Let’s start this one off with the truth, shall we? I’ve not been a Pro Evolution Soccer player for a very long time, will this be the installment to bring me back?

Back in my Pro Evolution Soccer heyday, which was during the release of Pro Evolution Soccer 3, there wasn’t a massive variation between football games. FIFA had the licenses, whereas Pro Evolution Soccer had interesting gameplay with an almost arcadey element to it. These sensibilities seem to have carried over into the modern day. Unfortunately, Konami managed to lose the one element they had over the FIFA series as they no longer court the Champions League license.

While the loss of the license probably wasn’t a nail in the coffin for Pro Evolution Soccer 19, it definitely didn’t help matters. The lack of having a huge amount of licenses just makes the entire experience feel incredibly cheap. I always found it hilarious that you have teams like Merseyside Blue, or East Midlands Blue due to not being able to call them Everton or Leicester City. With FIFA boasting practically everything under the sun nowadays, Pro Evolution Soccer doesn’t even feel like it really competes with it anymore.

Featurewise, Pro Evolution Soccer 19 tries to go tit for tat with FIFA and honestly, it does succeed in matching the modes and features in previous iterations of FIFA. The issue lies with the features and modes feeling like the off-brand, ‘Aldi Everyday Essential’ version of the FIFA versions. They look like you’d expect them to, but something just doesn’t quite taste right.

Pro Evolution Soccer 19 PES Screenshot

Pro Evolution Soccer 19 obviously has it’s Ultimate Team equivalent in its myClub mode. While the ingredients may look the same, the taste is certainly lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. Again, I’ll admit to not playing a Pro Evolution since 3 so some of my complaints about this mode may have been discussed before. In what seems to be the drive for most of Pro Evolution Soccer 19’s design choices, myClub takes the interesting things done with Ultimate Team and make them needlessly convoluted. It takes a strange attempt at making the whole process realistic, despite the whole idea of building a team through opening packs being completely bonkers.

Naturally, you have your pack opening equivalent in the form of special agents. Dropping some of your hard earned GP gets you a chance at some decent, albeit random players. It’s the same system that you’ve experienced with Ultimate Team pack openings, though there are a few odd nuances. Rather than have you simply head to a marketplace once you’ve cultivated a team from your random packs, you have to search and acquire players via a scouting system.

While it all sounds very immersive and realistic, it’s actually massively frustrating. One of the main issues with this system, and I’ll be honest it could’ve just been down to me struggling to work out if there was a better way around it, was the fact that it kills the ability to make a team that synergizes with each other. Obviously, if you unpack an amazing player you’ll want to build a team around them. But it becomes such a massive pain in the arse when you can’t even select a nation to build a team around due to not having the correct scout.

Become A Legend is the Pro Evolution Soccer 19 equivalent of FIFA’s Be A Pro mode. The player creator is actually quite interesting, allowing you to make minuscule changes to a plethora of facial options. As a mature adult, I made a complete monster instead of making something real. It’s a fun little time sync, where you can make something pretty decent if you wish, or a beast if you just want to fuck with it.

Pro Evolution Soccer 19 PES Screenshot

While the character creator is almost definitely a highlight, it’s about the only highlight you get in Become A Legend. You switch from playing as the whole squad to only playing as your created player. While this does give you greater control over what your player can and will do, it also limits your actual control over the game. Due to the AI being pretty shite (and don’t worry, we’ll get to that), if you’ve decided to play a forward so that you can get the glory, then you’re likely to have your defenders fail at their jobs and lose whatever lead you’ve gained. If the defenders don’t dick you over, then you’ll be hit by some terrible goalkeeping that’ll result in you pulling your hair out.

As any Pro Evolution Soccer player should expect, Master League also makes its return. This is a mode that I remember playing back in my heyday. The premise is simple, either take a pre-existing squad or the standard Master League squad that’s made of made up players and make it the greatest club in the world. It’s an interesting mode that actually feels pretty good to play. You negotiate transfer fees, maintain the development of your squad while keeping members of the board happy. It’s an interesting mode that made me play more and more. It’s a manager mode without the massive headache of most manager modes or even the pain of playing the Football Manager series.

So as I previously mentioned, the AI is absolutely terrible. It’s one of those complaints that always seems to come from people that are terrible at sports games, right? While I may be a games journalist, I’d like to think I’m actually pretty decent at most of the games I play and review. On more than one occasion while playing Become A Legend, I had my AI teammates pass the ball directly out of play instead of to a free teammate. Multiple occasions I had my teammates pass backward to the opponent instead of knocking the ball forwards to me or someone else free. Playing online, or even when floating through Master League, I’d have teammates go on a pretty decent run, to then have them stop just as the ball reaches them. It’s frustrating as all fuck to try and deal with when the enemy seems to be playing with a different set of rules to you.

Not content with restricting the terrible AI to your teammates, the referees’ decision making is abjectly trash. Again, the complaints that usually come from someone bad at the game, I know, but hear me out. On more than one occasion I conceded a goal that seemed oddly offside. Thankfully, there’s a robust replay system that allowed me to view the incident multiple times. Maybe we need VAR in Pro Evolution Soccer because my god do the refs get it wrong far too often. I suppose it does add a certain sense of realism, though not to the level of simulating Graham Polls three yellow card situation.

Pro Evolution Soccer 19 PES Screenshot

I also encountered situations where I’d win the ball when tackling the opposing player, but due to the physics engine, the players would collide causing the ref to award a freekick against me, despite me winning the ball. It’s little things like this that actually make Pro Evolution Soccer 19 absolutely frustrating in extended sessions. Losing a game due to an incorrect call by the referee might be accurate to the beautiful game, at least in the Premier League, but it leads to the game feeling buggy and leads to it occasionally feeling poorly made.

Overall, Pro Evolution Soccer 19 is another entry in the long-running series. It’s taken a pounding over the years as FIFA seems to be the more polished, more liked football sim. While Pro Evolution Soccer has held its own for a few years, losing the Champions League license isn’t a great sign. While there are a few clubs that have signed deals with the series, for now, it seems like it’s only a matter of time until we see the last of the Pro Evolution series. Being “OK” isn’t really good enough when your yearly competitor has been stellar for a while. I feel that Konami is going to have to do something spectacular with the series next year, or we could be seeing a Football monopoly from FIFA in the foreseeable future.

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