One of the joys of playing Pro Evolution Soccer back in the days of PES4 was that feeling that anything could happen – unpredictability.
The ball would bounce anywhere and goalmouth scrambles would cause players to leap off the sofa in excitement – thankfully, it looks like those halcyon days have returned to a series in desperate need to recapture those moments on the pitch.
That’s where PES needs to win the battle.
FIFA has the slick menus and the newly acquired Champions League licence but what really matters is out on the field of play and it’s so far, so good for Konami. That’s what we’ll focus on in this review – for a full list of what’s new off the field of play head here.
PES 2019 plays brilliantly.
The ball physics are by far the best of any football simulation ever – it feels heavier and the way it pings, spins and lofts in the air looks spot on and is essential in the way the game runs.
The new-look animations, which seem to be the major improvement from last year’s game, are superb. Players will look to take a touch with any part of their body they can.
Kevin De Bruyne, who can spread the play as well as anyone in the game, launched a lofted ball towards Raheem Sterling on the right wing – as the ball bounced the on-rushing Man City man took his next touch at lightning speed with his head which set him up perfectly to look for Sergio Aguero in the box, who’d taken a step back from the defender to find that yard of space. Aguero, who had the time to take a touch, did so and before the defender could get to him he poked, characteristically, an early shot low into the far corner with a tap of the shoot button. The unsighted ‘keeper didn’t stand a chance.
Shooting seems to be vastly improved and much more difficult – mainly due to the new animations. You need to get the player into a position where they can realistically have a pop at goal or you can forget it.
Shots balloon into the stands if you are off balance, nothing new there but the animations when getting it wrong are almost as satisfying as striking one into the top corner. Try taking a long-range strike with De Bruyne too, his new shot trait will take you back to that stunner he scored at Chelsea last season.
The first-time pokes and flicks with the outside of the boot are really effective when looking to catch the keeper off guard and the chip shots are a joy to behold if you can get the power bar right – but the goalkeepers do make some stunning, point-blank saves.
Just when you think you’ve put your team ahead the likes of David De Gea – who is very hard to beat – will reach back and claw a ball out that looked destined for the net. Player individuality was always key to PES’s early success – you always knew Valery Karpin could pull something out of the bag for you in PES 3 – and it really feels this time that certain players can win you games.
Ronaldo and Messi aside, two of the most enjoyable players to control are Marlos of Shakhtar Donetsk and Hakim Ziyech of Ajax. You really feel as though you can influence the game when they get on the ball.
Ziyech, with his shirt untucked, drifts between the lines and can create chances with a flick of the outside his boot that will nip the ball around the around the defender. Marlos has the ability to slalom through the opposition and keep his balance despite taking knocks – the fluidity of his movement is something that hasn’t been seen in a football sim yet.
Jostling with defenders is key when trying to win long, high balls and the physics of two players clashing look better than ever and are key to creating that unpredictability that is so key to gameplay.
Alas, there are downsides to the game. Licensed stadiums such as Anfield and the Emirates look fantastic but the tired stadiums of old are still there and are far behind FIFA in creating atmosphere.
Obviously it’s licensing that prevents this but an upgrade, especially in the look of the pitches in these created grounds wouldn’t go amiss.
Peter Drury and Jim Beglin are a fantastic commentary team but it feels Konami still haven’t made proper use of their talents in the game with a lot of lines from last year’s edition still in place.
Master League hasn’t been given the overhaul it’s crying out for and MyClub has been given updates but is it enough to compete with FIFA’s ever-popular Ultimate Team?
Off the pitch, PES is inferior to FIFA. On the pitch, it’s a very even fight and Konami’s effort this year will run the contest as close as it’s been for over 10 years.