Unlike Konami’s usual stance, PES 2019 is less about refinement of overall gameplay, and more about celebrating some of the game’s biggest superstars. This change in approach was much-needed, as the PES franchise needed an injection of something new and fresh to help make it stand out as a unique football game. Yes, ultimately the success of this game can be attributed down to how well the game plays, however if what it also does is identify the sport’s greatest superstars and really emphasize their unique traits by translating them into the game, Konami instantly manages to make PES more relevant to those who aren’t so fussed about passing mechanics as they are about the individual traits of the likes of Neymar and CR7.
All of this is achieved through a brand new feature known as ‘Magic Moments’. This introduces just under 40 traits that individual players have that completely control some of their special abilities. As an example, CR7 is widely recognized as one of the best in the world for scoring headers by hanging in the air longer than seemingly possible. Meanwhile, a player like Kevin De Bruyne is recognized for his goal-scoring abilities from outside the box due to his incredible show of shot power and accuracy. These special abilities are assigned to the superstars of the game, and these really do translate on the pitch.
One can argue that such traits exist in PES’ main rival. However, what makes PES 2019 so unique is the other, more subtle traits that capture the essences of the players that are not always in the spotlight, but always deserve true recognition. As an example, certain players in the world are widely known for being impact subs. The ‘super sub’ trait allows the team to perform better if such a player is brought on in the latter half of the game. Certain players are incredible captains who constantly demonstrate fighting spirits. There is a trait for this too, which allows players last a lot longer on the pitch without getting tired. Jordan Henderson is a prime example of a player who deserves more praise than he gets (from fans outside of the Liverpool domain). He has been instrumental in Liverpool’s resurgence. PES 2019 identifies this and allows you to appreciate his captaincy attribute as it becomes very visible how it affects the rest of the team when he’s on the pitch. You will actually see him shouting a lot more at his players and dictating the flow of events.
The best thing about all of this is that the traits are not just some switch that can be tuned to your needs. They are built into the players’ characters and engrained into their pool of abilities. When the abilities kick in, it feels natural and real. Also means that you can very easily relate the in-game players to their real-life counterparts. If you ask me, this whole mechanic is a lot more important to a football game, than a new set of tricks or celebrations.
The magic moments do not just translate to positive attributes of players either. We all know that Neymar is the poster-boy for going down too easily. Of course, Konami isn’t going to create a ‘diving’ attribute, but instead the developers have identified that certain players have a more crafty mentality. For those, you have the ‘malicia’ trait in the game. Yes, players with this attribute can win free kicks more easily, but it also means they may not stay on their feet as much as you want them to if they are through on goal!
With all of this in mind, PES 2019 actually appeals to the more hardcore football fan. Magic Moments is not just some icon-driven functionality that contains tutorials. As an example, when making a substitute, you may not know what player has the super sub attribute. Of course, there are ways to find out in menus, but that disengages you from the match. If you’re a football fan, you will already know what players make a mental difference to other players’ games. I will know that Kante has the ability to stick to his player like glue with the man mark attribute, so I don’t need to specifically look him up. To put it simply, if you watch a lot of football, you will know how certain players play. Rest assured that most of the time, they will behave similarly in PES 2019.
To take it a step further, there are also player styles that are unique per position. For strikers, you can have play styles that allow you to hang around the box or run down the channels etc. Goalkeepers can be sweeper keepers, never run off their line etc. Full backs can potentially tuck in, or stay as wide as possible and stretch the game. Where PES shines over its competitor is its ability to better capture the essence of the individual players in the game.
Gameplay-wise, I feel that PES 2019 needs a patch to tune some of the referee decisions in the game. For some reason, the game doesn’t reward any sense of physicality when making a tackle or trying to win possession. Instead, even the slightest of nudges whilst jostling will result in a free kick against you. The game needs to be more forgiving and let the play continue. Nothing is more boring in a football game than countless free kicks being given, even if it’s in your favour. Most of the time, I ended up just trying to intercept the pass as I was too afraid to make a tackle. Online, this becomes an extremely painful process to endure. The second issue I have is with the goalkeeping AI, which is still lacklustre. Bizarrely, no football game has managed to get the goalkeeping AI up to scratch. It’s almost as if the developers always favour the attackers just because they don’t want to make it difficult for the gamer to score. Unfortunately, nothing is more off-putting than a game which ends with over 10 goals in total.
Master League remains the single player’s saving grace, and to this day, remains my favourite single player mode in any football game. This year, PES 2019 ups the anti by introducing team roles. With a total of 22 roles, you really get an insight into how different players contribute in other ways. You have roles to help improve the growth of the team, those who take care of fitness, people who attract sponsorship deals and new fans etc. Lose one of those players, and you lose a significant person who carries out one (or more) of those roles. If you lose a superstar or legend, you lose all of the financial income that the player brings in for club, which affects your transfer budget and the club’s bottom line. Master League this year allows you to appreciate that players do a lot more for the club than just play football.
To add to this, sometimes you as a manager, may want to recruit a player not just because of his footballing abilities, but because of his individual ‘roles’. Master League will allow you to search for players in the transfer market based on the roles. Therefore, if you’re looking for someone who is a ‘Rising Star’, you can. Also, you can search across technical abilities too. If you want a player who is brilliant at long balls, you can find someone that fits the bill. The number of options you have available to you are quite overwhelming actually, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Considering what’s at your disposal, the interface for Master League is quite intuitive. You can even engage in contract talks and ensure that there are certain bonuses for meeting targets. The game also does a brilliant job of ensuring that you can’t just swap a terrible player for Messi. There are transfer odds percentages displayed to you, and they can even go down to 0%! If you’re already accustomed to Master League, you may have wished for more, but I personally did not play last year’s Master League mode quite as much, so PES 2019 provides plenty of new functionality.
PES 2019 also introduces some new leagues. I don’t think any of them are relevant enough for the masses to care, but it’s important that Konami is making headway in this space by securing the Scottish, Russian and Argentinian divisions. None of that however accounts for the lack of the Champions League license. At least you can still download a data file to update the club names and kits, but you can’t do anything about the lack of authentic commentary.
PES 2019 is a worthwhile purchase if you’re a huge fan of the superstars that make up the sport. It does an incredible job at ensuring that the players behave as realistically as possible, and the introducing of Magic Moments has gone unnoticed (even if it is embedded within the players’ e-DNA). However, my concern is that there are only so many headers you can win with CR7 and so many times you can laugh at the prospect of Neymar on the floor before that no longer becomes enough to keep you engaged. Luckily, PES 2019’s largely unchanged online modes will keep you busy, only up until you realise that tackling is penalized too many times for your liking! I am hopeful Konami will patch that (as well as the goalkeeper AI). Until then, PES 2019 remains as a good, but not great football game.