Roberto Firmino PES 2019 Pro Evolution Soccer Hands On Preview 1

The PES 2019 demo is finally here, and encouragingly it actually has a player wearing the correct shirt on the cover; Konami must have learned its lesson after last year’s Neymar debacle. Still, seeing as Liverpool are an official partner of the game and all, it would be nice to see Andy Robertson’s lovely mug adorning the box when the game hits the shelves later this month.

Admittedly, we were a little worried upon hearing that the Champions League licensing would be missing from the series from now on. Licenses, of course, have never been part of the appeal of PES, but losing the flagship exclusive was a little concerning. Thankfully, Konami has worked hard to secure seven new league licenses, and while none of them are particularly big – the Russian and Scottish premier leagues have been added, for example – it’ll be nice to see the ranks bolstered a bit.

Konami is promising a radically different PES this year, and the presentation at least shows that. Loading up the demo gives way to an entirely new-look menu system that irons out a lot of the kinks of the relatively dry menus of PES past. It’s not exciting, but it’s a hopeful preview of a modernised PES.

PES 2019 Pro Evolution Soccer Hands On Preview 2

Matchday presentation is also looking a lot nicer. Although Peter Drury and Jim Beglin’s commentary “pearlers” are strangely omitted from the demo, the game does well to create a good atmosphere – wide aerial shots of the well-rendered stadiums as well as sleek new TV graphics. The players themselves don’t look half-bad either – especially PES ambassadors like Philippe Coutinho and Radamel Falcao – plus the fans don’t look like they’re refugees from some low-polygon hellscape anymore.

Gameplay, as ever, is fantastic. Dribbling feels slick and nice to control, passing is accurate, and shooting feels satisfying. Again, it’s not exciting, but the new added animations look excellent and should increase the chances of your short-sighted dad asking “What match is on?” as he ambles past the living room. PES’s AI, like Jack Butland or Hugo Lloris, has always been partial to dropping a clanger, but teammates seem to be better at positioning and decision-making now.

Konami has taken a leaf out of FIFA’s book and added quick substitutions to the game, which was a good call. Interestingly, though, it’s not limited to substitutions that game recommends; although players corresponding with the same position come first, you can make any substitution you like without going to the pause screen, and all the while the game waits. It is a little fiddly, but it’s nice to be able to make subs without going to the pause screen.

PES 2019 Pro Evolution Soccer Hands On Preview 3

From what we’ve seen so far, PES 2019 should be as good a PES as ever, but it’s all down to whether Konami makes the necessary tweaks to the franchise's flagship modes in order to increase the game’s longevity. Master League has always been fun, but a better re-gen system that doesn’t see a 16-year-old 82-rated Peter Crouch pop up in our youth team would work wonders for the game’s long-term appeal. A repeat of last year’s excellent launch period would be great too – unlike previous years, PES 2018 launched with fully-updated squads.

It’s all promising so far, but it remains to be seen on launch day whether PES 2019 will truly be the profoundly-changed game that Konami is setting it up to be.

Are you a PES or FIFA person? What do you think of this year's version? Are you going to miss the Champions League? Flash your pearly whites in the comments section below.