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Pro Evolution Soccer 2009

It never changes. Another year, another debate about which game offers the defining football simulation. On one hand, you’ve got a resurgent EA Sports, effortlessly reworking and refining their ideas until the praise inevitably rolls in. On the other, you have the once great, faltering production team that are in desperate need of a facelift. With a defiant set of supporters on each side, both PES 2009 and FIFA 09 are sure to be successful, right?

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Of course, the answer to that thought provoking question is sure to be summed up with a quick nod and a glancing smile. In real-life terms, these two games represent hugely different things. Applying their credentials to current times in the sport itself, FIFA 09 becomes the newly transformed, superstar induced, financially excessive juggernaut, Manchester City. Glistening with a newfound style and slickness, new fans are rushing onto the scene to join in with the stardom. Unfortunately for PES 2009 however, it seems Seabass and the crew have adopted the roles of misfiring Tottenham Hotspur, as they lay rooted to the bottom of the table, ravaged by their worst form in years. Luckily for this failing team, the purists never give up on what they love, and are sure to find some quality in the latest PES outing.

Within its next gen lifetime, many players have been left feeling under whelmed and hugely disappointed by the lack of progression this particular series has made as an overall package. With the fans’ patience wearing thin, PES 2009 certainly has a burden to shrug off its under-fire back. Needing a fresh outlook on the genre, and a completely new match engine, it’s unfortunate to announce that the formula here is largely the same as before. Creaking with every stuttering turn, it seems that Konami have struggled to eliminate old problems without creating a wealth of new ones for their misguided child.

“it seems that Konami have struggled to eliminate old problems without creating a wealth of new ones”The best way to assess the progression of the series must come from scrutinising the gameplay itself. Last year saw an increased speed to proceedings; a factor that pushed boundaries between star players and benchwarmers to a new height. Interestingly, the swiftness of PES 2009 is considerably slower than last year, bringing a hidden depth to a range of normally overlooked players. Instead of utilising the sheer pace and finesse of superstar talents such a Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, a greater emphasis has been placed on measured, well thought out build up. Cutting through the defence with accurate passing is the way forward here, as gamers can no longer pin all their hopes onto the players full of flair and swagger. A sense of stability is needed throughout the team, just like real-life. The under-rated talents of midfield dynamos such as Darren Fletcher and Javier Mascharano are vital to forming an effective balance, as their effortless work rate allows the frontrunners to clinically execute their job. Maintaining a flowing form of possession should be the primary target for effective players this year round, as the opposition are as ruthless with the ball as they ever have been in the series.

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Unfortunately for PES, the formula that served it so well for many years has finally been squeezed of any originality and quality if once produced. After a few too many tweaks and subtle changes, the flow of football is at its worst in rather a long time, if not the entire series. As your players can only turn on an eight-way directional axis, movement and build up play is extremely rigid. Having trouble getting round a defender? Easy. Just face a different direction, and it becomes almost impossible for them to poach the ball from you. The series has also begun to limit the amount of influence speed has on the game, and now boasts accuracy as the way forward. Regrettably, with largely robotic and mechanic animation littered throughout, the effect of a football “simulation” quickly wares off, and becomes as realistic as the old school Subutteo tables many of us once owned. Comparing the animation to FIFA 09 is something that many will raise an eyebrow at, as the gap between them has not only widened, it’s also switched round considerably. Five years ago, it would be hard to acknowledge FIFA as the real simulation on offer, making this year’s game all the more impressive.

As with any incarnation of PES, there is enjoyment to be had here. In full flow, creating a winning formula is still an exciting, and largely rewarding experience. Stringing together a flowing, fast-paced move still offers the same feelings of brilliance and brief kingship that the series is renowned for. Although this is the case, the new assortment of lazy errors brought on by a seemingly lethargic development team is sure to start worrying even the most avid PES followers.

Every year, the main concern for Konami is getting the balance of gameplay into its most accessible and fluid state. Or at least it should be. Last years outing saw strikers and midfielders unleashing an unstoppable range of world-class goals from anywhere on the pitch, in a ridiculously trouble-free manner. This year, shooting has been tweaked in order to favour goalkeepers, and starts to mark one of the less impressive changes to last year’s game.

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In all honestly, I’ve been bewildered by the actions of goalkeepers throughout my time with this addition to the popular series. It’s fair to say, PES 2009 introduces a range of chiefly unpredictable, rigorously irregular reactions from the men protecting the posts. Goalkeepers are now more susceptible to letting the ball bounce off their bodies, rather than a firm catch. Suspiciously, this happens when it appears they should have little problem dealing with the minimal threat, and starts to grate on the player after only a few games. Always needing the back up of the defence, it’s truly puzzling to witness some of the dismal efforts even the most established ball handlers can regularly make. Contrasting this analysis, they also have an unhealthy habit of saving shots that would be unstoppable in the real world, as goalkeepers often permit a goal from one-on-one or seemingly ominous situations. It’s a bizarre mix of randomly generated extreme heroics and embarrassing calamities; something that, although potentially realistic, doesn’t match the rational events offered in rival title FIFA 09.

