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Hands on with Pro Evolution Soccer 2017

Goalkeeper upgrades are among this year's tweaks

I'm happy to report that the goalkeepers are definitely much improved in the new Pro Evolution Soccer.

Playing as Arsenal against a skilled human opponent at an E3 event earlier today, I benefited from at least three occasions when Arsenal's Petr Čech saved my hide against a marauding Fernando Torres.

One one occasion, the ball took a late deflection off a defender's knee. Čech stuck out a hand and made a brilliant save. It wasn't weird or supernatural. It was just something you'd expect from one of the world's top keepers.

During the E3 presentation, just before I got to play PES 2017, a Konami representative showed us a graph comparing average review scores for PES against its far more successful rival, EA Sports' FIFA series. (You ran read our full report on FIFA 17 here.)

Last year's PES 2016 was the first to garner higher review averages than FIFA for almost a decade. Konami, a once-great publishing company that has plenty of problems right now, is hoping to string together a run against EA.

Last year's release was dogged by launch period roster issues. It's bad enough that PES lacks the depth of licenses that FIFA holds, but it also released with a lot of outdated data. Konami promised that there will be no repeat for the new game, which will be released in the fall.

This year's demo involved four teams — France, Germany, Atletico Madrid and Arsenal. The choices suggest that we'll once again be playing with real Champions League and a handful of international teams, as well as a few others, with generic sides filling in for any unlicensed clubs.

For some people, this isn't an issue, especially those who prefer PES's mechanics. But it's clear that a lack of real teams hurts what is otherwise an excellent soccer simulation.

Konami came to E3 armed with a lot of buzzwords about its new game, which is built on the Fox Engine. "Control reality" is the marketing phrase of the year. What this actually means is a phalanx of pleasing tweaks and fixes that will likely find favor among the PES faithful.

The first touch has been reworked, allowing players to create space away from opponentswithout having to entirely rely on speed or strength. There's also a nice weighty feel to precision passes. And Konami has made improvements to how the players and stadiums look, as well as more detailed lighting effects.

"Every year we learn more and more about the engine," said a Konami spokesperson, though these improvements are definitely more iterative than revolutionary.

Team tactics can be managed on the fly, with all-out attack, pressing, defensive and the short-passing, rapid movement style known as "tiki-taka" all on the menu.

Konami also says that AI opponents are "adaptive," and will figure out coping strategies if you prefer to fly down the wing, or pass to a star player more often than usual. Referees are now more alert to rough play and late tackles, as I repeatedly found, to my cost. During my game time today, I gave away a penalty that, on another day, might well have passed the ref's notice.

Changes have also been added to stats systems, with more tactical info available on opponents' play-styles. The transfer system now allows more access to the most desired players in build-your-own-team mode MyClub. Transfer deadline day has also been slowed down, giving players a better chance of bagging their favorites. No doubt this is something managers in the real world would dearly love.

But it's those goalies who really do seem to pop, resolving an issue many fans had with the game. There were a couple of occasions during my play-time when my opponent and I both had "woah, great save," reactions. The ability to place trust in goalkeepers might be this year's biggest improvement.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 will be released on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

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