FIFA 19 Vs PES 2019: Which Is Better?

Will somebody please put Pro Evolution Soccer out of its misery.


I started reviewing these two games together all the way back in 2012 because I felt that this rivalry, the last remaining true contest in all of sports gaming, deserved its own unique look at how each title shaped up. It was also because most folks who are into football would only ever be buying one of these games, and so telling them which of the two was better seemed like a good and practical idea.

It was also born from a desire to get away from the ages-old sports game reviewer’s obsession with bullet points and incremental updates, which are too often the focus of coverage and can distract people from a game’s more fundamental strengths or failures.

I thought that putting the games up against each other, rather than their list of features from the previous year, might be more useful.

Yet six years in, I feel like this double-review is in danger of settling into just the kind of repetitive drone it was designed to counter. Now, more than ever, each series’ pros and cons are so established, so settled into routine that it’s almost a waste of everyone’s time to dredge them up once again.

FIFA 19

You’re right to guess, for example, that FIFA is going to deliver the finest broadcast experience a sports video game has ever seen. And you’re right to guess that Pro Evolution Soccer, so elegant with the ball at its feet, is going to fuck up everything it touches once it gets off the pitch.

98% of FIFA players are going to rush straight into Ultimate Team and barely see the rest of an incredibly generous game, and 100% of Pro Evo fanatics are going to spend the next 11 months telling detractors “oh you can just mod in the official kits”.

As true as those generalisations are, though, this year both games have gone to the extremes of their respective margins. FIFA is glitzier than ever, particularly given the Hollywood treatment it’s laid out for the Champions League, while by comparison PES feels emptier than ever, that loss leaving a gaping hole that no amount of fake team names and minor league licenses can patch up.

Konami's Friendship With The Champions League Has Ended

One of the few bright spots in an increasingly bleak existence for Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series has been the fact that back in 2008 it signed a 10-year deal with the massively-popular UEFA Champion's League. That deal is now over.

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And so many people will already know which of the two games they’re going to opt for, and couldn’t care less what I’ve got to say on the subject. It won’t matter if PES has the Scottish Premiership, or if FIFA now lets you play novelty exhibition games with bonkers schoolyard rules.

Just in case you’re still on the fence, though, or even if you’re just looking for a tweet-sized verdict near the top of this post in the interests of rubber-necking, here you go: in 2018, FIFA has delivered what could be a knockout blow.

PES 2019

For the first time since I started these comparison reviews, one game is so clearly superior to the other that I’d recommend it almost without hesitation to any football fan, regardless of which series they normally prefer.

A combination of more physical play and the excellence of its singleplayer story mode makes FIFA 19 one of the best football games of the last decade, right up there with the groundbreaking FIFA 09 and PES’ Fox Engine debut back in 2013.

Why? Sticking to the main, important points, let’s start on the field. The biggest improvement FIFA boasts this year is that everything feels more immediate, more intimate.

Close control is closer and shielding more effective, with the result that the game is now so much more than just bulldozing runs and spammed throughballs. Defending benefits from this too, with the dance between simply pressing and lunging in for a tackle now balanced almost perfectly.

This sounds minor, but it absolutely transforms the game, slowing everything down and bringing FIFA far closer to the kind of measured experience PES has long been known for.

Sure, old fashioned FIFA tactics can still be used, but a delicate, methodical approach to goal is now more possible than ever for EA’s series, and the ability to switch between the two styles whenever you want (or need) is a welcome one.

Not that these advances can offset FIFA’s long-standing deficiencies in other areas. Like they have since the beginning of time, the rubbery animation of players still sucks, and the ball moves far too slowly when being passed around. FIFA also struggles at set pieces, with free kicks and corners particular shortfalls.

But overall FIFA’s performance on the field is a massive improvement over where this series was even a year ago.

PES 2019

In comparison, PES 2019 is fine. It’s still a great game of football in a vacuum, but there’s so little innovation to take note of this year, even by sports gaming standards, that you could almost just consult last year’s review and update the rosters.

Its ball movement is still more realistic than its competitor, and the pace of the game is a bit more sedate than PES 2018, but this year FIFA is much closer to PES in terms of playing like an actual game of football than it has been in ages, so what was once a big distinguishing feature between the two games is no more.

Without that clear advantage on the field, we’re left to take more notice of features off it, and PES is an exhausted series. There are no major new modes, no bold ideas to try and outflank EA’s monetary superiority.

To suffer through its menu system and UI is to be reminded of the worst of Japanese game development trends from the mid-00s, and Peter Drury’s commentary is enough to make you play the entire game on mute.

The loss of the Champions League licence, long PES’ one marketing advantage over EA, is a massive one because, in footballing terms, it’s a six-pointer. It’s bad enough for Konami that the licence is missing from their own game, but to see the pomp and bombast it’s been given as the new centrepiece of FIFA—complete with its own visuals and commentary team—only makes matters worse (or better, if you’re EA Sports).

