Every year it's the same story in the world of virtual football - it's Pro Evolution Soccer versus EA's FIFA - and we recently got to see the former's 2019 instalment at E3 in Los Angeles, where a short presentation from European brand manager Lennart Bobzien gave us the latest details on what's going on in this year's game, followed by a hands-on session so we could hit the pitch and check out the changes for ourselves.
Bobzien started by telling us about the key pillars of PES 2019, with this year representing the start of an era whereby the PES team is focusing solely on current-gen consoles. That's far from the only change, however, as this year we also have an August 30 release as opposed to one in September. We'll see the biggest addition of licenses in the series' history, and there'll be exclusive legends in the game like David Beckham and Romário (Beckham even has his exclusive boots, if you can believe).
It's not just famous faces, there's also a ton of other new licenses, including the exclusive inclusion of the Russian league (timely considering the World Cup that's kicking off imminently) as well as the addition of the Argentine, Danish, Portuguese, and Scottish leagues, among others. As we know, Schalke 04 has also signed a partnership (with Dortmund breaking its ties), and Konami paid a visit to their home stadium to scan the entire thing, faithfully reproducing it in-game so it can stand alongside 40-plus stadiums in the game, including exclusives like Nou Camp and Allianz Parque.
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The changes aren't just limited to new and expiring licenses (such as the loss of the Champions League license, which is now with FIFA 19), however, because in-game changes have been made including visible fatigue. This means that as a match goes on your players show clearer signs of tiredness, be it in their posture or in the fact that they're slower to get back into position. We're also getting quick subs in this year's game too, with the ability to choose which player you want to bring onto the pitch via a simple menu.
Then comes the slightly less obvious changes, the ones that don't immediately show themselves in-game but reveal themselves over an extended period of time, including full body touch being enhanced as part of first touch impact (meaning better contextual trapping of the ball, basically). Smoother dribbling has also been introduced based on player positioning, and shooting has been reworked at the same time, with position and skill acting as more pronounced determining factors when shooting at goal, with options now including dipping and rising shots.
It's no secret that PES is a fantastic-looking franchise and it has been for a few years, and now it's even better since the focus on current-gen means the capacity for 4K and HDR on all platforms (PC, PS4, and Xbox One). On top of that the Enlighten software can replicate real lighting and shadows for contextual photorealism, shown off to us in a selection of pictures. Shadows even change position as the match goes on, and these changes help the team to mirror real-life stadiums, as does the new snow effect.
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MyClub has been reworked a bit too, so there are player packs now instead of a spinning ball, as well as what are called high-performance players that are released throughout the season and new players of the week. Master League, on the other hand, has improved negotiation and budget management, and the partnership with the International Champions Cup (ICC) also means the competition has been added to this mode.
As you can tell in the trailer below, there's a whole bunch of new stuff coming in this year's iteration on top of what we've already mentioned. Players can expect new skills, goalkeeper high punt, improved interceptions, and much more. However, from what we've played it feels very much the same PES experience as before. Well, except it looks even more polished than before.
As much as the fancy terminology sounds lovely, it's hard to notice the smaller changes as you play, but considering the really solid base they've established for themselves, this is by no means a bad thing though. We would say, though, that passes were inaccurate quite frequently (and we were playing as Barcelona, so we didn't exactly expect it), which as you might imagine got frustrating quite quickly. Once we'd got into our stride though we enjoyed lashing shots with aggression and slotting balls in the corner of the goal. Once again we enjoyed our time on the pitch.
With the PES League World Finals coming to Barcelona on June 21, this is where we'll get more info about the demo (which is coming to PC for the first time). We're also intrigued as to what will be announced in the coming months as well. What we've seen right now leaves us confident that PES can strengthen its base yet again with another solid entry, and despite a few niggles it's clear to see the quality is still there.