It's that time of year-most of the major sports games have been properly revealed and the analysis can properly begin. Having had the opportunity to play Madden 19, PES 2019, FIFA 19, and NBA Live 19, I now have a much better idea of what to expect in the fall. But am I excited?
While I can't talk about NHL 19 yet, and NBA 2K won't be properly unveiled for a couple more months, I can share my thoughts on the rest of this fall's slate of sports games. Based on what I've played, there's one clear frontrunner, but the rest all have intriguing additions, including one extremely overdue return.
So without further adieu, here's a look at the new features for each sports game coming out this fall, as well as my personal rating.
The Rundown: Madden 19 is trying to build on last year's strong outing, which saw it transition to the Frostbite Engine and introduce the Longshot narrative mode. This year's version introduces changes to momentum and running mechanics, long-awaited franchise updates like custom draft classes, and the customary tweaks to Ultimate Team.
Per usual, Madden 19 is a gameplay-focused update, with the ultimate goal being to make it "feel as good as it looks." To be honest, it doesn't feel hugely different from last year, but these sorts of under-the-hood additions tend to make their presence after several hours of gameplay.
Madden 19's Most Interesting New Feature
Madden is finally returning to PC after a lengthy absence. This is massive for fans of high-end sports gaming, as PC sports games tend to have a long shelf life thanks to custom rosters and other user-created content. It's by far the biggest news concerning Madden 19.
Madden 19's Biggest Question Mark
Will the franchise mode changes please fans who feel like the mode hasn't received enough love? Will the changes to animation and momentum be enough to make it feel like more than a roster update? It's actually hard to say right now, but at least Longshot 2 will be there for fans who enjoyed it last year.
Outlook: I'm on the fence about Madden 19. I think custom draft classes are an amazing addition-you know someone is immediately going to go out and make the legendary 1983 draft class that gave us John Elway and Dan Marino-but it still lags behind NHL and NBA in once again omitting expansions. The gameplay additions may well prove to be impactful, but on the face of it, Madden 19 looks and plays much like last year. Longshot 2 and other announcements down the road may change my opinion, but thus far I'm feeling slightly underwhelmed. At least Madden 19 on PC looks cool.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
The Rundown: After many years of waiting, FIFA has finally swiped the UEFA Champions League license from PES. That means new commentators, special walkouts, and a whole new presentation package for teams playing in Europe. That's awesome considering that previous versions did little capture the pomp and pageantry of continental competition.
The action on the field feels very different as well. Ping-pong passing, the bane of so many FIFA fans, appears to be largely dead thanks to changes in the first-touch mechanics. Shooting has been revamped with new timing mechanics that determine accuracy on the fly. The tactics screen has been updated, and trying to play a high-pressure and pace-filled game results in major fatigue penalties.
EA isn't talking about anything but gameplay right now, but the action on the field feels much stronger after two controversial years.
FIFA 19's Most Interesting New Feature
The new tactics screen really brings a lot of interesting possibilities to the gameplay. It's been slimmed down enough to be accessible, but it still seems to have a lot of interesting effects on the gameplay, like whether or not your play puts pressure on heavy touches. The fatigue penalties are also huge. FIFA 19 may be slower-paced than before, but it already feels smarter and more interesting.
FIFA 19's Biggest Question Mark
Will FIFA 18's new Champions League updates be accompanied with a strong revamp of the career mode? The laundry list of changes needed for the mode-from deeper and more realistic transfers to a greater sense of consequence-are long. Last year brought positive additions like face-to-face negotiations for big players, but hopefully EA Canada won't be leaning on Champions League licensing as its big new franchise feature for this year.
Outlook: I'm really impressed by FIFA this year. It feels like a clear upgrade over the past couple years, and the Champions League license is a clear plus. Mix in some substantive upgrades to the single-player modes and I think we'll have a clear winner.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
NBA Live 19
The Rundown: NBA Live 19 is in Year 2 of a multi-year rebuilding project that began with NBA Live 18. This year brings with it the implementation of the "Real-Player Motion" mechanics found in FIFA, a new story for The One, and updated AI. It will also include new "Icon" progression paths that let you earn abilities to mimic famous players like Magic Johnson and Allen Iverson.
NBA Live 19's Most Interesting New Feature
I'm intrigued by the new "Build Your Squad" mode being introduced in NBA Live 19. According to EA, it will be based around recruiting NBA players and legends to your squad, then taking on teams on courts around the world. It will reportedly be a 3-on-3 mode similar to NBA 2K's PARK that you can be play either solo with CPU teammates or with friends. Whatever it turns out to be, I like the idea of being able to recruit NBA legends to my team and earn rewards.
NBA Live 19's Biggest Question Mark
Last year's sore points were franchise mode and Ultimate Team, and it doesn't appear that they're getting substantial upgrades this year. It's probably good for a small team like NBA Live's to focus on a core strength-i.e. The One-but it's still a bummer for people who like those particular modes. Hopefully they get the attention they deserve.
Outlook: NBA Live 18 was an underrated basketball game last year, and most of its key strengths are being improved upon for NBA Live 19. The road back from the abyss is a long one, but at least NBA Live is finally walking it.
Rating: 4 out of 5
The Rundown: The most PES thing ever is for Dortmund to opt out of their exclusive licensing deal a year early, forcing them to turn to their lesser-known regional rival-Schalke. PES has always had to make due with fewer licenses, but one can only wince when they try to pump up the Russian league as a major licensing addition.
That aside, PES 2019 looks to bring quite a few new features to the table. As with FIFA, First Touch and shooting has been reworked, and fatigue will be a major factor. PES 2019 is also adding a Quick Sub feature that appears superior to FIFA's simply by virtue of being able to choose who you swap out while in-game.
PES is also picking up a host of new licenses, including leagues from Belgium, Scotland, Denmark, Switzerland, Argentina, Portugal, and Russia. So as much as we goof on PES, it's not totally bereft in that department.
PES 2019's Most Interesting New Feature
PES 2019 is finally doing away with MyClub's horrible slot mechanic and introducing Ultimate Team-style player packs. Konami is also embarked on a three year journey to remake MyClub, starting with improved negotiation and budget management options. PES has been sorely in need of updates to its career modes since forever, so it's gratifying to hear that Konami is putting in the work on that front.
PES 2019's Biggest Question Mark
Why in God's name is Konami pushing a 43-year-old David Beckham as one of its major in-game stars. This isn't classic throwback Beckham, mind you. This is creaky "too old to play in MLS" Beckham. Konami went so far as to fly to London and do a full 3D body scan of Beckham, to which I ask you: Why?
Outlook: Time for me to be nice to PES: It's a much better soccer sim than anyone gives it credit for. It's long had superior off-the-ball AI to FIFA, and it excels at providing a realistic, tactical experience. Mix the gameplay from PES with the modes and licenses of FIFA and you'd have a borderline perfect soccer sim.
I don't expect PES 2019 to take a massive step forward or anything, but neither do I expect it to take a step back. This year's feature set seems solid enough-I've yet to mention that snow is returning and will impact gameplay-and the updates to the career modes are heartening. Credit where credit is due: PES 2019 should be solid.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5