PES 2017 hands-on: your questions answered on passing, shooting, free kicks and more

Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) is back – and PES is brilliant. Announced last week, GamesRadar+ lead sports writer Ben Wilson has already been hands-on with Konami's new football effort, and discovered a game that is going to push FIFA hard throughout next season and beyond. How, though, to cover every last aspect of said behind-closed-doors dalliance with PES 2017? By answering your questions posed via Twitter, Facebook and email, of course. Here's everything we know so far…

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Since 2006/7 [PES] is not good. Is there any hope [it] becomes a fantastic simulator again?
Marcelo Vitulli, via Twitter 

You’re right that the PS3 years weren’t overly kind to Pro Evo, but it’s been enjoying a renaissance over the last two seasons, and PES 2017 feels like the happy culmination of a three-year rebuilding project. On the evidence of my hands-on – four hours behind closed doors at Konami – it plays a wonderful game of football. *Many* wonderful games of football.

(And I write that as someone who has chosen FIFA over PES for the entirety of the PS3 and PS4 eras.)

A small caveat: so far, I've only been able to play as four teams: Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, France, and Germany. But all handle wonderfully. Konami is bigging up improved passing precision and ball control this year, and it is right to: players truly caress the ball to one another, and the game engine does a sublime job of facilitating your attempts to play dreamboat football. So whereas in FIFA 16 a diagonal pass from, say, centre back to right midfielder might fly out of play if you didn’t get the intended angle perfect via the left stick, PES is more forgiving. In PES 2017, under- or overhit a similar pass and the recipient might need an extra split-second to trap it, but I see zero balls spanged out of play due to slightly imprecise controller inputs.

Ball physics have also improved markedly. In PES 2016, my immersion wavered every time a goal kick took on the trajectory of a beach ball once off the ground. The little stutter each time a player took a touch when dribbling similarly dampened authenticity. Now aerial trajectories look and feel just right, while there's a seamlessness to trapping and running with the ball, headers, deflections, everything really.

Where PES 2017 really shines is in the final third of the pitch. Genuinely intricate, accurate passing enables you to recycle possession in tight areas while waiting to unleash a killer ball to your centre forward or overlapping full-back, and that upgraded control means you can truly beat an opponent – beat a succession of opponents – using sudden changes of pace, or deft turns. There are matches where I carve out delicate, incisive passing moves and repeatedly threaten with my wide men, without ever needing to lay a thumb on the right stick. It’s so refreshing.

A great example of this all meshing together comes as France, against Germany. After a sustained period of opposition pressure, I manage to work the ball across the midfield from Matuidi to Griezmann, via a series of fast, precise passes. But when Griezmann plays the ball inside to Giroud, he temporarily lacks support, so I need the Arsenal forward to hold it up while plotting my next move. In FIFA, his marker – Hummels – would likely step through and win the ball with ease, but here, a combination of Giroud's strength and my minimal inputs on the left stick enable him to retain possession long enough to spot Sagna's overlapping run in behind. A blast of the sprint button and I've darted away from Hummels, a tap of triangle and the ball is in Sagna's path, a double press of circle to ping over a low cross, and Matuidi, who started it all, arrives at the back post… and fires wide. Yet despite the miss, I have a huge sense of satisfaction over the exquisite build-up.

All of this looks the part, by the way. Cosmetically it's hard to say it's a certain percentage better than last year's, but PES is beginning to pull away from FIFA on the player likenesses front, and new keeper and striker animations – more on which shortly – add to the feel of complete visual authenticity. PES 2017 doesn't just feel like the real thing, but looks like it too.

I’ll discuss other improvements – and there are many – throughout this piece. On which note… 

Keepers still go up for corners in last-minute, desperate situations – not that I've managed to successfully score with one. Yet.

Keepers still go up for corners in last-minute, desperate situations – not that I've managed to successfully score with one. Yet.
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Any improvements to the keepers?
Smidgey87, via Twitter 

Sweet mother of mercy, yes. At long last.

Konami says new goalkeeper animations and intelligence are a priority, and it isn't fibbing. I see Hugo Lloris have issues with a couple of shots cannoned straight at him – spilling the ball back into the danger area – but otherwise custodians are much, much more trustworthy. 

