It’s been a year of ups and downs for Pro Evolution Soccer and Konami off the pitch; with the lowlights seeing their UEFA Champions League and Europa League deals expiring, as well as the Borussia Dortmund license getting terminated. On the plus side, they’ve retained the official partnerships of teams like Liverpool and Barcelona, whilst acquiring the Belgium Jupiler Pro League, the Scottish Premiership and the Russian Premier League, to name just a few.
But Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 needs to do the business on the pitch too, to make their mark before the other big football title comes out. Will PES eclipse its rival, build upon the modes it already has and deliver a top drawer experience both online and offline?
I can confirm that it’s achieved at least one of those goals.
The gameplay is the bread and butter of any game, because without that being enjoyable, the rest is just pointless. The good news is that PES 2019 is an absolute joy to play, with every touch, pass, cross and shot feeling more realistic than ever. There’s a much slower overall feel to the on-pitch antics compared to FIFA, and this rewards patient build up as well as clever play. You won’t be able to rush and panic your way to success, and instead it sees skill generally prevail over luck and fluke. Every good move, attacking effort and defensive block feels rewarding, like you’ve really earned it.
Shooting is especially intriguing, with off-balance or badly timed shots leading to woeful attempts at goal that you’ll be ashamed of – and rightly so. But when you get that knuckle shot lined up or try a cheeky chip from a tight angle, even if it doesn’t go in, the level of excitement and fulfilment is high. I love scoring goals at the best of times, however there’s nothing better than netting in a tight match, and most of those in PES 2019 are – no matter whether you are up against human or A.I. opponents. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lapses in concentration though.
It only takes a second to switch off and let someone cut open your defence with a through ball, so you have to be on your game constantly. When that ball gets scrambled into your penalty box and it’s bouncing around like a pinball, the mayhem is akin to how it’d happen in a proper real life game. That does bring me to one of the very few negative gameplay aspects, something which occurs after a change to the course of the ball. That’s because whilst you can predict the alternate pathway and move accordingly, the majority of the time the player resists for a second or two, thus momentarily getting lured towards where the ball was going to and not where it ends up – a rebellious act that will undoubtedly cost goals.
One of the biggest tests the PES series faces is taking the addictive offline gameplay to the online side, without losing any quality. The fact is, they’ve nailed it in that sense, with the same speed of play available and non-existent lag ensuring that it is as if you were playing on the couch against a friend. Whilst it excels in that area, with gameplay that’s as dynamic as ever, the game mode enhancements seem to have stagnated somewhat.
For those not wanting to venture online, there are familiar ways to get a quick hit of action in the Exhibition style modes. Random Selection is one that stands out, simply because of the concept seeing you choose four criteria options to make up each team randomly, before it’ll let you trade players with your opponent prior to kickoff. Other than that, there’s the standalone league and tournaments to get stuck into, but most people that want such experience will no doubt settle down with Master League.
Master League is a mode of legendary status, which lets you take control of an entire team and sort out all the transfers, training regimes and try to keep a happy camp of players. Winning helps, but just giving players game time is a simple way to ensure spirits don’t drop too much. It’s always great to see the growth of the players over time as well, with youngsters flourishing from a run of decent games. The board’s objectives are a bit silly though and it’s frustrating when you’re a team of second division quality thrown into the International Champions Cup, expected to win the group against the likes of Barcelona and PSG. Unrealistic and absurd both come to mind.
But what’s new about Master League? Well, not a lot in truth, and that’s the brunt of the disappointment found in other modes too.
Those preferring to pick a lone player and emerge as the next big thing can do so in Become a Legend, where you’ll have to do well to earn more time on the pitch and successfully upgrade your attributes. The idea is to build a reputation for yourself to garner a transfer to the better teams, get called up to play for your country and win trophies. One thing’s for sure; focusing on just the one character is great for honing those skills in attack or defence, and the art of beating a man with some tight dribbling. I’m struggling to see what’s different about this particular mode though and as a long-time gamer, it’s a case of been there and done that many times before.
At least myClub has evolved slightly though. Here, you’ll work towards assembling a fantasy team from scratch by buying agents and sending out scouts to get players in return. It’s similar to EA’s Ultimate Team in many ways, but instead of chemistry there’s team spirit and the manager has a huge role in dictating the preferred formation and playstyle. These managers do have restrictions and so, if the quality of the team is more than they can handle, the team spirit drops dramatically as a result. Just picture when David Moyes was in charge of the mighty Manchester United in real life, it’s like that.
With this manufactured team, you can head online against humans in a one-off game, battle the A.I., participate in tournaments and even simulate matches, taking a more hands-off approach. What is new though are the featured players, which are based on how well players have performed in real life every week. Unfortunately, it’s a flawed idea when you can buy these improved players via an agent as I did, randomly getting hold of Messi twice. Getting together a five star team is too easy and after a handful of games, your squad will be ridiculously good through spending in-game currencies (which you can also buy with cash). It’s also worth noting that the auctions for scouts are utterly pointless, with them still taking place over rounds and the lack of any option to sell players.
As for the rest of the mode options, you’re left with straight up online Ranked games, 11vs11 Team Play and online Co-op. The Ranked matches haven’t changed, and neither have the waste of space 11vs11 lobbies, which are a lonely place to be. Co-op matches consisting of 3vs3 aren’t new by any means, but now you can at least be in a Clan to play them and rise up through rankings. In principle, I love the Clan idea but in reality, the convoluted lobby system, the way it makes everyone control all players (it’s messy) and the limit of only three players, sees it really suck. It’s such a wasted opportunity. Worryingly, matchmaking takes a few tries to find opponents in all online areas, even at peak times, which suggests not enough people are playing – I’ve no idea why!
Moving to the visuals and the recreation of certain grounds is great, most of the top players are detailed rather accurately and there appears to be less dullness to the vibrancy of the pitches. That being said, the lesser teams in the Premier League, for example, suffer in their player likeness and at times look downright scary. Once more though, with the sound of the crowd added and such, the atmospheres are great during the matches. I will however challenge you to try and last more than two games before you’re sick of the commentators as they are still as irritating and repetitive as ever. In regards the soundtrack, it’s hardly a recognisable list of artists, but it should do a good job of keeping you entertained in the menus.
For all the fuss off the field about some of the licenses missing in Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 – granted, it’s not easy to find the team you want when it’s got a made up name – Konami have done their talking on the pitch with the truly rewarding and addictive gameplay on offer. There’s also a ton of modes to get involved in, ensuring there will be something to suit almost every gamer’s wants and needs. It’s just a shame that most of them haven’t moved forward in recent years, thus becoming old hat, and the new Clan feature they’ve introduced doesn’t create the excitement it should.
PES 2019 is the ideal game for the football purist, but don’t expect to be blown away by new stuff.