Pro Evolution Soccer 2009
It’s a funny old game. The tired and overused clique fits perfectly to sum up the tired and overused formula named Pro Evolution Soccer. A proud series without a return to form on current-generation consoles, 2009’s rendition of the beautiful game is akin to that of a title-deciding match. As much as the old rival, EA’s FIFA, has improved to gain much needed credibility, it can’t be helped than to think that all eyes are on Konami’s effort. Both games have seen a close launch in the run-up to Christmas, insults have been exchange on forums and blogs in the aftermath of downloadable demos, and with the recent surge in quality from EA, the heat is on.
Let’s get the comparison over and done with; if you’re looking for a game to rival FIFA 2009 then you aren’t going to find it here. EA’s masterpiece is the seductive and sexy older sister in the football genre, ticking all the right boxes and flaunting the designer labels. Fans of Konami get to play with the younger and inexperienced sibling, being less pretty yet more devious.
The jewel in the Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 crown is, and always has been, the match engine. The game is, sadly, feeling rather familiar with such feeble efforts regarding commentary, music, sound effects, menu screens and graphics. Functional yet devoid of any style, these affect the entire game and as such it’s a drab experience that requires you to look past all the short comings (and boy, are there many) and just focus on the football. For starters, not all the teams are fully licensed and not all players are at the correct clubs, and that’s if you can identify them. Yes, North London, Lancashire, Middlebrook and Yorkshire Orange play centre stage alongside the teams using the Champions League license, in the Premier League’s case just Manchester United and Liverpool. Robinho isn’t at Man Blue and Xisco doesn’t feature for Tyneside, though some fans may agree that this is a blessing in disguise. All these arrears can be fixed in the game’s edit mode, and this year we’ve a brand spanking new pixel painter to fine tune those club badges. As much as it’s noble to be able to tinker with rosters and attire, it again is a cheek to release a half-licensed game and then expect the consumer to finish the job.
Progression looks to have been made concerning the action on the pitch, in spite of a handful of mishaps. Gamers will really have to work like a horse to get a result as the opposition love to keep the ball and move play up the field towards your goal, with players always on the move. The main criticism of the series has been that matches are too fast, this has been toned down somewhat and is evident with how you can dribble through defences. It was possible in the past to just hold the sprint button and charge through, but now the special controls button allows you to shield the ball and change direction quicker at a much slower pace. It’s like taking time out to pay special attention to something beautiful, and the dribbling mechanics are just that. As such, it’s a pleasure to knock the ball about amongst yourselves.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for when you haven’t possession. The defensive errors that plagued last year’s game look to have been eradicated, but errors still plague matches. Your players seem reluctant to really bomb on down the wings waiting for your pass and instead feel compelled to sit back and guard your position. The cursor is supposed to be fully manual when defending but it’s horribly unresponsive and inconsistent, refusing to change even when you’re hammering the button, only to switch to someone completely out of play. Double teaming an opponent also has its flaws; holding the desired button calls someone from the backline, who’s supposed to be marking, out of position and towards the ball, rather than a midfielder lurking nearby. The time it takes for the player to lumber towards the possessor is a dangerous opportunity to loft a through ball and thus a chance at goal. It almost makes this tactic unplayable inside your own half. Goalkeepers feel cumbersome and don’t appear to respond promptly when you’re calling them out to narrow the angle.
Despite these blunders, all feelings of anxiety wear off once you pull through the opponent’s defence and belt home a scorching goal. It’s an effect that’s perhaps been the series hallmark for all these years.
Off the field sees the usual array of options and game modes. Master League is present and correct, as are exhibition and cup modes; the online play, we’re told, won’t be anything like the debacle of the last two years. The new addition to the ranks is something of an expansion to the tweaks shoehorned in by Konami over the years. First was the ability to control just one player on the pitch, and then came some nifty camera angles such as a bird’s eye view and then seeing the game through the eyes of the player – kinda. One giant leap later and an entire mode has been built around this aspect, allowing you to take control of not just a player on the pitch but their entire career – from the tender age of 17 up to retirement at 35. You’ll change clubs along the way and boost your skills by playing well and adapting to your position on the pitch.
Starting off, the first game is nothing more than a mere trial. Your initial performance affects the stature of the club you’ll be transferred to shortly afterwards and from there you’ll experience more training sessions than real matches. You can’t just walk into the team every week, you have to prove yourself as a worthy player. After signing a contract, a few weeks will be spent on the training ground in matches against the first team, trying to shine amongst a team of professionals and get a place on the bench. It’s an experience that keeps you grounded and perhaps reflects the feelings of a real life teenager trying to break through the ranks. This is because a few decent performances won’t get you on the team sheet – you have to be consistent enough to hold your own come match day, and the manager doesn’t have any qualms about dropping players that aren’t pulling their weight. Time on the pitch is generally spent running into space. There’s no commands to press to help you get a pass or to boost attributes, everything depends on being in the right place at the right time. Team mates can be selfish, some more than others, and will fancy a dribble into the box and a shot rather than a lay off to yourself, other times they’ll pass a little too early and ruin that perfect run you had planned. The whole match feels organic, like being at the park for a kick about with mates on a Saturday afternoon, and that you’re just one tiny pawn. It’s a remarkable addition to the series.
If you’re someone looking for the definitive football game, take two points off the score and go buy FIFA. PES purists, add a point and savour the first ‘real’ next-gen incarnation of our favourite series. For me, I’m feeling indifferent. The match engine is a return to form and it feels somewhat relieving knowing I’ll have a football game to enjoy this year, but the entire thing looks thrown together and basic when compared to what a certain other developer is getting out of the same development kit.