Konami arrives with a new season of rivalry with EA’s FIFA, in what may be the best Pro Evolution Soccer game ever made.

No matter how good Pro Evolution Soccer is, it will never outsell FIFA. Even when the series was in its prime, back in the PlayStation 2 days, and FIFA was at its lowest ebb, it was still never the biggest seller. So if the number one thing you look for in a football game is whether it has all the proper names and official kits then just continue on and buy FIFA 17 as usual. But if you care what the game actually plays like, and whether it’s a fun and accurate simulation of the real thing, then Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 has no equal.

When talking about the rivalry between FIFA and PES it’s hard not to reach for a comparison with plucky league champions Leicester. PES may not have the money of its big name rival but it has the heart and the ability. Even though many of them have been good games in their own right, there’s always the feeling that FIFA has merely bought its way to success. But PES has got there purely on its own merits.

In truth it’s actually PES 2016 which was the breakthrough in quality, and this year’s game is more just a refinement of those achievements. Passing is noticeably smoother and more accurate, for example, as too is shooting, which now allows much more control over the amount of power you put into a kick. Although the most significant improvement is the dribbling, which allows such precision control you’d swear the ball was stuck to the players’ feet, as if in footy games of old.

Following on from the great foundations of last year’s game, PES 2017 refines the on-pitch experience to unbelievable levels of detail. In my short time with the demo and retail copy of the game, no two matches have been the same. No two goals have been the same and not even two passes have been the same. The play is so finely balanced, that you can go a whole half, dominating possession, probing for an opening in the opponents defence only to realise you haven’t created any chances. You face exactly the same problems real football teams and coaches face. You have to change up your tactics and style of play because if you don’t you will be punished. Here is a case study of my first match.

The first example most people will notice is the step up in opposition defending and tactics. While waiting for the option file from pesworld, I fired up the licensed Asian Champions League. Not having a great knowledge of it I picked Guangzhou Evergrande, as I have a jacket of theirs. I was pleased to see Jackson Martinez and Paulinho in the team and felt fairly confident. Sure enough, I started the game in the standard formation with Martinez up top on his own. The first few attacks went well with a ball played in from the wing for him to hold up and either turn or lay off building the attack. After a couple of near misses from crosses, I noticed the opposition intercepting the ball a lot more. Taking a step back, I realised the opposition A.I. had worked out my tactics and were now actively playing against them. This completely changes the game. I had to then work the ball through the wings and try to hit Martinez in the middle. Again initial success before that route was shut down as well. This adaptive intelligence, Means you have to vary your tactics like a real match. Unfortunately, I was soon caught on the counter as a long-range strike was excellently saved by my keeper before being tucked away by the opposing striker. It was frustrating but completely realistic. As I pushed forward, I was caught again. A ball down the wing, a missed rash tackle and they tucked it away. Throwing everything forward I bundled in a scrappy goal and then noticed the opposition sitting deeper. I tried and tried but despite a few dangerous crosses, they held firm. I had lost my first game and been taught a severe lesson. PES 2017 plays to win.

The stadium effects and crowd are solid in PES 2017, though I didn’t feel a huge difference in comparison to 2016, except for some personalised chants that are included. Still, I don’t feel as though there needed to be huge tweaking in this department so all is good here. However, the commentary is still kind of awful and actually makes me long for a cow’s backside being hit with a banjo (some will get it). Jim Beglin and Peter Drury return and while their lines are mostly in place, there is just so much repetition in each match. So many times I would hear the same phrases even in consecutive games. I know that they have recorded thousands of hours of commentary, but it just doesn’t relate to what you hear in game. It’s a pity, and with NBA 2K as a benchmark for commentary, it’s got a long way to go.

Looking deeper into the aspects of PES 2017 that have improved, shows how much of an understanding the development team has of the sport. Despite the many great advances the FIFA team made throughout the last generation, they always seemed to get the percentages wrong. IF you had an easy chance you were prone to miss more often than not. You could hit the post after a sweeping move then hit it again on the rebound. You knew that the opponent would get one more chance at the end of matches and if you got one you knew it would likely be a close miss again. It felt artificial and unnecessarily dramatic. PES has long employed such scripting to better effect especially in the Master League. This worked in the context of that game mode, but could still seem cheap if your keeper spilled a ball from a very weak shot. In PES 2017 goalkeepers have received a major upgrade. If you hit a long range shot now the opposition keeper will try and get anything behind it and keep it out of the net. Sometimes these saves look a bit clumsy, but most importantly they are saves. A long range shot that dips in front of a keeper should have them diving low and getting something on it which could go anywhere. The random nature of rebounds means there isn’t the same feeling of cheapness when one eventually lands in the wrong place.

Master League returns, and while some of it will be covered in the online section of the review I can confirm that it is still the best mode (offline) that can be played in PES. Starting with a scratch team, or with your favourite team and building them up through the leagues is something that will never get old. The Master League has received a few tweaks in terms of the way you manage players, buy players and organise your team, but because of the squad update not being out, I didn’t want to get into it without full value.

Be a Legend is the last of the offline modes and if you enjoy playing as one player and taking your career as far as possible then this is still for you. There haven’t been any significant updates to this mode but playing it with the new animations, new AI and new camera angle, it certainly feels like a fresh experience.

Referees, long the problem of PES games, have received a major overhaul. They now give free kicks with every bad tackle, putting unfair pressure on an opponent works the same so there is no more matching the opponents pace and simply leaning into their run to trip them. The decisions are far more realistic if still a little lenient when you really take down an opposition striker.

Shots on goal now feel more powerful and lethal than ever, especially if you are running onto a rolling ball. Hitting the ball first time from out wide at a moving ball will create the necessary whipping effect of sending it towards the net or into the penalty area, it is all about looking at the body shape of your player and the ball. Line up for a shot poorly and you will hit a poor shot. Come onto it at speed with the right power and you should be set for something special. The same goes for crosses. Beat the fullback and you should have time for a better cross. Gone are the loopy crosses that hung in the air for your striker to easily nod in. Even the floated crosses now realistically bounce off your striker or the defenders head. A lofted through ball, that reaches your striker at head height can no longer be headed like a bullet past the keeper. Using realistic physics and momentum, your headers can only ‘help the ball on its way’. At first, the gamer in you will feel like a power has been taken away but soon the football fan will appreciate the realism. It could be the mantra for this game.

In conclusion PES 2017 is the best football game ever made. The improvements to the physics engine, in collisions, ball movement, and rebounds make every game a unique and enjoyable experience. There really is nothing else to say, except this is real football. A further review of the game modes, like Master League, My Club and Be A Legend will follow when suitable time has been spent with them. Until then soak in the beautiful game that is PES 2017.