The annual match-up between Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer and EA Sports’ FIFA is one of the games industry’s greatest rivalries. Which camp do you fall into?
Barcelona versus Real Madrid. Ali versus Frazier. Arsenal versus Spurs. Hamilton versus Vettel. Everybody loves a great sporting rivalry, and in the world of videogames, there’s no doubt about the juiciest one of those: the perennial struggle between the two great football games, EA Sports’ FIFA and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer. Now that FIFA 18 and PES 2018 are both on sale, which one should you back?
There’s no doubt that both are great games – but choosing one over the other could speak volumes about what type of gamer you are. For example, we Brits love an underdog, and PES 2018 definitely falls into that category. Its Japanese publisher, Konami, simply doesn’t have the vast resources available to FIFA 18’s publisher, the behemoth that is EA Sports.
So, while all the teams in FIFA 18 are fully licensed – thanks to a process that involves EA Sports spending vast amounts of money for the rights – only a few are in PES 2018. In the Premiership, for example, Arsenal and Liverpool are PES 2018’s only licensed teams, so Tottenham Hotspur, for example, becomes North East London. It is possible to edit the team names in PES back to what they should be – and all the players, at least, are present with their correct names. But FIFA fanatics invariably seize on that as an indication of their game’s supposed superiority.
However, PES-lovers – who would no doubt dismiss such quibbles as shallow and unimportant -- have plenty of counter-arguments. Chief among which is that PES 2018 is superior where it matters the most: on the pitch. Any honest person who has played both games will admit that PES 2018’s super-silky passing and shooting engine, along with its startlingly realistic player-movement and impeccable tackling system, are second to none.
To be fair, FIFA’s development team at EA Sports Vancouver has worked assiduously over the years to tweak and improve the core on-pitch gameplay, and FIFA 18, with a new crossing system, more tactical variety among computer-controlled teams and better off-the-ball movement, narrows that particular gap to PES 2018 in comparison with recent iterations. However, PES 2018 still beats FIFA 18 on the field of play: the control Konami’s game gives you over passing and player movement simply makes you feel like a God-like footballing genius, while FIFA 18 feels a tad more robotic in comparison.
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Taking a step back from individual pros and cons, perhaps you can see an overall theme to the rivalry between the two games emerging: it’s a battle between style and substance. The expensively developed FIFA, made using EA’s Frostbite engine which also powers games like Battlefield 1 and Star Wars Battlefront, looks spectacular and is able to reproduce things like club badges, so scores heavily in the style stakes.
But whatever you stick on top of them, they are both football games, and if you’re of the opinion that what matters most in a football game is the actual football, then it’s PES 2018 which has the substance.
FIFA devotees would hit back at that by contending that there are other elements in FIFA 18 which provide substance of a different kind – and which PES 2018 struggles to match. Chief among those is FIFA Ultimate Team, known to all and sundry as FUT. This trading card-based team-building element of the game is superbly structured and fiercely popular.
PES 2018 does have an equivalent called myClub, which contains some interesting ideas such as an arcane system that lets you hire scouts and agents, but compared to FUT, it feels over-complicated and lacking in excitement. However, PES stalwarts would point out that FUT also provides a means for EA Sports to extract more money from FIFA owners beyond the price of the basic game.
In addition, FIFA has a great story mode, called The Journey: Hunter Returns in FIFA 18. In keeping with the rest of the game, it’s polished and slick, and includes cameos from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo. PES 2018’s equivalent, Become a Legend, has no story whatsoever. But it does let you experience that delicious footballing engine from the perspective of a single player, which is very good fun indeed.
Those who come down on the PES 2018 side of the divide would also argue that they value individualism rather than following the herd, which raises a point that might well determine which of the two football games you choose. FIFA is, unequivocally, one of the most popular games in the world, and an awful lot of people play it. So it might be the case that all your mates have bought it, therefore you might feel you need a copy in order to play against them online. Playing FIFA as a group is hugely rewarding.
Or do you and your mates like to think of yourselves as footballing purists, with a penchant for non-conformity and a reluctance to add even more money to the already swollen coffers of a giant US company? If so, you and they are natural candidates for investing in PES 2018. After all, PES is also a hugely popular game, with a fiercely loyal fanbase which is enormously competitive online.
So the eternal struggle between FIFA and PES rages on. It may not be an existential matter bringing life and death into the balance, but whichever one you opt for might speak volumes about the sort of person you see yourself as.