community has rolled over to have its tummy tickled, while essential elements of PES have been pared back, bit by bit, year on year.

Me too, mate, me too.

I wish I still looked as good as that. Like a trendy history teacher.

There are plenty of highlights. Vrany has been a surprise star for me this first season, playing at LB and DMF and CMF.

Krul, my big mid-season signing, turned all my heavy defeats into light defeats, and performed generally well enough to let me win and draw a few matches towards the end.

General gameplay, moving the ball around, trying to carve open defences and create chances – this was, and is, often excellent.

I also like the AI. A lot. I’m aware this is a minority opinion. It was the best of AIs, it was the worst of AIs… On the whole, I approve of the way the PES2018 AI sets about its business, fair and unfair. Any change to make this AI less deadly will be a change for the worst. It’s up to us to defend against it, or play on a lower difficulty level. Simple.

I’m going to have an unthinkably large amount of cash to spend in the transfer window.

I could bring in three or four good, solid, journeymen players.

Or one great player and a couple of Youths – which, let’s face is, is far more exciting and interesting, and so this is what I’ll probably do.

One of the great Master League traditions at the end of Season 1 is to splurge all your cash on a big star and start Season 2 with a threadbare squad as a consequence. And then limp desperately through to the January transfer window.

I can’t wait!

I played the FIFA18 demo over the weekend. Just the one match. 1-1. My goal was a penalty for handball. No fouls. Ultra-responsive handling. Lots of that lovely ‘flow’. I couldn’t tell you now what teams I played with or what players I controlled. There’s nothing in FIFA18 for me, at this juncture, that I’m not already getting from PES2018. And this says so much. The two games have almost become one.

Rice to see you, to see you, Rice

I have finished Season 1, not quite bottom of the table thanks to a late surge of form, but as near as dammit. I’d have been sacked if I’d stuck with Challenge Mode. I’d have been starting all over again, at least once. Challenge Mode seemed like a good idea, until it didn’t. Maybe next time, if there is a next time.

Look at my Goals Against column. The PES2018 AI is remarkable in at least that aspect.

Overall the quality of the matches has remarkably picked up. The tempo of matches reminds me most strongly of PES2014, which is always a good thing. Alas, the flow of events is unlike any football game in history, due to a certain lack of a certain fundamental element of football: fouls and free kicks. The typical AI fouls sequence per-match remains something like 0,0,0,1,0,0,1.

I cannot recall the last time I even had 2 fouls in a match. I wish I was exaggerating for rhetorical effect. PES2018 is the most cynical manifestation of contempt for the single-player in PES history.

‘But you’re still playing it!’ Yes, because I’m a twat, clearly. The more considered answer is that I’ve played the new PES at this time of year every year for almost two decades. Getting to know the new PES as the nights draw in is an integral feature of my life that I don’t want to give up. And here are Konami doing their very best to get rid of single-players. Terrible!

At the moment, I’m enjoying the general gameplay more than I’m not. I’m making a conscious effort to look at no-fouls through half-closed eyes. I’m being charitable towards the game, in other words. Because it’s PES.

A couple of interesting moments. Much talk has there been of the AI and the way it plays deadly, unstoppable through-balls over the top and through the middle (and round the sides, and from the back, and so on).

The through-balls are stoppable. We have just to stop squeezing buttons at the wrong time and defend better.

Here is a short clip that illustrates exactly what I mean – the key moment comes at 0:10:

At 0:10, you can almost see me preventing my full back, J LI (can’t think of a nickname, no matter how I try), charging at the ball and leaving the back door wide open for the through-ball. Instead, I stop him, and track the AI winger instead, and competently cut out the aerial through-ball that would have given the AI a one-on-one otherwise. PES2018 is full of moments like this, defensively.

‘Go with the runner’ is basic defensive protocol, but we rely on blindly squeezing buttons. We charge multiple players at the ball, leave gaps for the AI to exploit – and then blame the game. I suppose the last few PESes have got us accustomed to being able to squeeze buttons and get away with it. PES2018 is different, in this regard at least.

Here is a free kick that almost, almost, became a special moment indeed:

That free kick was the only AI foul in an entire session of 4 matches. The only one. What a waste of potential PES2018 could turn out to be if this situation is not reversed. (And why weren’t the summertime previewers screaming about this after their sessions, sounding the alarm? Oh, that’s right, because they only played each other.)

Finally today, a great sort-of-long-ranger from Rice. An R2 shot from outside the box, so not a classic laces long-ranger, but it’s all I’ve got so far, so I’ll take it:

Onto Season 2. A few new players. I’ll take a promotion this season.