Konami is in a really, really weird place these days. Especially in the western world, their two main franchises are Pro Evolution Soccer and Metal Gear. And with Hideo Kojima no longer at Konami, the state of Metal Gear is entirely up for grabs. So, Pro Evolution Soccer and scattered mobile titles it is. But PES doesn't do well in North America. Not with EA's FIFA and a lack of proper soccer culture.
But still, there was always a sense that Pro Evolution Soccer was just going to continue to be what it was until the franchise literally curled up and died, or continued on in perpetuity. However, with Pro Evolution Soccer 2018, Konami has made some odd decisions. The first had to do with that whole Diego Maradona lawsuit. Sure, it ended in a settlement out of court in which Maradona appears as a Legacy character in PES games with all proceeds going to charity, but. That's one hell of a way to get a talent you are already repping to press as one of your major players.
Then they announced Usain Bolt as one of their pre-order bonus players. The track star as a soccer player. Definitely an odd move. When explaining the decision at the PES2018 media presentation at E3, the company representatives described the move as "something new" they were doing with PES2018 as a "surprise" factor. It turns out Bolt wanted to rep the game as he reportedly wants to transition to a soccer career after exhausting his track career. Konami also hopes that the partnership will open their game up to new audiences who "otherwise wouldn't play PES."
Both of those licensing deals are pretty damn odd, but Konami isn't the company it was a few years ago, especially when it comes to the international market. Of course they'd be making some strange moves to try and find footing.
But it seems like, amidst all the strange PR moves, they've also learned something. For the first time in 8 years, Pro Evolution Soccer is getting an online beta. Because the game's online modes are not up to standard, and Western gamers love their online play. Even more interestlingly, that beta (being run July 20-23rd on PS4 and Xbox One) will specifically test the new 3v3 co-op quick match. Why it's a 3-on-3 match is beyond me, but it marks the first time PES is getting a co-op mode.
Then, rather than try and market their game to the dust-dry North American market, they're focusing their campaign with a World Tour in Europe and Latin America this summer. You know, places that get really, really into the World Cup.
But where all that learning falls apart is the game itself. PES2018 will support Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Yes, last gen console support in 2017. And while Konami is pushing the "Super 7" areas of focus for PES2018, none of them hold water. Sure, the game looks pretty solid when you sit down and play it, because you're viewing the character models from a very decent distance. But the up-close shots in the press briefing and in the slow-mo recap videos show it all. While Konami may be trying to update the visuals, get better motion capturing, and add facial animations, PES2018 when viewed at close range makes Mass Effect: Andromeda look like a hyper-realistic painting.
And sure, the updates to player AI and their ability to control the ball has increased, as have the "set pieces" like specific penalty kicks and free kicks, the game build at E3 was unstable. And for a game launching this fall, that's not a good sign. Sure, PES has always played better than FIFA. But this late in the game, even increased licenses and celebrity ambassadors can't help PES beat FIFA. And I think we all need to stop thinking there will be a year PES beats FIFA.