There’s no doubt that this year’s PES needs to work a lot harder than previous iterations to gain attention having lost the license for the UEFA Champions League to FIFA. For a decade it’s been one of the main selling points for those that need to see their favourite football stars stepping into the spotlight, but for PES 2019 it’s all about what happens on the pitch, and it hopes to show that that is enough to bring people over from the FIFA crowd.
The first thing to note is that this isn’t a major step over PES 2018 when it comes to gameplay. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though 2019 does feel a bit more focused on the physical battles between players and winning the ball back by putting the opposition off balance. Through every mode, be it online or offline, many of the matches become midfield battles with both sides probing until an opportunity for a break presents itself, which in turn favours teams that are set up to counter-attack rather than go all out.
With player movement every step, every stance, and every wobble matters. Ball trajectories now depend on player posture, so if a player is nudged as they try to pass or shoot, the ball will go wayward, while if they’re off-balance going for a quick shot they often won’t connect properly and the ball will go well over and wide. On the flip side, players who are running comfortably can pull off much more accurate shots and passes, though as the player you need to be precise with the direction you’re holding the analog stick. Any slight variation and the ball will go to a player you didn’t want it to go to meaning an attack or defensive plan you had in mind goes out of the window.
Other quirks become noticeable as you play as well, things that have kind of stayed with the PES games for years. AI players will make a number of mistakes like running the ball out of play even when not under pressure, or they won’t really intercept a ball as it rolls past them and you can’t switch to them to complete the action. The game’s commentary is lacklustre as well, with a lot of reused lines from previous games and a general lack of variety. In one match the same lines were uttered multiple times in the last 10 minutes, which really can break any immersion you might have.
PES 2019 doesn’t introduce any new modes, though some have been tweaked. Master League and Become A Legend, for example, begin with the International Champions Cup, a pre-season mini-tournament of four teams that give you a chance to earn a trophy before the regular season begins. With the Champions League gone, Konami went on a licensing spree for individual teams and leagues, so you now have Celtic and Rangers and the Scottish Premiership, the Belgian Jupiler Pro League, Russian Premier League and more. Of course, only some teams are fully licensed so you’ll still have fixtures like West London White vs Man Red.
In MyClub, Konami’s answer to Ultimate Team, players that have performed well in the real world can now be given the Featured Players treatment which increases their overall rating and skills. There are also skill and position trainers to obtain that can improve a player’s ability or give them a chance to play better in a different role within the team. If you have three duplicate players then they can be traded for one other player that belongs in the same rarity class. While those are decent additions it doesn’t address the fact that MyClub as a mode pales in comparison to FIFA’s Ultimate Team. Building a decent team feels slower, though this is somewhat offset by how easy it is to earn GP to buy the agents that let you acquire players.
If you want to play online and not do MyClub then you can play in the Online Divisions instead, where you start off in Division 12 and work your way up by acquiring points and trying to reach the requirements to get promoted before your ten matches are up. The servers are stable and the majority of matches run smoothly, though you’ll hit lag with a couple of players which turns proceedings into a bit of slideshow.
Graphically the overall package and the action on pitch looks good, especially as it now supports 4K HDR. That said, not all character models will match their real life counterparts, partly down to licensing once again. Menu presentations and use are smooth too, not looking overly cluttered or busy.
PES 2019 is a good football game. It isn’t a major improvement over last year’s title, but despite the lack of the Champions League it isn’t worse either. The matches play well, the modes are well crafted for the most part, and there’s plenty of fun to be had. There are some things that do need addressing which haven’t been touched since over recent iterations, but hopefully they can be fixed in future patches and updates.
Version Tested: PS4 – Also available on PC and Xbox One