FIFA 19 is finally here – but is it any good? And more importantly, does it fare better than Konami’s PES 2019?
Things haven’t quite gone to plan for PES this year. Having lost the Champions League licence, the Japanese developer needed to use every trick in the book to give PES a fighting chance.
Konami moved the launch window to late August, in an attempt to pick up early sales. They acquired the licence rights to a number of smaller clubs. They even got David Beckham involved.
But come launch week, physical sales were down 40 per cent on last year. The writing could well be on the wall – more on that later.
EA, meanwhile, has thrived.
Having acquired the rights to the Champions League and built a huge user-base of loyal fans – FIFA 19 represents a honing rather than a FIFA 17-style overhaul.
Frostbite returns, Alex Hunter’s Journey is back for its final chapter, while daring House Rules aims to attract a new legion of ‘super causal’ fans – more interested in fun min-games than football proper.
Which brings us nicely to our review.
Here we’ll discuss graphics, gameplay, general presentation as well as add-ons. In essence, we’re interested in two things – is the game fun to play? And value for money.
Konami’s game is once again powered by the Fox Engine. However, unlike last year, there’s no last-gen version – so the developer has channelled all its energy into getting the most from current gen.
The result is crystal clear 4K HDR on Xbox One X and PS4 Pro – with a level of detail that remains consistent no matter what camera angle or zoom you opt for.
Should you choose to take a closer look you’ll notice just how much attention has been paid to some player faces this year.
We must stress some – there are many teams that boast generic faces that lack detail. When placed next to face-scanned stars such as Leo Messi, it makes for an unflattering comparison.
The same goes for stadiums. Walking out on to the Camp Nou feels every bit as epic as it should do. The same can’t be said for some of the fictional stadia – often exposing poorly detailed crowd models and flat lighting.
Real time ‘Global Illumination’ lighting and shadows, not to mention revised grass texture, help keep everything looking crisp for the most part – especially during replays.
EA brings Frostbite back for its third year in FIFA 19 – and third time’s a charm.
While a lot of attention has been placed on gameplay this year, graphics have had a noticeable boost.
Crowd detail has improved – look closely and you’ll see individual members waving flags – while player animation makes last year’s version look animatronic.
Player faces are, for the most part, incredibly detailed – and far more consistent than the likes of PES. They do boast an unrealistic shine under some lighting, though.
Elsewhere, the stadium and match environment has been given a much needed spit and polish, too.
There’s more stuff going on on the sidelines, while new cut-scenes and match presentation helping games feel indistinguishable from the real thing
Animation is where the game has really improved – and while it’s still prone to the odd glitch, it’s far smoother across the board.
WINNER: FIFA 19
Konami has kept gameplay largely the same this year – and why wouldn’t they? PES 2018 was a nearly perfect execution of how football should feel.
This year, they’ve added 11 new skills, including the cross-over turn, no-look pass, controlled chip, dipping shot and rising shot.
Players also show Visible Fatigue, which impacts performance and behaviour.
Elsewhere, new shooting mechanics take into account improved ball physics, player and ball position, and player skills and shot styles.
This all helps make PES 2019 feel absolutely fantastic to play.
There’s little- to-no input delay, dribbling is exhilarating and responsive, while banging in goals from outside the area is an absolute joy.
Goalkeepers have improved this year, so won’t leak goals from corners – meaning scoring feels every bit as rewarding as it should do.
EA’s game has come on leaps and bounds this year – and is far more fluid and enjoyable than FIFA 18.
It definitely feels easier to score worldies this time, while passing and through balls have been tweaked to allow for more player control. A large part of this is down to the new Active Touch system.
But it’s actually more subtle changes that make the biggest difference here. For one, there’a timed shooting mechanic.
If you tap Circle or B just as your foot hits the ball, you massively increase the chance of striking it into the top corner.
It’s all about timing, so get it wrong and you’ll be punished with a scuffed shot.
Game plans have also been introduced this year – which are set up before a match.
Here, you can set what tactics your team has depending on certain situations – such as if they’re 1-0 up or losing a match.
Once you have made the plans, simply assign to a D-pad press and you’re good to go.
A revised mini-map now displays one team with triangle icons, the other with circles – so it’s easier to see who’s who. While 50/50 battles now take into account how you have played within that game, as well as player traits.
WINNER: PES 2019
Overall package and value for money
This is where Konami’s game begins to fall apart.
Master League returns – pretty much unchanged apart from Team Roles. There are 22 to be exact – ranging from Hero to Legend, which affect your club’s finances.
It forces you to think about players not just as professional footballers, but as financial assets, which adds an interesting mix. Kind of.
Other than that, there’s MyClub, which is where you essentially build a team and play through a number of leagues.
There’s an online season mode, where you pick a side and battle up 12 or so divisions (good luck getting past Division 9).
In fairness, the servers hold up well – and you’ll nearly always find a game, so that’s a plus.
Away from online and there’s skill games, a decent training section and, well, that’s about it.
The menu is simple enough to navigate but looks uninspired, while the soundtrack features songs that are now a couple of years old. Fitting, as the whole presentation feels dated.
And don’t get us started on ‘Man Red’ et al. Just don’t.
Where do we begin.
EA has crammed this year’s game with a host of new features.
There’s The Journey, which we’re still yet to complete, but sees off Alex Hunter in style. Ultimate Team speaks for itself, while Career Mode’s back albeit with minimal changes.
Then there’s the new House Rules section – featuring Survival Mode, headers and volleys, no ref and much more. And yes, they’re all as fun as they sound – especially Survival Mode.
You’re able to jump in and play a Champions League match at any time, and hundreds of teams are fully licensed and look the part. There’s licensed balls, stadiums… the list goes on.
There’s simply so much crammed into this game that it’s impossible to fit it all in.
WINNER: FIFA 19
I love PES – I really do. But it missed one fundamental trick when it launched this year. It should have cut its price to £20.
That’s what I would be willing to pay for a game that doesn’t offer much more than incredible gameplay and serviceable online modes.
Should Konami do that, it would make PES ar far more attractive proposition.
Gone would be a ‘FIFA or PES’ argument – at £20 it would allow gamers to enjoy both games for what they really are, without having to choose.
As things stand, though, that scenario is some way off.
For now, even though gameplay isn’t as refined as Konami’s game, EA’s FIFA 19 represents a better, more sensible purchase in nearly every other aspect.
There’s simply something for everyone – be that fun mini games, an engaging single-player story or Ultimate Team.
There can only be one winner – and this year that’s FIFA.