The first set of fixtures and the selection of the fantasy team are exciting events on football fans’ calendars.

But the season isn’t really under way properly until supporters get the chance to be players themselves in the form of the sport’s various video game representations.

The three galacticos in the dressing room are the cerebral Football Manager, which has a November release for some reason, and the more action-packed Fifa and Pro Evolution Soccer series that are both ready to roll this month.

First to take to the field is PES 2018, which shows excellent early season form and sets the bar high for its rival from EA Sports.

The latest version of Konami’s fabled franchise doesn’t add anything much new to the virtual football formula and doesn’t massively improve on what’s gone before it, but it still delivers a game that’s damned enjoyable to play.

Over the past couple of years Fifa has felt more and more like a snooty clique, aloof and inaccessible to all but the most skilful and dexterous gamers able to master its increasing complexity.

The latest PES, on the other hand, is more like a mate that just wants to crack open a couple of beers with you and have a laugh.

Performing crosses, set-pieces and shots feels simpler and more intuitive – you don’t to remember the equivalent of a six-digit code to unlock every move.

For me, the latest PES is a more likeable, friendly experience than recent Fifa editions – and more fun as a result.

Sure, PES is not quite as realistic as Fifa in terms of its play and its physics, but that adds to its charm.

While Fifa has got bogged down in trying to be as authentic a simulation as possible, PES maintains a more exaggerated over-the-top style.

From its hilariously outrageous slide tackles to its spectacular Antonio Valencia-like shots, there are more moments in PES that you’ll smile, laugh or just have to say wow at. While EA’s quest to make its game as accurate as possible is laudable, I think Konami’s effort strikes a slightly better balance – still mostly believable but remembering it’s supposed to be entertaining.

Another area where PES gets the balance right is its game modes. It’s a feature-rich game offering numerous offline and online formats, including Champions League, but the emphasis remains on jumping into the action and just having a game of football. It hasn’t yet got a gimmicky ‘journey’ mode like Fifa has and its myClub equivalent to Ultimate Team is much less in your face and intrusive.

There are some areas, however, where PES still lags behind. The game’s graphics continue to improve but are still behind last year’s Fifa, in terms of how players look and move as well as the physics of how the ball moves around the pitch.

Then there’s the commentary. Oh, the commentary. It’s painful just to think about it. While Fifa’s Martin Tyler and Alan Smith combo is pretty woeful, the PES duo of Peter Drury and Jim Beglin are far, far worse. They’re full of terrible, cringe-worthy lines that get maddeningly repeated over and over again, often during the same match. It’s by far the worst commentary is any current sports title.

Last but not least, PES still lacks the licences that help make Fifa top dog in the football genre. Premier League teams continue to have daft names (South Norwood for Crystal Palace is possibly my favourite) and wear strange kits (Man Red play in black?!). It’s probably not something that Konami can easily fix but it does remain a distraction. At least player names and appearances are more lifelike.

So PES still has improvements to make but shortcomings can be forgiven because of how it performs where it really matters – its superstar gameplay out on the pitch makes it the most fun football experience there’s been in recent times.

Like the league leaders playing on a Saturday lunchtime and winning 6-0 to firmly put down a marker to their nearest challengers playing later over the weekend, PES will be a very tough act for Fifa to follow.

9 out of 10

Reviewed on PS4, also available for Xbox One, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360