Control has always been one of the masterstrokes of the PES franchise – particularly the ability to express yourself on the pitch, making even those small touches of the ball important. PES 2019 continues this glorious tradition in new ways, but it’s juxtaposed by the A.I., which is out of your control, predictable in its attack, and executes questionable transfer business. PES 2019 hits more highs than previous iterations, but it’s also bumping up against its own ceiling.
Last year, PES slowed its gameplay speed down, which made it feel better and more exacting, and this year expands the level of detail with the way players react – sometimes unsuccessfully – to the ball. The added variance in passes, even when they go slightly astray, introduces a realistic dynamic to the game. It’s exhilarating to see your striker try to control the ball with an extra touch on the outside of his boot while he’s on the full gallop. Even when he subsequently fires the ball into the side netting because the angle got worse as he quickly approaches the byline, it’s a nice dose of realism. I liked having to be more aware of how players receive passes, their fatigue level, and even that a through ball may go out of bounds, further separating the good players from the average.
The gameplay still has its faults, however, such as how players’ legs clip through each other and how pre-determined animations can take away some control. Unlike last year, it feels like player switching can sometimes leave you at a disadvantage because of whom you’re given. The A.I. also wears out its welcome in that its attack is predominately down the flanks, and defenders can switch off at times.
The A.I. further exposes its faults in the Master League career mode, because it’s unable to steward non-player-controlled teams through transfer windows without dangerously thinning the squad depth in some positions while going on a spending spree for others. Similarly, transfer amounts don’t reflect the craziness of the real world, and old stars (and even good-but-not-great players) hold on to their value too much in comparison with hot up-and-comers.
This is a shame because the mode offers a lot of depth when it comes to building a squad of champions. I like the team roles that give bonuses for the whole squad, the ability to direct whether funds go into you transfer or salary budgets, and the new manager missions (in Master League’s Challenge setting) that task you with goals from the owner.
The mode is great about assembling your team and training them up, but it’s not as good at doing the same for the rest of the league. It’s not a question of just having more or certain league/team licenses. It’s that the world outside of your team doesn’t come across nearly as well. This comes down to not only the A.I.’s transfer behavior, but players’ listed personalities don’t manifest themselves in being unsettled and wanting a transfer, and fans, rivalries, and the larger league context barely give the mode a broader focus.
It remains to be seen how a larger scope might affect this year’s MyClub fantasy mode, which needs more post-launch competitions and other competitive and even single-player ways to play than last year. Like Master League mode, it’s fun to grow your team through training (as opposed to lusting after the card du jour), but even with the awesome co-op play, it stalls if you have to grind the same tournaments and ranked matches.
It’s easy for me to sit and revel in what I love about PES, jogging through instant replay just to gawk at a foot flick a ball on to a teammate or charting out the future of my Master League club. But occasionally that reverence is broken by an ill-suited moment that illustrates that more work needs to be done. The franchise is steps away from greatness, which makes some of its foibles frustrating.