PES 2019 makes improvements on the pitch again, but a lack of growth in other areas holds it back.
There’s nothing about Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 that will surprise you. If you’ve been playing or have played PES games in the past, you know exactly what you’re getting into- incremental yet vital upgrades to the on-pitch action, coupled with persistently uninspiring presentation and off-pitch elements have almost become a tradition for each new entry in Konami’s annual football simulation franchise, and that is exactly the case with PES 2019 as well. It makes some changes to the actual act of playing football on the pitch, none of which are huge headliners by any means, but together end up providing for a much better experience than we’ve ever seen in PES. However, it refuses to make any improvements to other areas that are so painfully lacking, and have been for more or less ten years now. PES 2019 a game that will satisfy your every need if just playing football is all you really care about, but if you are looking for Konami’s game to match EA Sports’ levels of pomp, panache, and presentational brilliance, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
"PES 2019 a game that will satisfy your every need if just playing football is all you really care about, but if you are looking for Konami’s game to match EA Sports’ levels of pomp, panache, and presentational brilliance, you’ll be sorely disappointed."
In any other game or in any other genre, one would look at such aspects and simply wave them away with the most cursory of looks, calling them mere window dressing that ultimately couldn’t matter less if it tried. And were this any other genre we were talking about, that is what I would do too. But in a sports simulation game that is trying to imitate and simulate not just the on-pitch action itself, but everything surrounding it as well, such deficiencies end up mattering a lot. Pro Evolution Soccer 2019’s archaic UI, boring commentary, and its lack of important licenses hurt the game quite a bit. Such things go a long way towards creating a sense of atmosphere, which is very important for this kind of an experience, even though the most veteran PES fans might refuse to accept that.
It’s not that PES 2019 doesn’t even try to make improvements in these areas- it certainly does. The visuals, for one, are far crisper and far more beautiful than anything I’ve seen from Konami in the past, which automatically adds more sheen and detail to everything you could look at. Players’ faces and bodies are scanned in and presented with great accuracy, while the stadiums that PES 2019 does have licenses for are recreated with such care and love, you can’t help but stare at them with appreciation the moment the game first shows them off (Barcelona’s Camp Nou is especially a delight). Even the crowd sounds more enthusiastic than it ever has before, and critics of PES would know that a flat and lifeless crowd has been one of the series’ most major sticking points for some time now.
But while the crowd is louder and more reactive, it still feels clearly manufactured, like you can almost pinpoint tracks of audio being triggered by a specific moment in the game- especially in the unlicensed stadiums. It doesn’t feel natural, and it doesn’t evoke the kind of excitement that it should. The commentary is slightly improved over last year with some new lines peppered in here and there, but it still sounds choppy, lifeless, and boring. Navigating the menus isn’t a pain, of course, but even though they are more or less serviceable, they look cluttered and positively ancient, almost entirely unchanged through the series’ history over the last few years. Similarly, ignoring the licenses – or there lack thereof – is easy while you’re actually playing football, but there are moments when you look at the scoreline, or the advertisement boards, and you look at all the players that are wearing plain, unadorned jerseys, all of which clearly looks very different from how it’s supposed to, and upon looking at these things, you can’t help but feel like there’s something just not quite right. It pulls you out of the experience a little bit. It breaks the illusion- all these things come together to significantly impact PES 2019’s atmosphere, and in a game such as this one, that matters a great deal. This isn’t a new problem with PES 2019, of course. It’s been true for a long time, and it’s true this year as well.
But if you’re the sort of person that can look past that stuff and only cares about what happens on the pitch, PES 2019 is going to be an absolute delight (for the most part). It continues to do what PES games have always been known for doing- offering an experience that is truly a simulation, with a slowed down pace of gameplay that allows you to formulate free-flowing and beautiful attacks on the fly and then put them into practice with perfect execution. That particular element of the game becomes even more emphasized because of PES 2019’s overhauled animations system, which determines what kind of pass you’ll be sending over to the next player, how successful it will be, or, in some cases, whether or not you’ll even be able to connect with the ball. It all depends on the way the player is moving, what angle he’s receiving a ball at, as well as the trajectory of the ball itself.
"All these things come together to significantly impact PES 2019’s atmosphere, and in a game such as this one, that matters a great deal. This isn’t a new problem with PES 2019, of course. It’s been true for a long time, and it’s true this year as well."