“This year, shooting has been tweaked in order to favour goalkeepers”Along with this newfound unpredictability, there is an assortment of other probing problems hidden with the match engine. In particular, when a goal has been scored, players are able to run through the line-up of interested journalists who are kneeling the sideline, trampling them as if they weren’t real. Also, Konami have managed to ensure throw ins are completely ineffective, as they break up the game considerably. When on the sideline, the opposition and the rest of your team will stand incredibly still, as if someone has hit the pause button accidentally. With very little movement or expression, it’s possible to take a few seconds out to try and justify the lack of authenticity. There’s something terrifyingly eerie about seeing almost every player on the pitch motionless at the same time, a notion that firmly shows how unfinished, and under polished the title is as a whole.

Besides these problems, PES still suffers from the notorious niggles from the past. It’s about time the commentary is completely overhauled, as Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson are still spewing out the same nonsense from two years ago. Actually, that isn’t completely true. In some cases, Lawrenson attempts to humour the gamer with a light-hearted quip, just like he does on live broadcasts in the real world. Unfortunately, these one-liners only sound as rigid and forced as most of the gameplay, and really highlight the gulf in class between the production of PES, and the construction of FIFA. Mix these elements in with the remarkably cheap presentation and soundtrack, and you have yourself a terribly developed spectacle that haunts both your eyes, and your eardrums. You’d think after so many years of being behind in this part, Konami would rethink the plot. Unfortunately, ignorance is a killer, and no effort has been made to address the oddly unstylish appearance of the product.

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Despite these obvious and glaring mistakes, Konami have been working hard to at least gain some decent new features to the series. In “Be a Legend” mode, gamers can take either a chosen or created player through the ranks and into the world of football stardom. Starting off as a seventeen-year-old rookie, you begin by getting scouted by a number of well-respected clubs. Once at your new home, it’s difficult to gain a first team place, as you have to impress in a number of training matches before a progression can be made. Eventually, you’ll be in the first team and ready to soak up the awards, as a number of top clubs begin to hunt your signature. The whole premise is similar to the “Be a Pro” mode in FIFA 09, however, PES spans an entire career, including tough decisions, instead of just a four year stint like on their rival’s product. Even though the presentation is much weaker, and the camera has a habit of not showing the player taking a corner or throw in, Konami’s outing offers the most rewarding simulation of rising through the ranks. Seeing your player progress is to the national side is a rewarding, and thoroughly personal experience that you’ll love to talk about with your friends.

In the past, the lack of licenses and recognisable product placement in PES has always been a major gripe. In this respect, FIFA holds all the right cards, as they have the large majority of licensed team names and kits under their radar without any hesitation every year. Konami are left to soak up the pieces available to them, and only ever managed to license a set number of teams. Manchester United and Liverpool fans should rejoice, as their heroes are the only English clubs to feature full licensing this time round. More positively than this, the UEFA Champions League has been fully licensed, which means that football fans can play out the world’s toughest club competition with full presentation in tact. It’s a small coup, but the improvement should be seen as a possible hint towards more significant steps in the future.

“Manchester United and Liverpool fans should rejoice, as their heroes are the only English clubs to feature full licensing this time round”To round off this year’s PES package, the ever present Master League and online modes are ready and waiting. Criminally, the former of those modes is hugely similar to last year in terms of presentation and structure, meaning only the most die-hard fans will take the plunge once more. Even worse still, the online mode plays absolutely terribly. With a large range of players online, the connections formed to play matches are diabolical at best. Straining lines appear across the pitch when you pass, players magically disappear, and the game takes a good two seconds to read your commands. This is a major loss for Konami, and they should certainly look to patch things up as soon as humanely possible. Consider the fact that PES 2009 quietly offers 4v4 “Be a Legend” online play, whereas FIFA 09 offers the impressive full scale 10v10 set-up, and it starts to sink in that lovers of this series could feel a little thwarted once again this year.

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It’s definitely difficult to please everyone, let alone football fans. As a lover of the PES series, the time has come to see a complete overhaul to the engine and structure of this ageing formula. With a host of new gameplay modes, and a selection of problematic features, this version of PES will only appeal to the hardcore. As it stands today, FIFA 09 provides the better, and hugely more realistic simulation of the beautiful game. Fortunately for Konami, they will once again cash in on the faith of their support, and get away with releasing a totally unfinished, and adequate product for the third year running. It’s a dreadful shame, as for now, PES’s main rival is not only well ahead, it is also ironically showing the team up with one main ingredient; evolution.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2007.

Gentle persuasion

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