Netminders truly leap for shots arrowed into the top corner, scramble across goal to claw at deflected efforts, concede noticeably fewer goals by the ball going 'through' them, and demonstrate welcome individuality: Manuel Neuer acts as a sweeper keeper, constantly rushing out to clear overhit through balls, whereas Petr Cech reaches skyscraper heights when coming to claim crosses. (Almost always successfully.)

Between the sticks, things are very promising at this stage. 

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[Are] there cpu fouls now? Been none for last few years?
Bluetony88, via Twitter

More, definitely, but still only a couple per game. What’s also worth nothing is that practically every foul the opposition or I concede leads to a yellow card in the current build. Certainly not a game-breaker, but this element could do with a bit of fine tuning. 

True ball physics and tighter dribbling enable you to hold off players and bring team-mates into the game.

True ball physics and tighter dribbling enable you to hold off players and bring team-mates into the game.

Who is the best player in this year’s game?
KingNewDay, via email

Too early to say, given that thus far only four teams have been playable. For the record, the top three from that set are Germany forward Thomas Muller (rated 90), France engine-man Paul Pogba (89) and Atletico stopper Diego Godin (87). 

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How is the shooting this year?
Kamron Singh, via Twitter 

Like the passing, it feels entirely natural, and awards you the sense that you’re in control of professionals. In PES 2016 I found it hard to get true lift into my pops at goal; if felt that the game needed me to keep the ball low in order to score. Now it’s truly possible to drill shots into all four corners of the goal. PES 2017 makes fantastic use of contextual animations, too: when I hold the button to shoot with Torres but the ball arrives behind him, he instinctively attempts to backheel it goalwards. Similarly, I see Welbeck redirect a knee-height cross narrowly over with a clever heel flick. No modifier button or skill move involved: again, the game reads what you’re trying to do and delivers the most appropriate animation for it.

It’s worth nothing, too, that net physics are astonishingly lifelike now. Instead of successful shots sagging into the net, some come flying back out and pinball around the box – and when that happens you can slam the ball home for a second time. It’s a brilliant, satisfying little detail which suggests Konami is really pushing hard to deliver the beautiful game’s intricacies in addition to its fundamentals.  

How exactly do the new 'Advanced Tactics' options work?
Dean Roberts, via email

As soon as you jump into the edit line-up screen, you’re presented with seven tactics fields (four attacking, three defensive) to instantly tinker with – in addition to swapping players in and out, natch.

Each of these fields currently contains two options, with (I’m reliably informed) many more to come between now and the game’s autumn release.

They are: 

Attacking styles (counter attack/possession game)
Build up (short pass/long pass)
Attacking area (centre/wide)
Positioning (maintain formation/flexible)
Defensive style (all out defence/frontline pressure)
Containment area (middle/wide)
Pressurising (aggressive/conservative)

You can also alter the ‘support range’ (how far players look to spread themselves out in order to receive passes) and height of the defensive line, using two gauges which run from 1 to 10.

Many of these options were possible last year using sliders, but having them available at a flick of the Pause button is a big leap forwards – particularly online, where the 120 second pre-match tactical window always felt insufficient to do all your necessary tinkering and strategising. 

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Are they employing competent people to do the rosters this time?
Sir Lord Pâté, via Twitter

In a word, yes. Global product manager Adam Bhatti has promised that the mistakes of last year – where the post-transfer window update omitted key moves, such as Anthony Martial’s switch to Man Utd and Virgil van Dijk signing for Southampton – will not be repeated.

“The roster issue took the wind completely from our sails. It took us a lot of time to recover,” he told Squawka. “In the past, PES has been this title with a lot of mystique – a Japanese company, not too forthcoming. With 2016 we were straight off the bat. At E3, Neymar was out there, [we revealed] the pre-order content and release dates. A lot of people appreciated that up front. What we learnt is not to mess up on the roster update ever again. If we do have issues, [we must] be able to quickly fix them and not make our consumers wait.”

By Olivier Giroud's beard, are PES's facial likenesses a sight to behold. Player builds are spot-on, too.

By Olivier Giroud's beard, are PES's facial likenesses a sight to behold. Player builds are spot-on, too.

