PES 2009 Review - 27/10/2008

Seabass and the team cannot have missed the fact that the FIFA series has been going from strength to strength of late, threatening the crown of Pro Evo that was previously as secure as the impenetrable Fort Knox. With that in mind, have Konami moved the series on, or is it another case of stagnation and missed opportunities?

Since the advent of the current generation of consoles, Konami have consistently failed to deliver with their still-massively successful football series. One wonders whether the money generated from PES just gets absorbed into the Konami Christmas party fund (must be a good party) or goes on the management's summer holidays. You'd certainly have to question whether it goes in any meaningful amount towards the next game. Football series sell notoriously well, and with the massive staff behind FIFA, Konami's operation seems amateurish. Nonetheless, my delusional rantings don't tell the full story, and the Pro Evo team have managed to improve in pretty much every area on the last instalment.

'My nan could have done that', I hear you cry. And she probably could. Regardless though, it is worth remembering that there are limited resources behind PES and to completely revolutionise the series would need at least two years of development time. What we see now is a slow progression forwards, but for yearly development cycles to make advancements on the scale of a new engine, which the series pretty desperately needs, it is very tough indeed, particularly with a limited team and budget. Enough excuses though.

Back to something like its best in terms of gameplay, but is it too late?

So what's changed? Licences have been gained and lost, but more have left the roster than joined it it seems. Manchester United and Liverpool bolster the list for the Premier League, replacing the odd Newcastle and Spurs inclusions from last year. LA Liga is disappointingly unlicensed, but features 11 licensed teams, so isn't that bad. The England national team is fully licensed, and there are a few new official national and club teams such as Spartak Moscow, but at the expense of regulars Bayern Munich. The flow of the game is what has noticeably been reworked, and regular fans will appreciate that it takes a few hours of play to get into the swing of things – a good sign for a Pro Evo game. Most notably perhaps is the reduction in speed of most players. Messi is still frustratingly fast, but no longer can you shimmy and sprint past midfielders with your centre-back. Turning has been sped-up and sharpened, promoting backwards-looking play when defensive numbers are in front of you as opposed to bundling the ball through a mass of bodies which seemed like the only viable and sensible option last time.

Skills have been remapped to the left stick, with manual passes now executed using the right one. This is a great addition as it makes them quick and easy to pull off when compared with 2008's click-pass system. Good players will often execute skills automatically as you try and dodge tackles or lunging defenders. Shooting has been dramatically changed, vastly reducing the percentages of goals from over about 20 yards. This does encourage wing play, with headers and crosses also tightened up to reduce the number of goals altogether. The old cut inside and play a low ball along the six yard box technique is still the most used and most effective method of scoring, disappointingly. The controlled or finesse shot has returned in meaningful form however, which makes scoring from these positions a little bit trickier. After a dozen or so games you'll learn the amount of power and from which positions players are likely to blast it over and wide, at which point you can hold down the controlled shot button and see them keep the ball down or try to side foot it into the corner of the goal.

The popular goal from last time where diagonally running towards goal and shooting straight would inevitably end in a positive result now sees the ball slicing wide unless control is used. The ball moves in the air much more than before, spinning at the last minute and looking impressively realistic. Similarly cross field balls are held up in the air rather than quickly blasted across between the wings and short passing is also slower, reducing the number of 10 second demolitions created with one-two after one-two. You'll still get high-scoring games once you adapt to the new shooting system and it's fair to say it still boasts a faster pace than FIFA (that's an advantage or disadvantage depending on your view).

The Champions League is a big scalp for Konami.

The main new addition in terms of modes and features is the Become a Legend mode, adapted from the Japanese version's long running (longer than FIFA) Fantastista alternative. It gets nowhere near the presentation of FIFA's version, but it is still a very addictive distraction for any fans of Pro Evo's gameplay. Very impressive by Konami's usually insular standards is the ability to take a photo of yourself and put it on a player you are creating. It doesn't end up looking that great, but considering you generate it instantly and then stretch it onto the player model rather than EA's front and side profiling which takes about 20 minutes it's at least a competitive alternative.

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