That ties in with ball physics, which is another one of PES 2019’s major overhauls. The football itself feels appropriately weighty, reacting to impact from shots and bounces in ways that are at the same time utterly realistic and completely unpredictable. The ball feels like a real thing, and watching it swivel in the air to land at the foot of a player after a long, lofted through pass, or to see it dip and curve and rifle into the back of the net at the end of a powerful shot from outside the box, is never not fun. Together, the ball physics and the reworked animations add extra layers onto PES’ already solid moment-to-moment gameplay. Passing moves feel much more fluid and realistic when they are properly pulled off, while pulling them off requires work too, for you to make sure your players are in a position to receive and release the ball in the right manner, so they also feel rewarding. The play gets slowed down a bit thanks to this, but that actually works in PES 2019’s favour, rather than against it.
Goalkeepers have also been improved quite noticeably. If you read my review of PES 2018 last year, you’d remember that the goalkeepers were one of the things that bugged me in that game the most. Blockbuster shots were a major new addition to last year’s game, aiming to create moments of theatricality and drama, with shots that people in the rafters on a Friday night might call a “banger, mate”. However, the goalkeepers’ complete inability to save shots that went past even within inches of them dampened the impact of the whole thing, and games, as a result often felt too easy. While the ‘keepers haven’t been perfected, their reactions and their abilities to stop shots is significantly improved, to the point where when you curve in a beautiful inch-perfect shot into the top corner of the goal from 30 yards away, it feels suitably rewarding and gratifying.
Some aspects of the on-pitch action, though, are less successful in what they attempt. PES 2019 made a big deal of having actual, meaningful fatigue mechanics prior to its launch, and I’ve really struggled to see that materialize. It’s not like fatigue isn’t a thing- a football simulation game simply wouldn’t be able to work without that, after all. It’s just as much a thing as it has always been. While my players did often get so tired that their performances during the final minutes of a match would suffer greatly, or that they would even on very rare occasions sustain injuries, that was really the extent of it. I had to do some swapping of players before matches during weeks in my schedule that were particularly crowded with fixtures, but that’s something that’s bread and butter to any fooball simulation game. If there is any difference in PES 2019’s fatigue mechanics that goes beyond that, it’s one that was so insignificant, I couldn’t even notice it.
Master League is another area that’s in need of heavy improvements, which have sadly still not been included in PES 2019. There is, to be fair, the addition of the pre-season friendlies tournament called the International Champions Cup, while transfers have also been improved slightly, giving you the ability to add sell-on clauses and the like, but both these changes are minute, and don’t really make much of a difference. The ICC is a pre-season tournament, and I doubt many people will care that it’s been fully licensed, while transfers are, despite the additions, still not very realistic. For my very first transfer, I purchased Toni Kroos for just about £35 million pounds, which is dirt cheap by today’s standards- and that is just one example. Incremental changes on the pitch are perfectly acceptable- they are, in fact, the norm in yearly simulation franchises, and when clubbed together, they actually make a meaningful difference. But the Master League is in need of more than just incremental changes. It has been more or less the exact same experience for a decade now, with a few minor additions made every year, and PES’ refusal to expand and change in this area just seems lazy at this point.
"Together, the ball physics and the reworked animations add extra layers onto PES’ already solid moment-to-moment gameplay."
For years, Pro Evolution Soccer has been in a pattern where it continues to improve its on-pitch action year over year, while remaining frustratingly backward in all other areas. PES 2019 follows that same pattern, and as such, the final verdict on it, in an isolated scenario, would be pretty much the same as its last two or three predecessors. The issue, however, is that every year, tolerance for its lack of improvements grows shorter, where now it’s just gotten to a point where they’ve become a bit too grating to ignore. The loss of the Champions League and the larger UEFA license certainly does PES 2019 no favours either. On the pitch itself, PES 2019 remains exceptionally strong, stronger than the series has ever been, and by extension, stronger than this genre has ever been. But all that panache and flair and flash that many PES fans choose to call stage dressing, which is so painfully missing once again in this year’s game, is quite important to the experience, and its absence is starting to become increasingly glaring with each new instalment. Konami have proven themselves to be absolute masters of delivering excellent on-pitch football- but perhaps with PES 2020 next year, it’ll be time to work on their weaknesses, rather than improving on their strengths.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Overhauled animations and improved ball physics come together to make significant improvements to the on-pitch action; Excellent simulation of the sport of football; Player likenesses and licensed stadiums are recreated with a lot of accuracy and detail; Stunning visuals.
Outdated and messy UI; Dull commentary and artificial crowds; Lack of atmosphere, compounded by mediocre presentation; Lack of meaningful licenses; Master League is in dire need of improvements.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 is absolutely amazing on the pitch, proving that as far as pure simulation goes, Konami's franchise still reigns supreme. But in all other areas, its refusal to improve is starting to become increasingly frustrating, to the point where several such flaws are actively damaging the experience in many ways.