*Whilst almost every other reviewer was happy to poop out a review of the offline modes only in order to meet the embargo, this games idiot thoroughly played and reviewed the full game. All modes, online and off. Enjoy.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2019 comes on the back of a run of critically-acclaimed EvsPES 2018 featured the usual thinking man/woman’s association football sim. With FOX Engine taking care of it, it looked superb and played about as well. The accuracy of notable player models, quality of lighting/shading and presence of largely believable physics made last year’s Pro Ev a winner on the pitch. However, it didn’t add much anywhere off of it. Random Selection games returned, touch-up for ML etc.

PES 2019
The atmosphere is incredible; crowds and stadia are memorable

PES 2019 improves gameplay significantly and adds some more finery to match visuals. It also adds a whole host of new leagues with which to replace the Misnomers’ League and Booby Prize licenses. These are absolutely welcome and PES Productions/Konami did an amazing job kitting out the new teams and scanning a few famous players into eerie realism territory.

FIFA 18’s player models look old-hat compared to this

PES 2019‘s online services and modes see a drastic overhaul. The responsiveness of online play is improved massively. MyClub has far more depth; Team Play and Online Co-ops are no longer impenetrable messes where lag somehow managed to be worse than elsewhere online. It may have taken over a decade but Pro Ev finally has an online MP to bother FIFA. Whisper it softly but PES 2019 might even have the edge online in certain areas.

OK, I need to sit down now.

Seven New Leagues

While the absence of fully licensed English, Spanish and Italian leagues won’t be completely offset by Scotland, Russia, Turkey, Denmark or Chile’s top flights, there are some tasty stadia, murderous derbies and ‘top, top’ teams added in.

PES 2019

PES 2019 starts with more stadia than 2018 finished with, 44 vs. 39 with Celtic Park and Ibrox becoming available shortly after launch. There 26 official grounds available as of now. The stable of 18 fictional parks will not be added to although I don’t mind the make-believes.

FIFA is only attempting a detailed universal facial expression system this year while Pro Ev‘s system has incrementally built impressive expressions since the introduction of FOX in PES 2014

Speaking of Stadia

The new stadia look and sound as good as the ones Konami have worked on for years. The grounds are matched by the crowds. FOX Engine boasts the ability to scrimp on polygons for larger details, hoarding them for the small stuff. PES 2019 looks phenomenal. The greatest improvements come through in the cutscenes.

PES 2019
They really love showing off

The beginning of each game won’t be met with furious hammering of start. If you can ignore the now-traditional poor commentary, the pre-game scenes are glorious. Showing off the packed terraces and the hallowed stands from various angles, PES 2019 knows it looks special and is completely immodest with it. For maximum impact, HDR finally comes to Pro Ev and it rounds off the PS4 Pro’s rendition of the game immaculately.

The restraint in using the more fatigued animations is commendable – it made extra time or a particular hard 90 feel like the digital cardio assaults that they were

FIFA 18 looks a half-generation ago when playing a game at the Emirates or Nou Camp etc. with two fully-licensed teams. The visuals are sensational and I implore you to try the demo just to sample a match intro.

Player Model and He’s Looking Good (Is that too contrived a Kraftwek pun? Comments below)

The models see a smaller jump but Konami’s rendering of more famous players and their detailed face builder have had the lead for a while. FIFA is only attempting a detailed universal facial expression system this year while Pro Ev‘s system has incrementally built impressive expressions since the introduction of FOX in PES 2014.

Master League is, more or less, as last year. Except there are better transfers, more player roles and skills.

Animations have the fluidity and variety you expect from Pro Ev with a few new moves added like rising shots and awkward-placement first touches. Again, it’s incremental but PES fans will notice and it adds to the fluidity of an already slick game of football.

The restraint in using the more fatigued look is commendable – it made extra time or a particular hard 90 seem like the cardio assaults that they are

Playing to the Crowd

Gameplay sees refinement rather than any single great change. The game feels a little more deliberate while passing on default Level 1; even a good passer will over or undercook a pass if they aren’t careful.

Defending is simultaneously more and less difficult than last year’s effort. Decent centre-halves can easily haul nippy strikers back if they are touching. But I also felt like fast players could outrun slower ones more easily given some space or a chaser with poor Defensive Prowess. The added heft in the challenge is met with, thankfully, less whistle-shy referees. Instances where the AI concedes a penalty are still rare but there are definitely more free-kicks.

