It’s that time of year again when the strongest rivalry in console gaming comes to the forefront of people’s minds again. For 20 years the FIFA and Pro Evo games have swung back and forth in terms of which should be the go-to game for your footballing fun, and the pattern has been largely the same for years now: Pro Evo will give you the better game of football, but FIFA will look prettier. With some big improvements to the on-pitch action in EA’s offering, is this finally the year that Pro Evo loses its main advantage, or have Konami managed to keep a hold on the action? Well, let’s take a look at the three main elements of these games and see who’s come out on top this year.
Surely the most important area of a game is just how well it plays. And yet despite several years of FIFA’s gameplay being behind PES’s things are still skewed in the favour of Pro Evo. Let’s not get carried away here; FIFA has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, and this year’s game is far closer to Pro Evo than it’s probably ever been, but there’s just something about how PES plays that makes it a more realistic and slick experience. Yes, so the kits aren’t right out of the box (we’ll come to that later) and the commentary is about as enjoyable as listening to a herd of cats fighting, but if you’re after a game that gives you a real buzz when a flawless build up ends in a stunning 25-yard volley despite the defenders doing everything their real life counterparts would probably do, then Pro Evo is your game. I’ve scored so many goals in this year’s game and immediately thought “I’d never be able to do that in FIFA” – not because I’m rubbish (well, not entirely because of that) but just because the game won’t let you. FIFA’s goals start to feel a bit samey after a while, and despite improvements in crossing and general responsiveness, I still feel that FIFA is slightly behind me when carrying out button presses. The animations might look a little better in FIFA, but that’s at the expense – still – of the players doing what you ask of them when you ask it.
FIFA is still a fantastic football game to play in its own right, and if Pro Evo wasn’t around then nobody would be sitting complaining about it not being up to scratch, but that’s been the problem for a few years now: PES is around, and serves as a stark reminder of just how good a football game can feel. It’s an incredibly close call this year, but thanks to its more fluid gameplay and the additional joy you’ll get from your games, Pro Evo wins this category.
Anyone who played a Pro Evo game in the past 10 years will feel right at home with PES 2018. If you think that’s a good thing, to feel comfortable and know your way round, think again. While the FIFA team have been beavering away with renewing official licenses, tarting up their menus, maintaining modern TV-style game overlays and generally making their game look as attractive as you could hope for, the folks behind Pro Evo haven’t been quite so proactive. Everything around the actual gameplay in PES is looking incredibly dated, and even by PES standards that’s saying something. Something as simple as making a substitution is more confusing than it should be, finding your way round the various game modes can feel like a Mensa puzzle, and the presentation and commentary during a game is so far below par it’s bewildering. It wouldn’t take a huge effort to spice things up a bit, update the menus, get some new commentary in place (ok, that might be a bigger task) and find someone who can make some slightly more realistic looking overlays, but Konami seem reluctant to spend any amount of time on it, and it’s one of the things that will stop PES from taking any kind of popularity prize from FIFA. It’s painful to see such an incredible game of football wrapped in something so ugly; it’d be like dressing Christiano Ronaldo in your nan’s unwanted clothes.
Then of course you have the age old issue of the licensing. I’m sure there’s a good reason why two companies can’t share the license, but taking charge of West Midlands Village wasn’t much fun in 1998, and still isn’t all that great now. Luckily there are some incredibly talented people out there who release free patches which you can import via a USB stick which help with club logos, kits, sponsors and names but it surely needn’t be that way. It’s all down to money I imagine, which is crap, but again while PES suffers from a lack of licenses it’s very unlikely that FIFA will be losing many players, despite being slightly below-standard in the gameplay department. Load up both games and it’ll take you 20 seconds to realise that FIFA wins this one hands down – it’s akin to Barcelona vs Walsall.
And we arrive at the main reason why FIFA will be landing far higher in the sales charts than Pro Evo. While some game modes are evident in both games, FIFA’s presentation flair make them easier to use and more rewarding. FIFA’s career modes sit alongside PES’s Master League looking a bit smug at how much more professional it looks, and how much progress has been made over the years compared to the ageing, under-developed Master League. Online modes offer similar options, although PES seems to struggle a little more to find games, although that makes sense with a smaller player base. Then there’s the Ultimate Team, EA’s relentlessly successful cash cow that many people have as their sole game mode when buying FIFA. Each year it gets slightly more accessible, while still keeping that addictiveness of opening packs, pitching your team against other players’ efforts and trying to top out your team’s chemistry through various means. MyClub does a reasonable job of a similar theme, but it’s not a patch on UT, and with rewards carrying over from previous versions of UT it’s not only people’s experiences, but also people’s investments that they’re maintaining. If you’ve put money into a game, the likelihood is you want to stick around and keep it going.
And then there’s the return of The Journey, which was a little underwhelming last year (probably as a result of the hype) but is back and even better this year. It’s a great balance of storyline and gameplay, with a different twist to the nature of the story which makes it feel as new as last year while building on the issues that were evidence before. It’s a great mode, similar to this year’s Madden effort but with extra actual match time to put it even above that high bar. Pro Evo has nothing to match it, not even close, and as such those who enjoyed the idea of The Journey before will have yet another reason to gravitate towards FIFA again. It’s another goal for FIFA, Pro Evo really needs to do something fast.
FIFA has the game modes, the looks, the licensing, and the better commentary. It has better menu systems, easier to use interfaces and a whole other level of general presentation. And yet Pro Evo plays a better game of football. So which to buy?
In all honesty, it depends what you’re after. If you don’t care about Ultimate Team, aren’t interested in a storyline, aren’t bothered if the kits need to be downloaded and imported and just want a game you can play by yourself or with some mates, not caring about how it all looks off the pitch then Pro Evo should be your choice. The on-pitch action is nothing short of superb, and as you bury a volley from the edge of the box after a pinpoint high through ball you’ll feel the same “only on Pro Evo” buzz that fans of PES have been getting for the past 20 years.
But if you like the glitz and glamour, you like the more official and professional feel to the game, and you like the fact there are loads of different ways to play the game then you’ll look towards FIFA. It’s impossible to say which is the better game. FIFA’s probably the better overall package, in fact it almost definitely is, but PES is still just about ahead in the gameplay stakes. One thing’s for sure though – if FIFA improves again next year and PES doesn’t make much of a step, next year’s comparison review could be very different. Pro Evo is in great danger of having its gameplay crown knocked away, but for this year at least it stays in tact.