Konami kicks off the new football/soccer season with Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 – a few weeks ahead of EA’s launch of a new FIFA. Will they set the bar high enough to worry FIFA execs? Here’s our review of the Playstation 4 version of the game.
Oddly enough, even despite some good strides in last year’s FIFA, Konami’s soccer game has been regarded as the better simulation for a few years now – yet continues to be outsold by FIFA, which has one of the most loyal fan bases out there. History might repeat itself for other reasons this year as well, but more on that later.
As a new PES title, the 2019 edition is more a refinement than a reinvention of the franchise. There is a great amount of control both on and off the pitch, with a nice toolkit of options that let you tune your match tactics in great detail. Obviously this translates to positioning your players in a slightly different way to anticipate what your opponent might do, but you can also give your players specific instructions to change their playing style. Once you progress playing matches casually, it’s a wonderfully deep way to modify your game and make every match different.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 is still a title that rewards those who master a good passing game – moving the ball among the team and gradually opening up gaps for that decisive through ball. Obviously this fits very well with the Barcelona license the game heavily advertises, but you’re free to play differently as well – something you’ll have to do when you play with a team that’s just not built for passing. You might want to hoof the ball forward and hope your striker can hold on to the ball for a bit, or you can try the long ball and hope that your fast wingers will find a way through. It’s rarely as successful as playing the passing game (as it is in real life), but it’s possible.
Part of what makes PES more realistic than FIFA also lies in the fact that it’s a less “directed” effort. Where long balls in FIFA somehow automatically float towards another player, careless use of the tactic in PES will result in plenty of balls into no man’s land. There are also way more instances where a duel isn’t won by either of the players engaging in it, but rather by a well-positioned teammate who gets it after a deflection or tackle. Little stuff really, and FIFA’s still a ton of fun to play, but they’re fine nuances that soccer fans will notice.
Konami’s brought back their “Master League” campaign mode as well, which still features a transfer system that includes some weird logic at times. Star players really should lose much more of their transfer value when they get older (unless they’re Ronaldo, apparently) and randomizing your luck in signing the players you want somewhat. An alternative campaign mode is the “Become a Legend” options, where you assume control of just a single player – something I enjoyed even back in 1991 when Impressions built an entire game called Striker around the concept.
I didn’t dabble much in the online play modes yet, aside from a few random matches here and there. Konami’s myClub mode is a mix between Master League and online play that echoes elements of FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode, but in a much more streamlined fashion. It’s nice to land transfers on a few star players though, especially because it can be tough to acquire them during the Master League mode.
What makes things a little less engaging, however, is that Konami doesn’t have the same licensing package that EA has. In fact, this year they’ve lost their Champions League license to FIFA and I’m sure they’ll be milking that fact for all they’re worth at EA. And rightfully so, because even though Konami has added a ton of new licenses – the Scottish, Danish and Chilean leagues don’t quite have the appeal that the Italian and English leagues (and their teams) do. When playing with some of the non-licensed top teams, it makes the commentary and ambiance feel a bit stale – two areas that PES has had trouble competing on anyway.
Luckily, the rock solid gameplay makes up for a lot of that – and the game looks great as well. It’s certainly more refined than PES 2018 and definitely better than FIFA 18 was, so it’ll be curious to see how FIFA plays in a few weeks. I just wish we could open up all these licenses to everyone and create a level playing field – but at least we’ve come a long way since the fake names in Kick Off and Sensible Soccer back in the day.