Random Selection Match returns

Pro Ev has long been the one of the more difficult football games to play. Dribbling is tough, passing and shooting need care and players have more input over both attacking and defending. There is always room for error on your part. In PES 2019, this is probably as true as it has ever been.

Even skilled players will endure midfield slogs, the ugly goalmouth scrambles and unspectacular goals but it all feels like football. A sport where the divine is made all the more special by its mercurial nature. When you finally catch a volley right on the meat, you will savour it. When your online opponent scores a scissors kick, you will refrain from skipping the replay. It always seems worth the effort when these moments happen.

From the agricultural hoofball of NW White Black to the pound-shop Barca of ST Red, PES 2019 loving crafts an ‘identity’ for each team

Taking its Toll

Konami have introduced ‘visible fatigue’ to show Evvers the diminishing performance of their lads on-field. It’s subtle but you will notice heavier steps, less enthusiasm traipsing to retrieve a dead ball and, eventually, players hunching over taking deeps breaths. The restraint in using the more fatigued look is commendable – it made extra time or a particular hard 90 feel like the digital cardio assaults that they were.

Injury time

This writer saw exactly one injury in 30+ MyClub games – it came in extra time of an Online Challenge Cup. First, an opposition player pulled up and required attention. The commentators claimed he could continue but the bench would be watching him. A few metres more at full tilt and my foe was being forced to take him off. The incident was not just realistically done but fed into the intensity of that match; extra-time with a Black Ball player at stake.

Thanks Be to Tactics

This writer had expressed some concerns about the lack of AI tactical variety in the PES 2019 demo. Thankfully, they have been swept away by a host of tactical styles. From the agricultural hoofball of NW White Black (Bolton Wdrs.) to the pound-shop Barca of ST Red (Stoke City), PES 2019 loving crafts an ‘identity’ for each team and then rubs it in your face. Each team seemingly having a piece of abysmal commentary for their modus operandi. Seeing the AI begin to mark one of your players during the game means you are doing something right. Wily players will need to exploit the space often left by a marker.

we had opined that the addition of a quick match option was to show off the new, functional servers – Lo and behold, PES 2019 has functional servers

There is still an all-too-rigid system with which to compose tactics. There are a few more sliders to adjust but players mostly have a binary choice still – counter or build-up, short or long etc.. The game relies more on local tactics. Assigning on-field manoeuvres to the quick tactic options is often the key to winning games against tougher AI. Gegenpress, swap wings, tiki-taka are moves you should get comfortable with applying yourself in-game if you intend to take on the AI on at Superstar or Legend.

4-3-3 Counter Attack? No way!

Online, everyone just plays 4-3-3 Counter Attack. Just push their wingers back by moving your full-backs forward, lest they leave you with an overload out-wide. Use a volante if you get scared of your centre-halves being dragged wide on the counter. Most wingers lack box-to-box stamina; as a welcome side-effect they will tire much quicker than your full-backs. Why am I telling you this?

Functional Online Modes, What Took You So Long?

In our review of the PES 2019 demo, we had opined that the addition of a quick match option was to show off the new, functional servers. Lo and behold, PES 2019 has functional servers. Matchmaking will inevitably slow down as people go back to their jobs, spouses and lives after a few weeks playing one of the best soccer games ever made all day. Until that time comes, games will start quickly in every mode.

Being able to study you and your opponent’s favoured styles is a fantastic way to gain the upper hand

The servers seem robust too. I had one opponent drop out after a few seconds; his problem, my win. Every other game finished as expected and I remember only one instance of noticeable spooling. Response times are in the same time-zone as offline modes – no longer are first-time passes or shots a 50:50 chance. It’s more like 90:10 now and that is about as good as FIFA 18.

Players won’t have to adjust their games for online in PES anymore. My usual game of first-time pass’n’move is at home with strangers now.

One large gripe does remain. Thanks to a generous pause allowance at every possible juncture, effective griefing is all too easy. On more than one occasion the first-half, half-time and second-half pause allocations were used up. That’s about 4 minutes in total added on.

More Playable Now

Aside from MyClub, the other modes benefit from better matchmaking and lessened input lag. There is also a little streamlining in finding servers to play on or linking up with spare players.

