As long-running series’ go, PES is in a really strange spot right now. The community appears to be openly hostile towards you whether you like or dislike the direction the game is going in, and quite honestly, PES 2019 isn’t going to do much to assuage things. This year’s game is evolution, but certainly not revolution, and while that may seem like a marketing phrase, it’s true, and it feels like, despite numerous on-the-pitch areas improving, it just feels like a very piecemeal update.
While I’m not going to criticise the licenses they’ve lost, or even rank them against the newcomers this year, it does, and has had an effect on the game. Players I know of in the real world who are up and comers simply don’t exist in the game. If they aren’t in the full international team, and, let’s say, play in the Bundesliga, they probably aren’t there. Also, I don’t even know what’s happening with the Brazilian national squad this year. It’s just… made up names, and I thought we were past that kind of thing for a national team, especially since the players are in the game, and Coutinho, for example, is on the box, but some licencing snafu has caused this anomaly.
One thing that’s a net positive is that the game looks superb. Leaving older consoles behind has meant that PES can truly shine these days. Like the competition, the crowds still don’t look top notch, but the nets look excellent, and player likenesses have (mostly) never looked better. I say mostly, because there are some truly strange… “eye moments”. We’re taking nightmare fuel, here, especially when the camera slowly shows off the visuals, but you’re drawn to the eyes. It’s an oddity in a sea of oddities, this year.
On the pitch, they’ve finally fixed the referees. In last year’s game the refs would ignore all but actual murder, but now fouls are given regularly when anyone gets overly physical. This alone almost makes the yearly upgrade worth the admission. The sport is more physical overall, actually, and players will jockey far more than ever before, with barrel-chested defenders usually getting the better of weak attackers, though not always – it’s player dependant.
Player realism is something PES does best. Aguero will out maneuver and be stronger than some defenders, because that’s what Aguero does: he finds space where there is none and gets the shot off. Salah will win a header he has no right to win, as he’s 6 inches shorter. That level of player likeness is just sublime; it really is. Visual fatigue is this year’s buzzword, and it shows exactly as you’d imagine: not something that happens all the time, and a nice little touch when you notice it.
All the modes return, of course, and Random Selection Match is still just absolutely brilliant. Master League has had some small changes that are more in line with the rest of the UI overhaul, but seeing your custom manager avatar animated in “social videos” playing in the background is a bit weird, and in truth it’s perhaps time for some new customisation options for managers full stop. It’s a niche thing, perhaps, but few games do “blonde hair” well in customisable avatars, and PES is certainly not the outlier there. It’s possibly my imagination, but this year it feels harder to pull off the Hollywood transfers, which is great for immersion. It feels deeper in that respect, and you won’t sign 7 world-class players every time the window opens.
But I don’t know. Something feels strange this year. One can’t ignore how incredibly 2018 played, but it was almost too much, too soon. When a game plays as well as it does, the “sequel” is bound to be on a hiding to nothing. PES 2019 feels incredible, but so did 2018. This feels better, but also not markedly so. If you were playing last year’s game until recently (and I was) this does feel like a new game, but it also feels like it’s drastically lagging behind in other areas.
We know that EA has more money to spend on its game, so it’s perhaps unfair to criticise PES for not having its own “The Journey” mode, or newer modes, but there really hasn’t been enough added to the game modes this year around. The thing is, even if you can see past this, there’s some truly bizarre issues with the fonts, or perhaps it’s the kerning, that makes the menu text look like every letter is a jpeg that’s been pasted and aligned by the work experience kid. I first called my wife in to check my eyes weren’t going googly, then my children to be sure it wasn’t the both of us. This kind of thing is just not acceptable, and it’s actually bizarre because I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a basic UI error in a modern game.
Back to the modes, though, MyClub has at least been updated to feel more modern, but it’s more bells and whistles than wholesale changes. The tutorials are a little clearer (but not enough) and it’s still a deep mode that fans will love playing, and others will find impenetrable. Elsewhere everything is more or less as it was last year, which is both good and bad, I suppose.
These things add up. I said I wouldn’t bemoan the licenses, and I do believe that the people who can try to affect these things are doing their best, but Konami simply can’t compete. I’ve long found it disgusting the Premier League (as an example) allows their license to be used exclusively whereas the likes of the NBA are happy for 2K and EA to both feature them in their respective games. Perhaps it’s a symptom of the corrupt nature of the modern game that it can happen, and some of you will argue I’m defending Konami and, to a degree, I suppose I am, but only because the on-the-pitch action is so fantastic.
But that feeling won’t go away. There’s a lack of buzz this year, and having spent weeks playing the game it feels like a gap year. PES 2018 came so far so quickly, that revolutionising the game a year later was never going to happen. PES 2019 feels fantastic, and it looks better than ever, but off the pitch I’m worried it’s becoming a dinosaur, and I don’t want my beloved PES to become extinct.
Referees are so much better than last year
Menus are a mess
No huge changes