Republished on Wednesday 26th June 2019: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of July's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Before even releasing to the public, PES 2019: Pro Evolution Soccer is at a severe disadvantage when compared to last year’s iteration. Konami has always struggled when it comes to licensing, but after losing the rights to the Champions League, Europa League, and UEFA Super Cup to its main competitor FIFA, its representation of football in the real world appears even more desolate. Attempts have been made to make up for the loss with the acquisition of even more leagues around the world, but does this really matter for an experience that puts gameplay first for the full 90 minutes?
In replacement of a smug Cristiano Ronaldo lifting the Champions League trophy for a sixth time, Konami has acquired the licenses for top-flight leagues such as Scotland’s Ladbrokes Premiership, the Russian Premier League, and Portugal’s Liga NOS. Alongside them, leagues from Argentina, Denmark, Switzerland, Belgium, and Turkey join the likes of Ligue 1 in having every team fully represented in-game – names, badges, kits, and all.
And if you were to pick a team from one of these nations to start a career in the Master League with, then you’re in for a good time. The atmosphere created in the stands is electric, the pre-match ramble from the tunnel to the centre circle is comprehensive, and the use of real names and shirts is enough to make your aunt do a double take. This is all well and good, but problems start to creep in as soon as you choose to manage a club from one of the bigger leagues.
The likes of Arsenal and Liverpool from the Premier League are fully licensed, while made-up names replace the other 18 clubs that make up the league. This creates a very strange ambience where you could be listening to the Kop belt out You’ll Never Walk Alone just before kick-off, while the away fans are there to support South Norwood. That’s Crystal Palace by the way. It’s a really bizarre disconnect that only helps to prove how much further ahead EA Sports is in terms of budget. Of course much of this can be resolved in the game’s edit mode, but that can only go so far when trying to replicate a match day experience.
But enough chatter about dealings off the pitch, let’s get on it. The Pro Evolution Soccer series has always been lauded for its gameplay, and the 2019 edition continues this streak. Passing feels exquisite, players animate wonderfully, and the simple act of scoring feels like an achievement when build-up play results in a goal of the season contender. This is all part and parcel of the PES series, and so those who simply need reassurance that the general feel of playing football is back will be satisfied.
In terms of new features and additions, this year’s iteration is a little light, however. A new stamina system dubbed ‘Visible Fatigue’ attempts to simulate the stretches of tiredness a player suffers with throughout a match, with animations that communicate their lack of energy and a weakened performance on the pitch. This can be combated with another new feature that allows you to quickly make substitutes without having to pause the action, very similar to what was implemented in FIFA 18.
One more new feature has been given the tagline Magic Moments. Essentially, this allows more creative players to show off their flair with tricks, wondrous shots, and memorable goals just likely they would in real life. Kylian Mbappé will dart down the wing and deliver a perfect cross, Philippe Coutinho takes on players and gets past them with ease, and Harry Kane just keeps on scoring. It’s something you’re only going to notice if you spend a prolonged amount of time with a player, but when it pays off, the results are worthy of replays.
One area that fails to provide anything new is modes, with the Master League once again setting up shop as the go to mode for offline play, while the Fifa Ultimate Team rip-off myClub returns for those looking to compete online. Some aspects of the competitive mode have been reworked, with a new way to sign players in the form of scouts that can search out potential players to improve your squad, and a commitment to releasing new versions of players based on their real-world performances. All of this is fine, although we can’t help but feel that it’s just a poor man’s version of the FIFA juggernaut when you compare what’s on offer on the other side of the pond.
For those looking to invest in an offline career in the Master League, the trappings of the mode will keep you hooked, but there’s some issues at the seams that hold the experience back. Peter Drury and Jim Beglin are once again in the commentary seats, and in classic fashion, they completely overreact to tame shots at goal, get too excited at the wrong moments, and are a general nuisance when you’re trying to concentrate on your play. Referees are also a little off, allowing bone crunching tackles that would surely result in a yellow card in real life, making free kicks a strange rarity during our time with the game. And while we haven’t yet noticed a 16-year-old Peter Crouch appear in our youth team, transfer fees appear to be wildly off. PES 2019 appears to be stuck in the era before Neymar’s record breaking transfer, because we were able to recruit the likes of Marcelo and Virgil van Dijk for less than £30 million apiece – complete bargains.
Rather than overhauling the experience, PES 2019: Pro Evolution Soccer continues to refine its gameplay loop with intricate features that fans will come to appreciate in the long term. With no major additions in terms of modes or licences, however, this 2019 edition feels a little light in terms of real talking points. What Pro Evolution Soccer is known for returns, but it’s not stocking many new bells or whistles.