It’s that time of year again. PES 2019 has arrived and despite toying with the idea of giving it a miss this year the lure of the Master League is still strong and will carry me through until the next release of Football Manager. There is just something satisfying about leading your team of default misfits to glory and no other game can capture this. Unfortunately, as the game evolves on the pitch it seems to have completely disregarded the rest of the package. How much that matters is up to you the end user.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first. Everything that isn’t on the pitch is poor. Menus, user interface and game modes haven’t progressed or been refined since they were introduced. Online play is at least serviceable now, but it isn’t on a par with any FIFA release. In fact, with Konami’s change of strategy towards gaming post-Kojima and Metal Gear Solid a cynic would argue that this has been left untouched as a cost-saving measure. I say untouched yet if I was being harsh I would say they are worse than last year’s effort. Thank goodness for option files to correct all the kits. Again my personal choice is www.pesworld.co.uk. It makes the licensing issues disappear with a simple download.
As for game modes you have two mainstays of the series. My personal favourite the Master League and the online rival to FIFA Ultimate Team – My Club. I’ll fully admit that due to the time I invest in the Master League I usually only dabble in My Club, yet I find it to be a confusing effort at replicating FIFA Ultimate Team. Again it is serviceable and with the superior on the pitch, gameplay may be a purists choice compared to the money-grabbing trading cards of FIFA. With all the special offers and weekly agents you get, it is much easier to build yourself a wonder team full of legends and current stars before taking them online. The problem being it is easier for everyone else to do so as well. The Servers aren’t live yet so I will update if there are any noticeable changes.
But enough of the bad and onto what really matters, the on-pitch action. This year PES 2019 takes a step closer to realism in my opinion. Last year PES 2018 was definitely the beautiful game. You were able to pass the ball in intricate triangles, create space and feed your wide forward into space before crossing for an unmissable header. It was like watching Pep’s Manchester City at their finest. However, therein lay the problem with PES2018. It is like agent Smith in the Matrix. Make the world too perfect and no one will believe it. The closer you got to the most perfect representation of Football the less realistic it seemed. There was very little ugly side to the game.
For the football to be realistic, the AI needs to foul, it needs to become more desperate as the game progresses and foul even more. Teams that haven’t got skilful players should play tight 4-4-2 and pepper you with long balls. You should be able to adopt whatever tactics you need to survive and more importantly, they should work or fail. In PES 2018 too often you were able to save yourself by the aforementioned cross into the box. These crosses were laser guided and something De Bruyne would be proud of. The problem was this kind of cross was the norm and not something to be marvelled at. It made a miss from the striker more unusual than a goal and this should never be the way.
The main touted feature by Konami this year is fatigue. Players should look more dishevelled and start making mistakes as they tire and the game progresses. To be honest it isn’t as pronounced as I thought. So far I haven’t noticed any last minute howlers that wouldn’t have been a staple of PES and ‘Scripting’anyway. Scripting in PES was the artificial difficulty put in by the game when playing against the AI. FIFA does it too, but in PES it was always more pronounced. Much like a regular game of football, if you dominate for 90 mins yet are only winning by one goal, it is always said that the opposition will get one more chance. Never has this been more obvious than in PES. A simple ball into the box, an unexplained poor pass from a defender, a startling lack of pace or the dreaded parry out from the keeper have all led to controller smashing feelings over the years. At least if they dress it up as fatigue this year then there will be some acknowledgement that it exists other than among long-time players.
The gameplay is noticeably slower and players can no longer all turn and control like Messi. This is essential, as player individuality is one of the main reasons to prefer PES to FIFA. By slowing the pace and making dribbling at low speeds more difficult, the patient player will reap rewards.
Like a fighting game, the animation frames of PES are king. This is what separates a simulation from an arcade experience. By this I mean you have to judge the excellent player animations and use them to determine the best time to hit the shot. Playing the ball the striker’s wrong foot and immediately trying to get a shot off should result in failure most times. Instead, you need to control the ball, move it out to the good foot and then hit the strike. In PES2019 The players take slightly longer to do this and as such give the opposition more time to make a tackle or foul adding to the realism of the game. It makes hitting a long-range shot or special goal all the sweeter and more satisfying than before. Headers, the kryptonite of the AI have had their power reduced and this all adds up to a stiffer challenge.
More prolonged play will reveal more nuances, but at the moment the slower pace, increased fouling, normalised headers and difficult close control add up to a more measured experience. Let’s hope it has the legs to keep pace all season and if you want the best community for the Master League, make sure to check out the excellent PES Chronicles.
Get a copy here