On paper you could be excused for thinking that this year’s football battle between EA’s FIFA19 and Konami’s PES 19 was a one-sided affair. In a bold move, FIFA has added the Champions League and Europa League licenses, meaning that they are both glaring omissions from this year’s Pro Evolution Soccer game. FIFA’s super successful Ultimate Team continues to fuel EA’s endless pile of money (reaping around $800 million USD in revenue annually according to gamesindusty.biz and only getting bigger), and their well-received story mode The Journey has been a hit with fans and will feature in its third straight game. For PES, almost all of the big additions this year are on the pitch in the way of gameplay and physics tweaks, alongside some new lesser-known league licenses and a new menu layout.
So why does PES have such a dedicated fan base? Why have I purchased every single PES game on release since Pro Evolution Soccer 2 on the original PlayStation back in 2002?
It’s simple, PES is football.
PES takes football to a whole new level on the field
This Is Football
I fire up PES 2018 – not just to say my goodbyes in preparation for this year’s release – but to ensure the euphoria of scoring a goal in PES was fresh in my mind.
I make some transfers to replicate Liverpool’s current line-up and jump into a game against Man United in front of the Anfield faithful. Now this wasn’t my best game nor did it feature any incredible goals, but sitting back and watching the highlights made me reflect on just how damn good PES looks on the pitch and how much it reflects real football. Check the video below to see for yourself.
This is a tiny example of the small things that can happen in any game of PES. Can I rely on this to score all of my goals? No chance. My right back might be playing deep because we’re already defending a lead or he could be man marking a dangerous player. The defence might be awake to the right back and pressure him before his cross, resulting on the cross being over-hit. The combination of tactics, sublime animation, and realistic AI result in the best football simulation going around, period.
Situations like this happen throughout every game of PES; most of the time the games are played at such a frenetic pace you don’t even notice them until watching the highlights at the end of the game or pausing to admire replays mid-game. Goalkeepers planting their feet and prepping their position as soon as they see the potential of an incoming shot or the anguish on a defender’s face when they concede a goal. It’s little details like this that add to the story on the pitch, and each game tells a different story.
Elephant In The Room
Every time the PES versus FIFA argument comes up the main subject is always licenses. Yes, FIFA has them all, with PES limited to a string of smaller European licenses. It’s been this way for many years now. Annoying yes, but not a deal breaker by any stretch given how you can get the authentic team names and kits on launch day by downloading and installing a patch via USB on both the PS4 and PC, which takes about 5-10 minutes. Due to the Xbox One’s software design, this is not possible on the Xbox One currently.
Football Knowledge Is Power
One of the most rewarding parts of the PES experience is knowing your favourite team or players so well that it gives you an advantage. The more you know about your player’s skills and strengths and your team’s preferred tactics the better you will do.
This means so much more than just passing to a player like Mo Salah just because he is fast. Instead, you’ll need to focus on his burst speed to beat defenders, take advantage of free players created due to being marked by two defenders and ensuring when turning to shoot or pass you allow him to hit it with his more powerful left boot.
This comes easy and natural to me playing as Liverpool as I know how they play and the strengths and weaknesses of all of the players. When playing as a team you are not familiar with it can be a great learning experience. The fact that it takes time to learn how to use a team is something that separates PES from its slightly more arcadey and easy-to-pick-up counterpart.
PES fans will never walk alone
The Best Game Mode of All: Realism
You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned anything about game modes. Nothing about the extensive Master League, and nothing about My Club, PES’ version of Ultimate Team. Despite these game modes being good and certainly adding to the longevity of the game they are not the reason I keep coming back. In fact if it was down to game modes FIFA probably has PES beat at this current stage of the franchise rivalry. FIFA can offer me a better and more authentic EPL experience, their Ultimate Team mode is extremely addictive and the story mode is great fun for a single playthrough, but due to the game’s more mechanical and generic feel I eventually lose interest in FIFA sooner rather than later. To me it’s not the game modes in PES that tell the story, it’s the action on the pitch – the unpredictable nature of every game and the skill it takes is what keeps me coming back for more.
If It Ain’t Broke
PES 2019 releases on August 30, and while it features a host of small additions, such as new features and tweaks on current ones, the fundamental gameplay from 2018 is instantly familiar. The ball has been given more weight and animation movement slowed to be an even closer representation of the real thing. Konami has added more legends to acquire in My Club, as well as more competitions to compete in, and they’ve reduced the cost to get new players to make it more accessible.
While I still wait for a complete Master League overhaul, I’m happy with some of the tweaks made to the transfer system, and the addition of some pre-season competitions while you tinker with your lineup before the real thing starts is neat.
The new Master League menu layout
I Don’t Like Change
I’ve heard it all of the excuses under the sun about why people choose FIFA over PES. Some complain about licenses, while others actually believe FIFA is a more realistic representation of football. What is frustrating is that almost every person I have spoken to that prefers FIFA simply hasn’t given PES a chance. I mean FIFA has never let them down, why bother with another football game? Football is a game often associated with passion and I feel it with every crunching tackle I make and every volley I hit in PES. It’s a feeling only matched watching the real thing. Football fans owe it to themselves to at least give PES a shot.
FIFA certainly tells a fantastic story in Journey Mode, but PES tells an even better story where it matters most – on the pitch.