Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 Review (Xbox 360)
From clunky cartridges to compact discs, wired controllers to Bluetooth sticks, Goldeneye battles at your mate’s house to online Call of Duty wars -- through the years I have welcomed all sorts of changes in my gaming life. But the one thing that remained constant was Pro Evolution Soccer. It was always my preferred choice when the new footy season came around -- that is until last year of course.
Konami’s winning formula has been tested and surpassed not only by time, but also by the rapid rise of competitor EA Sports’ FIFA series. With a stellar showing this year, FIFA 09 once again raised the bar for soccer games. Can Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 win back the title, or at the very least stay in the top division?
On the Pitch
Throughout the years, gameplay has been the pride of the PES series and a joy for all the PES gamers. PES 2009 is no different. The tempo of this year's game has been toned down a bit from the 2008 version. This subtle tweak makes for a much more realistic soccer experience; though, it is a little hard to adjust to at first.
What also makes the game more realistic are the improved ball physics, which are evident everywhere on the pitch. The passes are no longer very quick or automatic, and the ball moves along the grass as it should. This occurs because the ball is now affected by the direction you choose and the momentum of the player passing the ball. It is also more difficult this year to get a good strike on goal, as a heavy touch on the shoot button will almost certainly blast the ball off target.
Speaking of goals, PES once again makes its money in the final third. The amount of varied goals that are scored is downright amazing. Honestly, you will be hard-pressed to find any two goals that look identical. In this regard, PES is like chess –- no matter how many times you have played it, the vast amount of possibilities keep the game fresh, which makes gamers come back for more.
Unfortunately, old issues that have bothered this series for years still remain. You will still see some passes that go in a totally different direction than you wanted them to, and there is still a clunky feeling when players collide. Also, the CPU on the opposing team always reacts faster to loose balls than your own teammates, which can be very frustrating.
The A.I. on each of the five levels of difficulty plays evenly throughout the pitch, unlike in the FIFA series, where the lower levels play defense but simply turn off in the offensive half. On the top two most difficult levels, the CPU controlled teams do not always dominate possession but are quite deadly when it comes to scoring goals.
This year the goalies seem less restricted and smarter in their movement around the box. They are also much better at holding onto outside shots. There are not a lot of easy tap-ins or cheap goals this year because of this improvement. Overall, it is a much tighter game defensively since you will have to rely more on tactics and methodical passing than dribbling your way through defenders for a clean shot on goal. That being said, fast star players like Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo are forces to be dealt with. In a controlled tempo game, speed might not kill but it will surely do damage to the defense in PES 2009.
Graphics and Presentation
Graphically, PES 2009 is the best looking game to date in the series -- as you would expect from the latest version of the game. Nevertheless, this is where PES really is behind the curve. The facial resemblances are pretty good, but the graphics are really not next-gen, and Konami can longer be excused from this criticism.
Konami has apparently not received the memo that the gameplay models should at least look remotely like the intro video shown before the start menu. Instead, the company teases fans with a great looking CGI video, like it has been doing for years, and then has us experience a huge drop off in visual beauty once the actual game starts.
The commentary is also poor yet again. The lead announcer sounds more like a text-to-speech GPS navigation system, and his colleague will sometimes not even say a word for a whole half.
The edit options have always been key in the PES series, and the same can be said for this version. In addition to the usual editing of kits, you can upload your own songs or team chants.
Become a Legend
The Konami version of a career mode makes its debut in PES 2009, but it is not an outstanding one. The mode is much more restrictive than the FIFA version in almost every regard. Unlike in FIFA where you can decide to pick a player on your favorite team to play with, you are forced to create a new player in PES 2009 and start at the very young age of 17. While this aspect surely has its fans, a little more flexibility would not have hurt.
Once you are done creating your star, you get offered contracts from three different clubs, which depend on the league you select. After creating Manchester United youth player Rodrigo Possebon, my alter-ego was none too pleased that the best offer was from Manchester City. But I swallowed my pride and suited up for the blue half of Manchester.
Your career involves club and international games, as well as the various tournaments played at each level. Your career spans from the age of 17 to the age of 35, making for a very lengthy mode. Playing with CPU-controlled teammates is not an easy task, and it is also not as engaging as playing as the whole team. Frustration is sure to set in while playing these games because your CPU teammates sometimes refuse to pass you the ball, even when you are clearly the best option. The call-to-receive-a-pass button does not work a lot of the time -- at points I almost wished there was another button that would throw your player’s hands up in the air in frustration.
Your player's performances are also not rated in any sort of a detailed way. So essentially you could basically run around the pitch out of position all game without facing the consequences. The mode is a novelty to play once your player gets on a good team and consistently plays, but there are a lot of training matches and bench appearances to get through first.
You can also take your legend online and play with friends, which is definitely more fun. However, you can only play online with a maximum of four players, and you have to play against a CPU team.
In addition to the online Legend mode, exhibition games can also be played online. Your results go towards the division rankings, which are updated weekly. Some online issues still persist though. Konami’s tedious online registration process awaits PS3 users, while the online lag that seriously plagued last year’s version is still sometimes apparent. The online mode is much more playable, however, and most of the time it should get the job done if you are hosting with a stable connection.
UEFA Champions League
Yes, it is the real thing, licensed logo, format and all. However it is nothing but a fancy cover for a Cup mode that can be easily user created. While I do appreciate the official presentations of UEFA, Konami was still not able to get the licenses for all the eligible Champions League teams. So it kind of sucks when the lovely UEFA anthem is playing just before a match is played between two teams with unknown team names.
Despite Konami not reaching next-gen standards, PES 2009 is still going to provide thrills for PES fans, and it is also a very enjoyable footy game for soccer purists. Yet, while PES 2009 is a step up from last year’s version, it might be a step in the wrong direction. It is time for the series to change.
On The Pitch: Although PES is no longer the clear-cut soccer game to play, PES 2009 offers great intuitive gameplay from goal to goal. It is now simply a matter of preference when it comes to FIFA and PES.
Graphics: The visuals are a poor effort from Konami in this day and age of sports gaming. The players’ faces do resemble their real-life counterparts, but everything else shows this series desperately needs a makeover.
Sound: The Soundtrack is mediocre, but it helps that you can now upload your own tunes to different sections of the game. Commentary is atrocious, and coupled with the sound effects of a kicked ball, it wont be long before you hit the mute button on your remote.
Entertainment Value: PES 2009 is a great game to play with friends, and the A.I. does a great job of playing realistic on most difficulty levels. Become a Legend mode is more of a hit online than it is playing on your own. The edit options are still the best in any sports game, and that alone can keep you busy for a long time.
Learning Curve: For new gamers, it would take at least a week to get used to the tempo and controls, but PES gamers should feel right at home.
Online: In terms of online modes, PES 2009 pales in comparison to FIFA 09, and the servers are once again disappointing.
Final Score: 7.0 (Good)