There isn’t much at all done to actual modes. 3v3 is still a strange experience where you aren’t sure where you will pop up next most of the time. 3v3 is best played in MyClub mode as you can somtimes tell which players are your’s and hence that you will switch to them.

Team Play Lobby sees the biggest jump in in-game quality of all online modes but only because the older versions were quite bad. Team Play was always much laggier than other modes. It’s a lot of fun but it’s limited – there is no progression within the mode and no club building like in FIFA‘s Be a Pro but you can, at least, enter a player built offline in Become a Legend.

Online Divisions is the same as last year but it seems unfair to criticise the mode. It’s still the fairest way to play online with its handicapped league table and zero cash to be made. The feeling of taking a win with a lesser team and then seeing that chunky points bonus as palpable reward is very sweet. Even a draw earns you half the reward. Why anyone picks a 5* team is beyond me.

In MyClub’s Weekly PES League, Teams take points from vanquished foes instead of just accruing them in a regular league format; handicapping the rewards so that lesser MyClubs can benefit massively from a draw

MyClub, MyClub, My Kingdom for a Club (Richard for the Experience)

In comparision to FIFA, Konami’s annual has never had the same depth or level of addiction. Evs have suffered from smaller player pools and a lack of imagination when it came to packaging the simple act of playing 1v1 soccer online.

PES 2019 builds on the EXP system from last year. Players come as blank slates usually – needing to train up to Level 30 where their real-life skills lie. They can level up even further depending on their age and initial rating.

The team spirit mechanic and tactical inflexibility of managers forces some strange selections on players but it’s part of the fun, I suppose

Sometimes players can get the finished article through one-off agents or unique scouts. These can be bought, of course, or grinded out but only once a day or week depending. Another way that players can gain star players at high-level is through the handful of rotating and one-off trophies.

Players are genuinely forced to enter the big events. These special tournaments actually feel special – once the adrenaline hit of Ranked 1v1 was gone, playing for a spin on a Black Ball Lvl. 30 felt like the next dragon to chase. The game allows a grind for most matters but PES really wants you enter that four game tourney with no star-rating restrictions.

Ranked games, including cups, enter a player into a weekly ‘PES League’. Obviously, players are ranked in a gigantic ladder. Teams take points from vanquished foes instead of just accruing them in a league format. This handicaps the rewards so that lesser MyClubs can benefit massively from a draw. This should help PES 2019 latecomers maintain interest in the format when faced with a never-ending parade of five-star teams.

The game introduces two new trainer types; Skills and Position. These can only be earned through special events, further adding to the prestige of cups and events.

I settled for Rui Vitoria in the end but I’m thinking of Jurgen during

Ah, Greed

It’s not all balloons and Toblerones for MyClub. There is one particular area of the game that will need extra grind or a few bob to navigate. A user can only have a certain level of team depending on the manager’s rating. This wouldn’t be problem if all managers could be bought with regular GP which is earned for just about about everything. To hire a decent manager requires a special MyClub currency with which the game is suspiciously stingy.

Finding a rare Pepe

If a player gathers every single MyClub coin in the game, they can afford Jurgen Klopp but it’s not fun doing so. I settled for Rui Vitoria in the end but I’m thinking of Jurgen during matches. Jokes aside; I will need to get a better manager when I get a better team.

Three Outta Four Ain’t Bad

Konami have bled another noticeable improvement in visual fidelity from FOX and introduced not insignificant refinements to their already superior take on digital soccerdom.

PES 2019 is also a surprising step-up in terms of AI tactics with the CPU being a conniving coach at the highest-levels. Teams play a little more like they should than in last year’s Ev; the variety of styles is most welcome in Master League and Become a Legend.

Become a Legend lacks any new features and relies on the admittedly effective ‘being incredible to play’ – start low down for maximum joy

Online modes and overall user experience are practically unrecognisable to previous Evs. Between highly-playable servers, reduced input lag and the expanded MyClub, Pro Ev is finally a viable choice for online play.

Off the pitch, there is only one thing to really move the game forward. The addition of seven official leagues is absolutely a big deal but the newfound depth of players and teams is a little bit wasted given the lack of ML improvements and other remaining quirks. These modes are always worth playing though since the game itself is just that good.

Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro), Xbox One, Steam
Price: £59.99/€69.99/$59.99
Publisher: Konami
Developer: PES Productions
Release Date: 30th August 2018
Age Rating: PEGI 3+

Review code provided by publisher