The last few weeks of my gaming life have been spent trying to get to grips with one of my annual pleasures, the pilgrimage that is master league on the new Pro Evo game. As always you begin with the default players then set about grinding out difficult results and work your way to stardom. Unfortunately this year something is different and it’s not just the fact that the opposition AI is, without doubt, the most difficult seen in a PES game in years.
There are many things which can frustrate you in PES Master League. The main one is the element of scripted events. By this, I mean the way the ball always seems to hit the post when you really need it to go in or more likely the opposition player suddenly takes on Messi levels of ability to equalize or win the game in the last minute. These are frustrating but as always are part and parcel of any good PES game. The joy you feel at your own last-minute winner or clearance of the line wouldn’t feel as good if you hadn’t suffered to get there. Despite this, you eventually get a good enough team together to overcome these obstacles. You even learn the ‘tells’ from the opposition that lead to these moments. A good example is your usually lightning fast left back suddenly being unable to keep up with the opposition winger in the last minute. Sure as anything a chance will be created and in PES this will likely lead to a goal.
This year’s PES has another layer of difficulty on board. Even in the lowly Championship, the AI will dazzle you with moves of exceptional intricacy. When teams like Burton Albion and Preston North End begin stringing together 30 and 40 pass moves before smashing it into your net from 30 yards you suddenly realize you have a game on your hand. Even worse than this as your team gets better the opposition seems to get better also. In previous years editions, you may have been a couple of goals up before the AI sneaked a scripted goal against you. In PES 2018 you are far less likely to be in the comfort zone before you concede a cheap goal. This is a complete game-changer and can lead to a great deal of frustration.
In fact, the problems don’t stop there. The new challenge mode seems to sack managers without any warning. The common target for season one is 9th position yet people who have been sitting only a point or so away from this position have been sacked mid-season. It may be a way to replicate the unpredictable nature of actual football club owners but in a game scenario where 30+ hours may have already been invested, it is not good to wipe this out without suitable warning.
The fouling system is also severely underdeveloped in this year’s PES. You may have expected the computer to get away with the odd foul in previous versions but this time there is just a complete dearth of free kicks. In fact, the AI is so good it usually never mis-times a sliding tackle added to the fact that the developers have completely ignored minor infringements in an effort to keep the game flowing, leads to the unfortunate situation of zero free kicks per game. It is possible to play ten games in the master league and never once get a free kick within shooting distance. This is a real shame because the free kick taking is exciting and a genuine threat when you get a chance to take one. Because of this, I went through the whole season in Master League without winning one penalty against the AI. This simply is unacceptable in a realistic simulation of football.
The other problems are more confusing. In the transfer window after my first season of finishing 9th in England’s second tier, I was able to sign Iturbe and Marco Asensio and have change left over. These are two players who are only a tier down from Messi and Ronaldo and yet here they are signing for Aston Villa!! Usually, you may only get a chance to sign one such player in your whole Master League career. Even worse when you actually sign them, the noticeable improvement to your team is negated by the ‘levelling up’ of the opposition to match you. So despite having superstar players, the difficulty and frustration of the game doesn’t change. Suddenly you get the scenario where teams who you should be beating or at least playing more attractive football than are Tikki-takka-ing around you with ease.
The only reason someone writes a post like this is because they care. PES has been an important part of my life since childhood. They were the true kings of gameplay and despite these problems, you can feel the core gameplay engine is sublime. This is either a gross miscalculation by the developers or simply a lack of care and resources. All their development seems to be taken up with the competition to FIFA Ultimate team with their own mode.
You can only hope that there is the ability for some of these issues to be patched, because if not the yearly progression through the master league could drive more people to Konami’s great Rival FIFA 18 despite all the progress that has been made in recent years.