This year’s licence-light PES is still chasing the title
Konami’s annual soccer fixture and its derby-style rivalry with FIFA divides players into two camps: football fans, and fans of football games. If you’re more the former, then PES is playing its second-team from the outset in a game it can’t possibly hope to win.
The lack of licensing is an issue, and die-hard PES fans can’t really argue that the game’s superior football gameplay experience isn’t just a little bit spoiled by having to play as East Dorsetshire versus PM Black White in the Whatsitsname Cup. But, just to tie a knot in the trunk of that particular elephant in the room, let’s agree that FIFA wins that one handsdown this year, what with PES losing the Champions League, and move on.
Pro Evolution Soccer has always been the superior football game, and the subtle changes to the gameplay mechanics and physics keep it top- flight. It’s quite hard to back up with any certainty Konami’s claims that the top players’ avatars play exactly like them, but having the likes of Coutinho or Messi on your team does boost your performance, with those players much more likely to display greater control of the ball, pull off mazy runs or fire home a wonder goal.
It’s not just with the big names that these differences are felt though; all players have a real presence on the ball, a studied physicality and pace, so that each match feels different, there are no ‘default’ players doing predictably ‘default’ things. Big defenders are solid enough to hold off more nimble forwards; smaller, quicker players like Raheem Sterling can skip round slower central midfielders.
AI is much improved, and players can mostly be relied upon to deliver the pass you want – or sometimes the pass you need, while you’re hitting and hoping. This isn’t always the case though, and there’s a realistic frustration that will have you screaming at the TV, “Who was that to, you numpty?!” It’s hard to say whether these are random mis-kicks for extra realism, or our own incompetence, but certainly the care paid to the behaviour of the players and the ball leads to some unpredictability, as in the real sport.
New animations – including players gesturing where they’d like the ball – add to the natural feel. PES’s famous passing finesse has been improved again, while the scope of on-the-ball actions, utilising both sticks for shimmies, turns and feints, gives you the potential to put together some quite brilliant displays of showboating. There are almost endless combinations of pass, lob and shot types possible within its intuitive control scheme, but it’s the off-the-ball movement and the team behaviour that sets PES apart, and
“Subtle changes to the gameplay mechanics and physics keep it top-flight”
matches have the tactical nuances and occasionally cautious pace of a real game. You won’t often be knocking in eight goals a match – your positioning and mastery of the midfield, the need to keep the ball and work it to gain tactical ground, are well represented by PES’s deeper systems and player AI.
Lighting and shadows are stunning, giving the game a high level of TV-match realism, while physics are improved and there’s a palpable weight and substance to the ball – it reacts realistically to the varying touches it receives from different parts of a player’s body, goalkeepers’ fingertips, woodwork etc. Player likenesses are the best yet, with body and facial scanning quite jawdroppingly accurate (check out Harry Kane’s hooked schnozzer in 4K!) – but again, it’s only a select number of teams given this treatment.
There are more league licences being added even now, and it’s nice to see the Scottish Premiership represented, as well as a handful of other European leagues you won’t care that much about, as mostly you’ll want the absentee Premiership and Championship, or even the Bundesliga and La Liga. If you’re not a fan of one of the few fully licensed teams, you can work out who your team is by vague geographical hints, but even then, it’s denting OXM ’s score here that on PS4 and PC you can use community created mods to the teams, badges and kits – but not on Xbox One.
Away from the matches themselves, there’s a clutter of options and modes that, depending on your proclivity for football management sims, you’ll either love or just get frustrated by. Those who want the grind of having to scout and sign players, deal with contracts and other stuff will be served by the MyClub mode, but it’s not particularly clear, and demands a level of commitment at odds with the jump-in enjoyability of playing a PES match. There’s a try-hard ton of other stuff, but still it’s where PES trails at least 2-1. FIFA’s whole package, its presentation and comprehensive suite of options, modes, licences and competitions is just better.
There’s no doubt that in terms of gameplay, PES19 has a considerable edge over its rival, though, and should still be considered the connoisseur’s choice of footie game.
left A select few players have been rendered using full body and face-scanning technology, with pretty accurate results.
right As the match wears on fatigue will start to take its toll visibly on players.
below Celtic is one of the fully licensed teams.