In an attempt to make up for this, PES has added a bunch of new licenses from minor European and South American leagues. Great news for fans of obscure competitions that are home to 117 Chelsea loanees, but when the EPL, La Liga and Bundesliga are all missing, as are most of their teams, that’s a big blow for all but the most obsessive tinkerers.

PES also comes up short in other areas against FIFA, from its tournaments to online modes to its dismal menu system to the fact EA has continued to include a robust womens mode while Konami remains a mens only affair.

But there’s one difference between the two games that truly sets them apart, more than any ball physics or managerial controls, and that’s The Journey.

I remember wondering in 2014 why there were no great sporting RPGs. Now, only four years later, we have one. This third chapter of The Journey is almost everything I’ve wanted from a singleplayer sports experience, giving me just enough game time that I feel truly involved and responsible for what’s going on, with just enough cutscenes and directorial intervention (starting certain games from the bench, or under challenging circumstances) to remind me I’m playing through an actual story and not just another bland career mode.

Having expanded its cast of playable characters to three last year, FIFA 19 brings each storyline to a conclusion as Alex adjusts to life as a superstar in Madrid, Danny faces some personal challenges as he rises to the top of the Premier League and Kim tries to lift the Womens World Cup with the US national team.

It’s a singleplayer experience full of important choices and entertaining consequences, corny but endearing performances, with characters whose greatest appeal comes from the fact they’re so normal.

There’s none of NBA 2K’s corporate slime or Longshot’s sanctimonious cliche here; The Journey’s triumvirate are young, dumb, vulnerable kids who make mistakes, crack jokes and are just out there trying their best, which makes them surprisingly likeable.

With the ability to affect the development of the story (and even its ultimate outcome) through both dialogue decisions and gameplay, there are even times when The Journey starts to feel like a footballing Mass Effect (if you’re not concerned with spoilers, PCGamesN have a roundup of all the possible variables to give you an idea of what’s in store).

You’re given control over all three characters for the duration of a European season, and have the freedom to play as each one for as long as you’d like, swapping between them whenever you fancy. You can even play as just one of them for the duration, though it’s wisest to follow a prompt telling you the best character to be playing at any given time, so that you can see the most of The Journey’s story.

With dozens of games to play across La Liga, Premier League, Champions League and Womens World Cup, the amount of playtime and cinematics built into this would make it a AAA sports title in its own right.

The fact it’s simply one game mode among many here is what, more than anything else, cements FIFA’s place at the top of this two-game pecking order.

The gulf between these two games is now so large that I almost feel bad for PES. Konami now find their series in a situation similar to that EA themselves faced when NBA Live re-entered the market a few years back, with almost zero reason to recommend their game over the more glamorous and popular competition.

At least with NBA 2K there’s some onerous microtransaction bullshit counting against the superior basketball game. Here, there’s none of that, with FIFA’s extra purchases quarantined in a game mode you never have to touch if you don’t want to, with all singleplayer upgrades and cosmetic items unlocked through gameplay.

It’s not that PES is a bad game. If your gran bought it for you for Christmas, or you never wanted to play online with mates who are all likely obsessed with FIFA’s Ultimate Team, or supported one of the handful of big teams like Liverpool or Barcelona that it has the licence for, you’d have a blast.

After all, it’s mostly the same game as last year’s PES, which took out 2017's Kotaku review showdown.

But that was then, and this is now. And if you only get one football game in 2018, make it FIFA 19. While PES has stood still, FIFA has made the most of its licenses while at the same time improving its on-field product and singleplayer innovations, resulting in one of the most comprehensive and enjoyable sports games in years.


Comments

    IMO, With the official UEFA licence, FIFA blows PES out the door. All PES has now is better on pitch feel/ Gameplay. That's all.

    FIFA is the more authentic game. Konami will need to do a lot more next year. The only reason i uses to buy PES along with FIFA was the inclusion of UEFA. Now that PES no longer has it, Its not worth the money anymore.

      "Better gameplay" is a pretty compelling proposition when you're comparing video games...

        If you play PES you'll understand what i mean.

          Yeah... Not like you can mod PES 19 on both console and PC so that the rights issue is nonexistent.

          Oh wait, you can! And have been able to for every PES to date. People are either lazy or stupid.

            Yeah... Not like you can mod PES 19 on both console and PC so that the rights issue is nonexistent.

            Shouldn't have to in the first place

            Also FIFA models/ Outfits > PES modded outfits. FIFA has the superior content.

            I get it. You can't handle people saying anything negative about PES. You revert to tribalism to protect your favourite toy.

          I've played the demo of both, but not bought either. If I do get one, it'll be PES once it goes on sale.

          They each have their own strengths, but for me it just comes down to which is more fun to play on the field. We all know about PES's deficiencies in regards to things like licencing, laughably bad commentary, awkward UI, etc. Its weaknesses now have always been its weaknesses, but the same can be said about its strengths.

