There are many solid sport video games out there that try to recreate the real-life experience from the field or stadium into the virtual realm and for many titles, they tend to do an admirable job in doing so. However, sometimes we have to settle for yearly releases that are simply considered ‘good enough’ and lack true innovation from the previous year’s release, but that isn’t the case with Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 (PES 2018) as the mega-sports franchise creates a near perfect replica of the pitch for its rabid fan base to enjoy.

Right from the start, the game throws at you quite a few different game modes, which for the avid fans of the series who are returning for this year’s installment will be more than comfortable with, those new to the soccer franchise though may feel a bit overwhelmed at first thought especially when it comes which mode to select. PES 2018 is jam-packed,full feature experience that gives players the opportunity to play the way that they want to, but the game could have been done with a simpler and more elegant design that doesn’t bombard players with everything the game has to offer all at once.

This is one of the few flaws that PES 2018 suffer from and everything that doesn’t have to do with the menu selection screen is near perfection, specifically through its technically and well-crafted gameplay mechanics. The AI is one of the best I’ve ever seen in any sports game as they are responsive to what is going on the field and beyond the play while thinking of the plays ahead, giving an authentic soccer experience like no other. This, mixed with settings that cater both the less experienced players and the pros alike only enhances the realism of the title even further.

Controls are also refined from previous editions of the game with its Real Touch+ setting which gives players more options and versatility in trying to protect and take away the ball from their opponents. No more will a simple pass connect with ease and the added dynamics add to the strategy of the game as well as giving it a far more realistic look. Setting up plays and abruptly coming up with new ones are done by calculating the plays before they actually happen and when done right makes it feel rewarding for your hard work on the virtual pitch.

The single player experiences that are worth taking a dive into are both the creation modes through your personal GM or up and coming superstar. Both modes aren’t necessarily innovative in comparison to past and recent releases but offer enough depth on their to even make the most dedicated fans look forward to creating and managing their own clubs. The robust creation options for your player or GM are quite diverse and will have you perfecting your look and making a true mirror image of yourself, even if you want to add some blue or purple flair to your hairstyle, PES 2018 has you covered.

Both the online and coop modes are the real star attractions to PES 2018. These sets of modes offer a great competitive and cooperative scene that will give die-hard fans a reason to dive into and put endless hours playing with others. The real challenges are through the Online Division mode that has you pitted against others online in ranked matches that will have you promoted or regulated depending on your win/loss records. PES 2018 does an admirable job in ensuring your online opponents are well within your own set of skills, but there will be a few instances that you will need to face off against the Messi’s of the virtual world from time to time.

There are a ton of single and multiplayer modes that can be played through PES 2018 with many returning from past iterations, but what really sets the game apart is its Random Selection Match that will have you pick up players from different leagues, nationalities, and leagues depending on your search settings. The random elements that the Random Selection Match adds will have you trying to adapt to a different set of players that you may be unfamiliar with that brings out a bit more inconsequential fun that is missing from many sports titles in recent years.

The art team did a fantastic job in re-creating the players and the pitch, making them almost indistinguishable from the real thing at first glance. The turf becomes an, even more, eye-pleasing experience throughout each match as the scuffs and tears of the grass become more and more apparent as you’ll be getting to the tail end of the game, adding to its realistic display. Once looking past the pitch, it is apparent that the sports game genre still hasn’t been able to perfect the in-game attendance and the same goes for PES 2018, but where the action lies is where it truly matters.

The game’s soundtrack, however, is a lackluster playlist of popular pop-songs that are dull and lack that adrenaline rush to pump you up between matches. This comes down to someone’s musical preference, but most of the soundtrack ends up sounding the same with only a few that were acceptable at best. It seems an odd thing to nit-pick, but before playing any matches, I personally prefer a track list that gets me going and PES 2018 pop-songs do the exact opposite of that.

What else is the in-game commentators that do sound part of the game and give enough feedback to help players better set up plays and finding mistakes in their game, but it does lack from not having enough dialog between them. This made most missed attempts and flags being the same voice overs time and time again. Just adding a few extra takes would have greatly benefited and help to make the in-game commentators feel more part of the game rather than a broken record.

This year’s take on the soccer giant offers many new features and upgrades in previous ones to make it stand out from many other sports games released this year and with an already large install of players that support this licenses, soccer title makes it far more appealing than the competition. The issue that comes about with these yearly releases is the fact that a new title will be coming out at this time next year, but PES 2018 is a well worth investment for anybody who has any doubts this year’s version is worth it.  

I’m personally not the biggest soccer fan and I partly blame that on living in Canada where the focus is mostly in hockey but I’ve already invested 40 hours in PES 2018 and plan to add an extra 40 before the end of the month in online matches and competitive play while learning more about the international side of the sport through my playthroughs. It is easy to sink an absurd amount of time in PES 2018 and playing online or even through the single-player experience is both rewarding and challenging if you put the time into it, but don’t be discouraged with the few online matches with the real pros that play the game.

To the die-hard soccer fans and those of the virtual pitch, PES 2018 is surely a must buy for anyone who bleeds for the sports. It is by far the most technical and visually impressive sports game to date as well as offering a diverse single player and online experience that is enjoyable for anybody new or returning for the 2018 installment of the franchise. Soccer fever is truly here and PES 2018 has all the kicks to get you going back after each and every match.

A copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 was provided to Link-Cable by the publisher for the purpose of this review.