It’s been a while since I enjoyed some virtual football. The last was a FIFA game in the latter years of the Xbox 360; with the PES series it’s been even longer. 11 years in fact with Pro Evolution Soccer 6, a game that left such a sour taste in my mouth I abandoned the series for over a decade. While I used to be a yearly subscriber to the football game, taking such a long break before delving back in is something of a revelation. With playing yearly updates the changes are so incremental that it comes down to mostly a few nicer animations, maybe a new gimmick that the developers are pushing.

The last PES game I played had a few league and cup options along with broken online play and that’s about it. 2018’s edition is overwhelming with its options, there’s so much content it’s no surprise for the past couple of years people have been saying PES has regained its football crown.

As the unlicensed football game out there it’s still not going to win over those who want an “official” experience, so this is purely for those who want it purely for the gameplay. The feel of putting together pass after pass, trying to carve your path through the defence is great and the exhilaration you experience from scoring a goal is unsurpassed. There are a few niggles with the controls and AI, most notably when you select another player to control, sometimes the game decides a player farther away is the person you wanted. It can be quite annoying as you flick between players before you get the one you want. This is a minor quibble compared to my biggest peeve, the online play.

Good to see in the decade since my last PES game that not much has changed. When it gets going the game may be smoother, but oh my, the loading times actually getting into a match are infuriating. Most of the time I’m sat looking at a loading circle, then when I finally get a match sometimes the servers decide to collapse and I get booted back to the menu. One time it even decided to give me the loss for no fault of my own. But the PES series also comes with the most quitters I’ve encountered in an online game in quite some time. This is no fault of the game, but just acts as a warning that if it’s only online you’re interested in rather than the tons of solo content, then maybe it’s best not to take the plunge.

Maybe in a month or so Konami will patch the servers and make it more reliable, though in the meantime it’s a little disappointing that a major feature of the game is not necessarily broken but a little rough around the edges. Seeing as this is pretty much Konami’s main source of video game income right now you’d think they put all the power they have into the PES franchise.

What we have in the end is an impressive and solid football game that suffers from a few launch window troubles that inevitably drag the whole product down. If Konami sort out the loading times and fix the online servers then that will make this the best football game on the market. For now though, it’s good but flawed.