          I'm not going to play Ultimate Team (or MyClub, for that matter) because the whole concept is like an encapsulation of everything I dislike in modern gaming. I'm not going to play online because none of my friends play either game. I'm not particularly invested in any of the real life teams or leagues so the licencing doesn't really bother me - I'll probably do the option file thing and that'll be good enough. I just want the one that is the most fun on the pitch.

            Yeah, i love the gameplay of PES. But the atmosphere and authenticity of FIFA is what i prefer. I know you can mod in kits and stuff into PES. But its still subpar compared to the content in FIFA. Im a filthy casual so FIFA is perfect for me.

      Ha yeah. Better gameplay sounds important dj ;)

        Not when the game surrounding it is as interesting as watching paint dry.

    Unfortunately as long as FIFA keeps raking in the wales in ultimate team, PES has no hope of even dreaming of one day being able to buy the rights, so like always, the battle was lost before it began.

    Good review though and I agree on pretty much every point. Only area I'd disagree is that 98% of player will rush straight into ultimate team and miss the rest. Whilst it rakes insane bucks for EA, like freemium games that are actually free, that money actually comes from wales mostly, only 35% of players spend anything. FIFA has a truly huge and varied audience, both "gamers" and "casual gamers" and... well all kinds of people. I work with people who buy consoles specifically to play FIFA, I have friends in their 40's with kids who buy fifa every year as soon as it comes out and just play it on a quite hour after the kids are in bed or when their mates come over for a BBQ. In fact, of the guys I know well enough to know what they play, at least half will have fifa, but I've never experienced anyone having a conversation about playing ultimate team other than general negative comments on it.

    Like I say, I'm not disagreeing with HOW much money it makes, just.. you know, keep in mind that this is a game that sells currently about 24 million copies a year despite being basically the same game every year - people play for a lot of reasons in a lot of ways.

    It's actually about 75% of Fifa players that will play any significant amount of UT, and only half of them will spend any money at all, so a bit over 1/3 of players. It's still a lot of people of course, just thought suggesting 98% of FIFA players would ONLY play UT was a bit misleading, as even of the 75% UT players, whilst we have no numbers, a heck of a lot of them are going to player the various other game modes and have mates over for the REAL point of FIFA - playing PVP on the sofa with beer lol. For a lot of football fans, the first thing they do is smash through single player stuff to get up to speed on the latest game lol.

    Last edited 01/10/18 8:17 pm

    Haven’t bought either of them this year - first time i’ve skipped buying one of them since the very first Fifa on the genesis; as much as i like the presentation, modes and all the rest of the shizzle, I can’t stand Fifa’s on-pitch game atm - have hated it since 14 & the demo from this years version was no exception (although a friend reckons the base game plays better than the demo which i’ll check out)

    As for PES, it’s been one of my favourite gaming series over the years, but as good as the gameplay is - and i still loved this years demo - the fact that so much off the pitch stuff just yet again hasn’t changed, simple QoL changes (such as salary in master league) that have just been going on for too long for me to support it each year - how many years now have PES reviews mentioned how bad the commentary is for an easy example? All the main focus for now seems to be on the myclub stuff which I believe (unsurprisingly) pales in comparison to FUT anyway.

    I find it odd for the article/writer to want PES to go away - competition is always a good thing, however much I feel the PES light is dimming? Regardless, will break my heart if PES dies & i know that by not buying it i’m directly contributing; if i was to buy one of them this year it would be PES, but I just can’t in good conscience give Konami - who let’s face it have far from a good rep - more money for what is the barest of bare bones updates. If they’d dropped a version on switch i’d have been all over that as it happens.

    NB: There’s an issue with the PES offline AI gameplay atm that Konami have acknowledged & forecast a patch for in late October (source: official PES twitter) so buyer beware if you do take the plunge before then (I didn’t notice the issue in the demo fwiw, but plenty of people reporting it).

      totally agree with you, competition is exactly what that shite cash grab fifa needs. this'll be the first year i also dont get a sports game. fifa cutting career mode is the final straw. i might get it once its on sale but i refuse to pay full price for devs who only care about the cash grab FUT

    Buyer's dilemma:

    Boycott Konami, because Konami?
    Boycott EA, because EA?

    Lose lose for any football fan.

    If they combined forces and the PES gameplay was in a FIFA game, then the greatest football game of all time will be available.

      EA one is a bit easier. Just buy FIFA but don't spend any money on ultimate team/ Dont play ultimate team.

    I been very happy with PES on PS4pro. I got all official teams and leagues (but the german league) with a fan made mod. But i feel like they should add more. PES sales is so much less than fifa that there is no way they can compete with EA on content.
    I just go the master league (career mode) pick an average team and slowly get them to glory.

    Last edited 02/10/18 11:43 am

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