Every year FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer fight for the title of best soccer game on the market. While FIFA has become the dominant player due to its officially licensed teams and populist approach to the sport, PES is usually the choice of connoisseurs. But does Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 keep up that trend?
A great feature of PES 2019 is its detailed training mode. It ensures you can get to grips with the game relatively easily. Considering how different the game is to FIFA, even if many of those differences are subtle, it is a welcome addition. The trainer walks you through everything that the game has to offer.
It teaches you the basics and then delves into the more complex things you can do. For example, you can learn how to thread a perfect lobbed pass or send a defender the wrong way with a trick move. Learning all of this is satisfying. But using it in a match against opponents actually trying to beat you will put a smile on your face.
One of the areas where PES 2019 really stands out is in the way that it has moved away from allowing you to pass around opponents. This has been a problem for soccer games since the very early days of gaming. The majority of early titles suffer from matches being dominated by quick laser-accurate passes.
Thanks to a realistic first touch in PES 2019, controlling an incoming ball is difficult to master. Passing is given actual weight and the ball feels heavy. It forces you to genuinely try to understand where the space is. And it allows the defending player to intelligently press to take advantage of the new mechanic and snuff out attacks.
That is not to say that passing doesn’t feel crisp as the ball skims across the pitch. It is just that everything feels a bit slower and more deliberate. PES 2019 really wants you to think about everything you are doing, rather than just zipping the ball around hoping to find a chance to score. While it does produce a bit less action, it is genuinely thrilling when a thoughtful attack comes to fruition.
Of course, there are still a few problems with the gameplay that Konami has yet to figure out. The main gripe: goalkeepers still have random A.I. that produces stunning saves one minute and career-ending mistakes the next. Yet, the small issues are forgivable when you consider how well the game plays the rest of the time.
Where PES 2019 comes unstuck is off the pitch. Here, the lack of the huge funding EA can pump into development becomes noticeable. There are far fewer game modes available. And there is nothing equivalent to the cinematic experience that is The Journey from recent FIFA offerings.
There is a similar version of Ultimate Team called myClub. But it has none of the depth or sheer fun of its competitor. The only saving grace to that is it does not seem as fixated on trying to get the player to buy extra card packs with real money.
PES 2019 also has its visual limitations, although players now somewhat resemble their real life counterparts, especially when it comes to licensed teams like Barcelona or Arsenal. But they still look vastly inferior when compared to other sports games.
There is an overall improvement in the graphics, though. The lighting system is particularly well done, casting deep shadows across the lush green grass. PES 2019 resembles the real sport in the most beautiful way — if you don’t look too closely.
The menus have also improved dramatically, but they still lag behind those in the user-friendly FIFA. Getting around various parts of the game is something of a chore.
Oh, and the less said about the commentary the better. Peter Drury and Jim Beglin just don’t have the chemistry, script, or enthusiasm for the job.
While it is still a tough decision over whether to opt for PES or FIFA, PES 2019 does the best job of trying to usurp EA’s hold. It is without a doubt a game that has chosen to put substance first and style second. The emphasis is completely on the soccer. This may not be enough to attract casual gamers who just want to play a few games with friends over the weekend. But hardcore players would probably be better served going with PES 2019.