Who is licensed this year?
Richie Wells, via Facebook

At present, only Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, France and Germany are confirmed, but Konami re-upped its licensing agreement with the Champions League last season, so expect all the major teams who’ve qualified for the 2016/17 campaign to appear. Anything beyond that is currently speculation, but it’d be a huge shock if the team count dropped from PES 2016’s count of 500+.

Will there by any new game modes?
Joseph Scragg, via Facebook

No word on new modes at present, but one big feature that is promised across all of them when they do materialise is adapative AI. (Indeed, Konami says it will “change sports games forever”.) Truthfully, I see little evidence of this – in fact, computer sides repeatedly fail to react to me closing them down on goal kicks, and towards the end of the day I'm able to create a succession of chances by tackling their full backs after they’ve received passes from the keeper. That said, my Konami representative insists it is coming. Certainly one element to keep an eye on.  

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Find out about changes/improvements to Master League please? Ryan Seymour, via Twitter 

Nothing to report yet. Sorry. We’ve been vocal about wanting classic ML players such as Valery and Ximenes return, but Konami is keeping its plans secret for now.

Here's 'Mixed' marking at work. It's definitely the most chaotic of the three defensive options at corners.

Here's 'Mixed' marking at work. It's definitely the most chaotic of the three defensive options at corners.

Can you go into details on zonal and man marking?
Harry Friend, via email

Yep. When defending corners, you’re able to select your marking style using the D-pad. Pressing left selects ‘man’, pressing right choose ‘zonal’, and pressing up opts for ‘mixed’.

The best way to outline exactly how this works is to give specific examples using the two national teams available during my hands-on. In each example, I am France and the AI controls Germany.

‘Man’ puts one man on each post (Diarra near, Evra far), with the five German players in the box all marked tightly by my Gallic charges. Varane takes Muller, Koscielny shadows Schweinsteiger, Sagna tracks Gundogan, Griezmann handles Kroos, and Matuidi chaperones Gotze.

‘Zone’ sets things up very differently. Matudiu takes the near post, with Griezmann just in front of him to defend any low cross. One bank of four then set up across the six-yard box: Pogba, Varane, Koscielny, and Sagna. Another, second bank of two – Evra and Diarra – sit between the six-yard box and the penalty spot.

For ‘mixed', Matuidi takes the near post, this time with Evra just ahead, protecting from any drilled ball. Koscielny, Varane and Pogba form a bank of three along the six-year box, but Diarra and Griezmann take a man each – Schweinsteiger and Muller respectively.

Of the three options, I find zonal to be the most effective, with one of that bank on the six-year box usually rising to clear anything close to the keeper. But there’s no question it will change game-by-game depending on any given team’s collective height and aerial prowess. 

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Is it gonna be THE FIFA killer? Like in the good old days of PS2?  
Suriya Prakash, via Twitter

Regardless of quality, there’s close-to-zero chance of PES catching FIFA in sales terms any time soon. Sports fans – quite rightly – love licenses, and EA still holds the upper hand on that front, along with presentation. Plus EA’s effort, fashionable as it is to knock it, is still a very good game. So FIFA killer? In sales terms: no.

But will it outperform FIFA critically? It has every chance. This is the most impressed I’ve been by a Konami sports game on first play since the day a decade ago when Official PlayStation 2 Magazine – GamesRadar+’s sister publication – took receipt of early code for PES6. We knew then, months before review, that we had an instant classic on our hands. I have a similar gut feeling about this.

It features the best of everything you loved about PS2 era PES – swift, almost effortless passing; a sense of variety and achievement in every goal; true player individuality; a magic you can’t quite put into words – with all the necessary modern trimmings, such as true ball and net physics, incredible player likenesses, and an eye for the intangible.  

If I had to use a single word to describe it, I'd use 'organic'. It feels like anything can happen, at any time. And how long is it since we could truly say that in association with either of the big two football games?

Stay tuned to GamesRadar+ for more PES 2017 updates as we get hands-on with – all being well – new code at the E3 games show in mid-June.

Ben Wilson

I'm GamesRadar's sports editor, and obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB, AEW, and occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym – such as Chvrches, Bill Bryson, and Streets Of Rage 4. (All the Streets Of Rage games, actually.) Even after three decades I still have a soft spot for Euro Boss on the Amstrad CPC 464+.