Fifa 18 vs PES 2018
Cristiano Ronaldo in Fifa 18 and two of PES 2018's licensed teams: Liverpool and Dortmund.EA / Konami

Every year gaming's football fans debate whether people should buy Konami's esteemed Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) or EA Sports' monolithic Fifa, and every year people invariably choose the latter in their millions.

In recent years the argument has essentially been the same: "PES is better to play but Fifa nails its presentation." This year is different however, with a much tighter, more interesting race between two titles in top form that each offer fans excellent recreations of the beautiful game.

Last year, Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 built on the glorious resurgence of its predecessor, which marked a long overdue turnaround and a return to the quality of the series' PS2 heyday.

After spending so long in the shadow of Fifa it flourished, once again reigning as by far the better game.

Fifa 17 meanwhile marked a big shift for the series, as current gen versions adopted EA's favoured Frostbite engine. This meant changes on and off the pitch, with EA's marketing juggernaut focusing on new story mode The Journey ahead of its release.

While The Journey was a fine addition to Fifa, and far better than many had expected, the focus on it was partly to distract from the core gameplay taking a step back due to the transition to Frostbite. A somewhat unavoidable problem given its annual development.

The worst elements of Fifa over the past few years were emphasised. It was far from terrible, but felt sluggish, unresponsive and a chore to play when compared to PES. However, as always, it had the features and production value to make it the more appealing of the two games.

It was clear that for Fifa to find its groove again would take time as the team at EA Sports adopted Frostbite and learned how best to wield it.

Turns out it took them a year.

The core play is more methodical, slower, with weightier passes requiring a greater precision in direction and power. This new approach meshes well with a much improved set of animations that are more responsive to player inputs, and combined they give the game a greater tactical depth.

Fifa 18 requires a more thoughtful approach in the immediate, moment-to-moment play but more broadly it doesn't offer the same tactical depth that PES does. In Konami's game, teams better reflect the tactical approaches that define them, whereas in Fifa teams feel similar save for the uniqueness of a select few.

Fifa 18 The Journey Alex Hunter
A screenshot from Fifa's single player story mode The Journey. EA

PES still plays with a greater freedom and immediacy, but Fifa isn't very far behind. That closed gap makes the issue of presentation all the more pertinent, which is why the question of which of these games comes the most recommended is suddenly not so clear.

Football's appeal is rooted in the game itself, but the sense of occasion is all-important too. There's joy to be found in great play of course, but the atmosphere during and before games is also fundamental too.

Whether it's a pre-match pint down the local or the familiar fanfare of the Champion's League, that feeling of excitement and anticipation that engulfs games and all those watching them is part and parcel of what makes it the greatest of all sports.

Fifa captures that atmosphere wonderfully. The roar of a crowd, the chants, the over-the-top commentary, the visual tics replicating the TV watching experience. A new lighting system greatly enhances the game visually too.

Whereas on the pitch the disparity between Fifa and PES is narrow, in this regard there's an enormous gulf.

PES 2018
The PES 2018 title screen, complete with Neymar in a Barcelona top he no longer wears. Konami

When you launch PES 2018 you'll be greeted by a group of Barcelona players on the title screen, there front and centre to remind you of the major licensing deal between the Spanish club and Konami.

The deal is huge for the series, which doesn't have the rights to every team and every league, and has to present most of them with knock-off names and different colour kits. It needs these kinds of big names to woo the Fifa crowd.

There's a problem though, because alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez is Neymar... and he's no longer a Barcelona player. It's a relatively minor thing, but it perfectly sums up the game's problems when it comes to presentation.

PES is full of these smaller elements that work against the core play. Poor player likenesses, consistently low player ratings even if you win 5-0, absolutely dreadful commentary, sub benches that don't automatically offer up a mix of players from all positions.

The wonderful work that put PES back on top two years ago should have been the basis for improving everything else about the game, but very little has changed.

The best new feature this year is the return of Return Selection Match, which as the name suggests drafts players a random assortment of footballers to use against their opponents, but it's a small addition and an old mode.

Given Konami is running the show, resources may well be an issue, but as the game is, it's going to satisfy existing PES fans and nobody else.

PES has comfortably been the better game for two years, but has changed very little in that time. Seemingly happy with its lot, it hasn't capitalised on its position and the result is Fifa confidently reclaiming its territory. If you're a die hard PES fan, you'll love the new game, but for anyone on the fence the choice is clearly Fifa 18.