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Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 (Xbox)

It's here, football season has arrived and it is back with a bang. Transfer records smashed, a premier league manager sacked in four games and Real Madrid are winning trophies already. Now we have arrived in September that means two things, Harry Kane will start scoring goals for fun and the new football games will grace us with their presence.

First to arrive is Pro Evolution Soccer 2018, developed and published by Konami Digital Entertainment Inc. and is available now on Xbox One (£54.99), PS4 (£49.99) and PC (£54.99).

The most important thing in football is what happens on the pitch and that is where PES really shines. As someone less than familiar with this particular series, I realised from the first time I passed the ball on this game that something felt a little special with regards to gameplay. 
Taking the ball under control with each player felt realistic, passing puts the player in control and the ability to move past players with small shimmies, rather than just pure speed, or complex button combinations is a joy to behold. 

As I play each game I get to experience how truly unique each match feels with each player's abilities (or lack thereof) showing what they are able to do on the football pitch. You are just as likely to be able to curl in a beautiful 25-yard strike with Lionel Messi as you are unlikely to beat people for pace with an ageing John Terry. For me, this is important in a football game as you should need to understand and adjust to your team's abilities and flaws, PES makes you need to do that or suffer the consequences.

Off the field, PES provides you with all the tools to be able to play the game how you want to play it. Formations can be altered position by position to how you want your team to play, tactics can be fine-tuned in defence and attack and specific tactics can be hot-keyed to allow changes in-game.

If you are someone who weighs up the pros and cons of PES against rival titles then you will be aware that a lack of official licensing, particularly for teams, can be a negative. Unfortunately, that still exists with the 2018 title but there has been a considerable effort from the developers to try and make up for that where possible (and you can always manually change the team names). All the players in the game that I have come across so far are real, with a number of them having been photo scanned for realism. Champions League, Europa League and AFC Champions League are fully licensed and 15 teams have an official partnership with the game, including the mighty Barcelona.

The game's presentation is an area that the developers have stated they had looked to improve on this season and I can safely say they have succeeded. The game looks good graphically, helped by tweaks to the in-stadium lighting systems to help bring the arenas to life. The players who have had real life scanning look like their real-world counterparts, especially when celebrating, which is a nice touch. They move well too, nothing looks out of place as they perform complex interactions on the pitch. The commentary is OK for the most part, although hearing the commentators repeatedly scream (yes scream) CRRRRISTIIIIANO RONALDOOOOOO every time I take a shot with him is extremely irritating. Other sounds in the game, from the crowds to the ball being kicked are on point, with everything sounding realistic and in tune with what is happening in the game.

So the football part is a big thumbs up but what about how we play our football? Well.... modes, lots and lots of modes. Leagues, cups, friendlies all representing a version of real-life competition are there in number. Once again you can choose the random match selection tool this year, allowing you to play a friendly with a selection of players chosen for you by the game. Champions League, Europa League and AFC Champions league tournaments are all there from group stage through to the final. Presentation for these competitions feels like you are watching it on TV and yes, they do have the Champions League music playing before each game (not once will I ever skip that).

Master league is back and it is bigger and better than ever before. Pre-season tournaments have been added and the transfer system has been given more detail with the addition of release fees. The option is there to choose a real-life squad or to go with a traditional master league team of fictitious players. I would recommend the latter as it does add greater longevity to the mode, particularly as you starting with what will more often than not be the worst team in your particular league. You do not start with much money and being able to balance bringing in new players, promoting youth players and improving your current squad through training is challenging yet enjoyable.

Become a legend is PES's take on an individual career mode where you control a single player in a rise from young talent to a future star, well unless you just choose Luis Suarez, then its just goals, goals, goals! The choice is there to pick a current real-life player or to create your own and if I am honest this mode was a little disappointing compared to what else this game offers. Any interactions with hierarchy seemed lacking, the ability to feel in control of your progression limited and all in all it just lacked the polish of other modes in this game. It has the basics but I would expect much more from a mode that has become so popular in sports games in recent years.

Online play is plentiful in PES 2018 with many options to take on your fellow/rival players in a variety of modes. Quick match options are available in solo and a new 2v2 or 3v3 co-op play which allows for local guests to join in online. The ability to play up to 11v11 in a team play lobby online also makes an appearance which whilst fun and a great option to have, I can imagine would descend into chaos as the strain of attempted co-operation in a football game (never great at the best of times) takes its toll. As it stands I haven't been successful in finding a completely full lobby to test my theory.

Finally, you have the myClub mode, PES's take on online squad building with microtransactions on the side. Now, since I rolled Cristiano Ronaldo in about my fourth attempt at signing a player I immediately became quite fond of this mode. In fairness regardless of managing to luck out on adding the best player in the world (in my opinion, there is an Argentinian option available) to my team, myClub still stood out to me as one of the best modes I have ever come across in a sports game. The options for play whether its online/offline friendlies or cups, divisions with promotion or relegation or longer knockout style competitions are abundant. 

Players are signed through scouts which you get through playing and acquiring GP, (the in-game currency) which is also used to renew contracts and acquire managers; and myClub coins which are generally bought with real money (a small amount is provided as rewards for certain myClub actions). I have not yet felt compelled to open up my wallet to help put together a good team, even though it would provide you with better scouts which would give you a better probability of a top player, and it is because of this in which my enjoyment for this mode has arisen. Couple that with the ability to actually improve the players you have in your team by playing them and levelling them up and being able to earn currency in other modes in PES, then what you have is a mode which is addictive, long lasting and accompanies the rest of the game perfectly.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 is a superb football game, this coming from someone who has generally spent most of their recent years playing its rival franchise. I can honestly say that going forward, that will no longer be the case. PES offers too much in its realistic, fluid gameplay, plentiful modes and a clear focus on developing the game to its potential and not knuckling down on just one mode in particular. It's a game for football fans and casual players alike, simple yet technical, fun yet challenging and just because your favourite team may be named London F.C instead of Chelsea you should not let that put you off. This game is a 9/10, it's not quite perfect but for the first time in a long time, I feel excited to be playing a new Football game.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 has 51 achievements available for a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. It is a fairly standard achievement list with pretty much what you would expect from a football game covering playing all of the modes as well as a few in-game actions. If you need any help or guidance then head over to True Achievements where you will plenty of useful information!

A physical copy of the game was provided for the purpose of this review. Thank you!

Huge thanks to ShadowsofSatan for writing this as a special guest reviewer!
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