Pro Evolution Soccer 2009
Once a cult classic, and then a renowned franchise - Pro Evolution Soccer, what was once International Superstar Soccer Pro Evolution 2 - became the obvious choice for football game fans; whereas the big-branded Electronic Arts title, FIFA, was only marketed based on its license and occasionally its graphics. But last year we experienced a turn in the tide. Unfortunately for Konami, a company I have a great deal of respect for, PES 09 has not done nearly enough to reverse the current trend.
Last year, the wind changed, or something like that, and while EA pulled their metaphorical (or literal) finger out and came up with an entirely new game engine which it just so happened was very very good, Konami had done little to really improve their game's feel. Well 2009 sees a dramatic continuation of that trend; see our FIFA 09 review for the first half of this story.
PES 2009 is definitely among the poorer incarnations of the Pro Evolution Soccer series. I'm serious when I say that I'd rather be playing PES 3, 4, 5 or 6 than this. Aside from the graphical engine, which is quite a marvel, the game feels much like a once loved rug, with a glass of red splashed carelessly across the middle. The beauty is there, the potential to be a treasured sporting experience is in place, but what we have is a tainted game which, although very fun and playable, falls short of the required mark.
The game controls have not improved since the previous incarnation of the game, in fact it's quite possible they are worse. The ball physics seem jittery at times, as players punt the ball forward the ball gives the impression it's carrying a little bit of static charge causing it to stick heavily to the ground. Everything seems to lumber a little, like its all struggling to occur before your eyes, pushing against pre-programmed physics and invisible, nonsensical forces, enthusiastically trying to be the realistic football simulation it knows it could be.
On the up side, the Master League has returned. On the down side, almost nothing about it has changed. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but after several years it's about time it was given an overhaul. It's like, you know, your girlfriend wearing the same dress every time you go out.
The players move a little bit like robots. At one moment appearing static, and then darting forward, and then carrying on forward, and then switching robotically to another of the eight directions they can possibly face. For the immense quality we're used to from Konami its all rather clunky.
But then again, it does look nice, you can't fault the graphics. They're quite easily the best graphics in a computer football game in fact; smooth, shiny, detailed and slick. The stadiums look absolutely fantastic. Even the replays look good sometimes, when you try to blot out all the jerky movements. It's something to keep your eyes happy while your heart wonders why it couldn't have all been so much better.
The game's audio is utterly terrible. The English commentary is very poor. Jon Champion's voice grates like you're rubbing the side of your head against a pile of broken glass. The ball sounds like someone's smacking their hand against the microphone, and the referee's whistle is one of the worst noises I've ever heard in my life. I don't know how to describe it other than pure pain.
PES 2009 sees the addition of the Be A Legend mode. Not the rip-off of FIFA's Be A Pro mode it appears to be, because apparently Konami have been doing it longer, just not in the English version. You can build up a fresh 17-year-old kid, and work your way to becoming the captain of a Champion's League team - along the way improving your abilities and so on. This mode is also available for play online, which pretty slick if you're not having lag issues.
The game has a funky new menu system, with an obviously unique artistic style. The style of this is matched by an equally stylised soundtrack. Players will also notice that Konami have acquired the official UEFA Champions League license (as I hinted briefly earlier).
It probably sounds a little like Electronic Arts have paid me to write this. Well, they haven't. Neither have Konami done anything to disrepute my family. In fact if anything, I'm bias the other way. I like Konami, and I have negative feelings towards large corporate entities which are trying to monopolise the gaming market (whoever they may be). But it's just simply about gameplay, and the game's overall quality. This game has graphical beauty but in many other areas it fails to excel. On the other hand, it is still a good game, but it's just a few levels below where it really needs to be to compete with the reborn version of FIFA.