Over the past few seasons Konami's PES series has made sweeping changes in an attempt to re-invent the football game genre, and, in the process, make it the number one option for fans of the sport around the world.
While these improvements have resulted in a steady improvement in the quality of Pro Evolution Soccer as a franchise, it's in the 2017 game that everything seems to be coming together to create something truly special.
The gradual, tentative alterations to passing, shooting, player intelligence and more seen in previous games have clearly given the development team the courage to push ideas further this season. As a result, PES 2017 feels more diverse and impactful than any game in the series ever has. This is looking like a great year for sports games as whole, from Madden NFL 2017 to Assetto Corsa, and Konami's football game is a worthy addition to the list.
Here, we take you through some of the most interesting and important features that make PES 2017 stand out.
Repetition and predictability is one of the major hurdles that every sports game must overcome. The truly dedicated fans play thousands of matches on each release, and with so much game time logged, the potential for things to grow stale is very real.
PES 2017 seeks to overcome this by giving its artificial intelligence the ability to learn how you play, and be able to react to that. If you rely on breaking down teams through the middle of the park using great passers, then one day you might start seeing your opponents press higher up the field in order to prevent your midfielders receiving so much of the ball. Alternatively, if you like to quickly pump the ball high and up field, then opposing defenders are likely to drop deeper and prevent your attackers latching on to such passes.
This forces you to be malleable and, in the process, encourages you to become a better, less predictable player.
More fluid, natural passing
The pinball-esque sensation that has been inherent to the wider football genre for two decades is gone here, replaced by something that looks altogether more natural and feels, perhaps controversially, more complex. Rather than the ball feeling as though it's magnetically attracted to a player's feet, only accurate passes find their target with precision.
Skilled passers can work miracles even when under pressure, but the less able require a little more time and space to deliver the ball to the intended coordinates. Once you've mastered the finer details in understanding what it is that's affecting the success of your passes, you can begin to engage with the freedom of a system that allows you to attempt almost any pass you can dream up.
More options when receiving the ball
Brilliantly, players receiving a pass do so whilst simultaneously thinking about where the opposition is positioned. If a striker is being shadowed by a defender as the ball comes to his feet, then he'll trap it in a way that prevents his opponent from being able to instantly tackle him. The success of such an act being dependant, of course, on the skill of the player in question.
This allows you to employ a more patient form of build-up play in which you can prioritise ball retention over simply relying on a constant barrage of forward passes and speed down the flanks. It also helps in defence, too, as your backline seeks to keep the ball away from attackers pressuring high up the pitch by using their bodies to better advantage than they ever have done before.
Tactical set-up is more important than ever
For years PES has allowed you to make minor tweaks to the way your team is able to employ different tactics, but this year the options are greatly expanded. Rather than simply indicate how attacking or defensive you want your 11 to be, you can now give very specific instructions in an attempt to take advantage of any weaknesses you see in the opposition.
If you see that a defence is struggling to pass out from the back, then you can have your forwards close them down and put them under pressure at all times, accepting that this is likely to make your players tire more quickly. Conversely, if you're winning with minutes to go in a cup final, then adopting a defensive 'park the bus' approach and sitting your entire team behind the ball might be the best way to play.
Actively changing how you play throughout a game is sensible, as well as adding to the engagement level by forcing you to constantly think about how you're playing and why.
Import your own kits and teams to PS4
Playing as Man Blue instead of Manchester City or London FC instead of Chelsea has tended to make a match of PES feel less prestigious than it should be, not least due to the use of awkwardly designed, unofficial kits and club crests. However, PES 2017's editing options are incredibly in-depth and, best of all, you don't even have to delve into them yourself to take full advantage. Dedicated creators can upload their own files for you to download and use as you see fit. Simply save the files to a USB stick, transfer them to your PS4 and enjoy real kits, crests, team names, and everything else vital to give that sense of authenticity.
Goalkeepers can actually be relied upon
We all make defensive mistakes sometimes, but on occasion it's nice to know that your goalkeeper has got your back. Particularly if you've taken the time acquire someone as skilled (and expensive) as Manuel Neuer, David De Gea or Jan Oblak, you would like to think that they'd prevent the odd goal being conceded.
Well, that's now finally the case. Dives are more precise and better timed, decision making on corners and when to rush out of goal to close down an attack is more intelligence, and passing distribution is crisper and allows for quicker counter-attacks. Sure, even De Gea is going to struggle in a one-on-one situation against Luis Suarez or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but at least he'll stop Andy Carroll scoring.
Champions League is present and correct
Kits and club names might not be included from the start, but the Champions League is. The world's premier competition sees its branding played before any matches you play in the tournament, complete with the official anthem as camera pans across the faces of participating players.
It seem shallow, but the presence of the iconic logo and imagery does add a sense of majesty and status to the game that takes place on the field. Combine this with an edit file that makes every team in the game resemble the real thing and the result is, if you're a football geek like many of us are, something approaching spine-tingling.