Pro Evolution Soccer 2019. The latest in Konami’s footballing dynasty. Is this iteration a throwback to one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s classic Manchester United teams? A Walter Smith Ranger’s team maybe? Or is it more Roy Hodgson Liverpool or Tony Mowbray Celtic? Konami has always battled with the ‘license’ issue, having to use fake team names, badges, kits and more. Does PES 2019 succeed despite this limitation?
Getting straight into gameplay, the answer to the question is: absolutely. If you jump straight into a 1v1 match you won’t care about the licenses at all, the minute to minute gameplay of PES is intoxicating. Players don’t feel like table footballers, they feel unique and alive. It’s easy to forget occasionally that this isn’t a game; the way players move and react can genuinely feel like you’re watching a real game. Something I really enjoyed was watching a simulation game and seeing how players behaved on and off the ball. Famous players like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi move exactly as they do in real life, the body language of leaders like Vincent Kompany or Gerard Pique is imposing whereas someone like Neymar or Alexis Sanchez might attempt to hide in the game but explode into action when they sense an opening. This is all down to Magic Moments, 39 different personality traits that player can possess. These traits blend together to ensure players are fully realized as people rather than simple video game characters.
If you choose two real teams, such as Rangers and Celtic which, thanks to the newest update allowing you to play at Ibrox or Celtic Park, you can experience one of the most realistic matchdays in a video game ever. The crowds pulse and react to on-field action, they feel alive and make you feel much more emotionally invested in the game, especially in the real stadiums. This is the best players have ever looked, not just their faces but in every aspect. The expressions are incredible, you can feel the joy in scoring a goal and the angst in conceding. The vast majority of players are instantly recognisable, the work done on the Scottish team’s player is especially impressive. The development team’s dedication to creating a genuine football sim is clear as day and it really ramps up player engagement. The more you care the better the game becomes. Consider a person with the captaincy trait, having them on the field will give your team the extra drive they need to keep their stamina up until the final whistle.
Football is the biggest draw here. Passing is so precise and slick, you genuinely do feel like a maestro conducting your own orchestra as you move the ball from player to player, stretching a defence to carve an opening or as you sweep the ball from back to front in a devastatingly rapid counter-attack. The fact that you can simply pass the ball where you want and to who you want gives PES a big advantage over any of the competitors. You just simply feel more in control here. The shooting is similarly satisfying. You get into position, whether that means cutting inside from out wide or just driving through the middle, pick your spot and let rip. You could attempt to curl it into the bottom corner, lash it into the top of the net or even a deft little chip. There’s plenty of variety and interesting ways to hit the back of the net. There is an issue though. Keepers are pretty fantastic in a lot of scenarios. Some shots from 25 yards out will look as if they’re flying into the top corner but somehow the keeper will pluck it out of the sky. It can be frustrating, especially when you’re finding it difficult to get in behind teams or get crosses into the box.
PES really does encourage you to find a variety of play styles. By advertising how an opponent tends to play then you have an idea of how you should approach each match. Some teams might adopt passing plays, a high press will stifle that. Others might favor quick counter-attacks, make sure you don’t over commit on these occasions! Everything that happens on the pitch really just works, slide tackles are brutally satisfying, crossing is excellent and easily variable, standing tackles work to break up play alongside interceptions and set pieces add full new tactical layers. When you’re on the pitch the game feels genuinely magical and everything just comes together.
It’s off the pitch that PES suffers the most. The licenses are an annoyance that can be sorted through simple Google searches. However, the menus and music aren’t great across the board. This includes when you’re setting up tactics and team selections. Everything just feels cumbersome. This also, unfortunately, includes the navigation in the different game modes, from MyClub to Become a Legend. The modes are all solid, there’s plenty to do if not a lot of iteration. Become a Legend is fine, you can rise through the ranks and feel genuine progress but it’s really uninspiring stuff. Master League is as good as ever, maybe even the best it has ever been but still with niggling issues. The player traits really help to make your team feel like your team though. I had great fun throughout several seasons. MyClub is the jewel in the crown though. It has one humongous, glaring advantage over Ultimate Team. You can genuinely get top quality players. Obtaining Ronaldo or Messi isn’t a pipe dream, thanks to the constant special agents and tournaments it’s entirely plausible. I got both without spending a penny. Playing games is really fun and competitive but the tournaments are where the mode shines. It’ll bring out the best and worst in your personality.