Another year, and yet another Pro Evolution Soccer versus FIFA battle is upon us. PES 2019 is first out of the blocks again, and Konami is hoping that its latest offering for soccer gaming purists can finally turf FIFA out and claim the soccer sim throne for its own. Releasing a whole month ahead of its rival, PES 2019 has the chance to shine and win the hearts of sports fans, but don’t expect FIFA to be too worried about its position at the top of the game.
PES 2019 Review: License to Fill
Konami has lagged behind EA in the official partnership dealings for years, which isn’t unexpected given EA’s and FIFA’s rights to agreements with nearly every club and nation in the world. Konami has gone out recently to ensure that fans are drawn to their title with authentic leagues, new club partnerships with teams such as FC Schalke 04, and the continuation of existing ones with La Liga giants Barcelona.
Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to sway the tide too much. Plenty of teams are still known by their unlicensed names—MD White for Real Madrid anyone?—and, whilst it isn’t necessarily a major blot on how PES 2019 plays, soccer fans will always be drawn to the club they support. There’s a reason why FIFA continues to outsell PES, and often it isn’t to do with the gameplay.
PES 2019 Review: Man of the Match Performance?
Speaking of gameplay, PES 2019 is still at its best when it is delivering on the pitch. The match engine hasn’t undergone a significant haul like past iterations have, but minor tweaks have been made and new features installed.
Players now have 11 new traits—or “Magic Moments,” as Konami calls them—that enable players to perform skills that give them in-game advantages. For the most part, they work and mastering these new techniques such as the no-look pass and dipping shot will be vital to facing your mates in PES 2019‘s online modes or for professionals on the esports scene.
Visible fatigue is a new mechanic that supposedly adds realism to proceedings, but was hit and miss. Stars are still able to last the full game even when their stamina levels were dangerously in the red and, while this may be more important in modes such as myClub or Master League, doesn’t offer much concern in online or exhibition matches.
For newcomers to the franchise, or those who haven’t played a PES title in a long time, the controls and mechanics take some getting used to. Passing can be wayward, learning tricks and skills is a steep learning curve, and set pieces always seem to be perfect or miles away from their intended target.
PES 2019 Review: Konami is Gameplay Galácticos
These negatives make way for a greater appreciation of PES 2019’s gameplay once you get a feel for how it works. Little under-the-hood tweaks, such as off-the-ball AI runs, teams getting back into shape, and changes in tempo become more obvious with the amount of matches you accrue. You start to see the gaps to exploit, the player triangles to take advantage of, and subtle points from your AI teammates about where to pass or cross to. These traits aren’t new, but their refinement is clear to see if you get an idea of how PES 2019 performs.
And when you do, it shows its glowing colors. Flowing team moves that you’d only see in real life can be replicated in PES 2019 with resounding success. The tricks and flicks become easy and succinct to perform, and there’s always a wry smile when you leave your opponent for dead after successfully pulling one off. Spectacular volleyed goals, arcing headers or last-ditch tackles leave you feeling giddy, and it’s hard not to feel like a kid on the playground achieving a lifelong dream when you secure that piece of silverware after a slog of a season.
PES 2019 Review: Game Modes Galore
Away from the pitch, the usual game modes such as training, online play and exhibition matches remain staples of PES 2019, while the fan favorite mode, myClub, has received an overhaul. The addition of legendary players such as David Beckham, a major coup for Konami and PES, may also help sell more copies.
The implementation of “Featured Players,” a system that sees the best performing stars in real life receive upgrades to their ratings, is another neat addition that will provide players with an edge. Other changes to myClub allow players to learn new skill traits, train in new positions on the pitch to offer flexibility to formations and substitutions, and the ability to earn bonuses from limited time online tournaments. Each new addition has enhanced myClub from PES 2018 and, as the game’s major mode, should mean that fans have plenty to keep them busy in PES 2019.
PES 2019 does fall down slightly when it comes to its home screens. The interface on certain screens seems sleek and modern in design, but once you delve into certain game modes the display can feel cluttered. PES 2019’s myClub is a particular bugbear, with too much going on and a ton of information to take in—and these tips may be overwhelming for first-time PES players. The in-built guide does its best to hold your hand through the myriad tasks but ultimately it proves to be clunky and a bit hard to comprehend.
The lack of licensing for the vast majority of clubs is also plainly evident. Konami is never going to take on FIFA in this department, but some of the player likeness—or, rather unlikeness—leaves much to be desired. Konami has done its best to protect against this, but it’s enough to remove you from the action and wonder what it must be like to animate these players without being able to make perfect in-game recreations.
PES 2019 Review: Not Ousting FIFA Just Yet
The age old mantra of “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” lingers in the air over PES 2019. Structurally, its core soccer gameplay mechanics are as sound as ever. Without the need for sweeping changes, PES 2019 continues to provide a master class in how to transfer a beloved sport into video game format, earn a legion of cult followers and actually win one battle over EA’s FIFA franchise.
Other areas are in need of work though. A cleaner home screen design wouldn’t go amiss, and Konami’s inability to partner up with most clubs and nations means that they’ll never be a gamer’s first choice when it comes to realism. Its slightly steep learning curve with the controls may put potentially new consumers off too.
The only way to ensure that players don’t forego buying PES 2019 in favor of FIFA 19 is to hope that they stick with the controls long enough for them to appreciate the deeper mechanics that make PES 2019 so good. If Konami somehow managed to steal EA’s longstanding official partnerships away, it would be no question as to who the king of soccer sims is. It’s just a shame that they probably never will.