IGN Review of Pro Evolution Soccer 2009
For years one game has dominated the scene as far as football (Euro style) games are concerned. Pro Evolution Soccer -- formerly Winning Eleven -- has been able to one-up EA Sports' FIFA Soccer in the one category that truly matters for a sports game: gameplay. It moved more naturally, the variety of goals were greater, and the sport was simply better conveyed through the convoluted designs of Konami's contender.
My how much difference a year makes.
There's no doubt that the gap closed during last year's bout of football mania, with FIFA gaining significant ground. But this is the year that Pro Evolution totally loses its foothold. The gameplay has a quicker, more arcadey feel which removes the series from its simulation roots. What you get is a Pro Evo game that feels little like the series that you've come to love. There are some redeeming qualities and moments of solid football, but for the most part this release is overshadowed by what the competition brings to the table.
With every yearly sports release developers focus on one game mode to highlight as the new addition to the group. The biggest deviation from the standard Pro Evo formula is the Be A Legend mode. Basically this copies what EA Sports has been doing for some time now, but does a half-ass job of it. You create your own player and stick him on your favorite squad, then it's up to you to improve his skills and earn a spot on the starting line.
In order to build up your attributes you'll need to play in several inter-squad scrimmages while the rest of your mates are off playing in the main event. It's a cool, if not slightly laborious process that feels like it could have concluded after the fourth or fifth scrimmage or so. Instead it drags on for several hours, thus requiring you to dedicate a good chunk of your day to progress to primetime.
There are also other presentational trinkets -- like on-screen cues that tell you how to position yourself and any sort of feedback as to how you're playing -- that are just plain missing. The same goes for the ability to call for different kinds of passes and, when you do call for a pass; it's rare that it's actually sent your way.
The only difference between the Be A Legend mode and standard gameplay is the redesigned camera which does a very good job of roaming around the field and simultaneously keeping a steady eye on the action. All without a framerate drop in sight.
The other new mode that you'll find is UEFA Champions League which is actually a huge addition for a series that has always lacked some key licenses. Sadly there are still a few absences, mainly in the English League with teams like Arsenal and Chelsea being left out entirely. Still, you get to run through a UEFA Champions League tournament, complete with a stylized intro and championship outro if you earn it.
But what about the core gameplay that drives both of these new modes? Well, luckily for Pro Evolution Soccer 2009, the building blocks that have been laid down by prior games still present a solid game of footy. It just doesn't show the progression that other games have. As I said earlier, this game has a much more arcade feel to it. Players feel a bit floaty on the field and the overall pace is quicker than it has been.
On the upside that means that shots have a bit more zip to them and the action is that much faster on the field, but it feels unnatural in motion. The animations fare a bit better and have some nice intricacy for more detailed interactions. Players bump and spin off of each other, but PES 09 still doesn't have the physics and jostling gameplay that you'll find in FIFA 09.
Artificial intelligence is an area that Konami claimed to have cleaned up for this year's Pro Evo, but there are still moments when your buddies don't act the way you'd like. Passing and selecting the proper target for a pass is something of an issue, made worse by the fact that there's no power meter for regular passes. I did develop a feel for the passing after awhile, but I still missed having a handy dandy indicator.
Goalie AI is another concern for football titles year in and year out as they try and balance between being too aggressive or overly passive. PES 2009's goalies do a solid job of venturing outside of their comfort zone and fetching balls that would've been corner kicks for the other team. Rarely will you see errors in judgment that result in needless goals.
Through balls -- one of the keys to success in just about every football title -- are handled well in PES 2009. There's a good feeling of reward when you find the perfect seam with the through pass but I couldn't help but feel like the situation was canned in some way. I'd press the through ball button as a character ahead of me started a run but sometimes the ball would shoot off in a slightly altered direction. At first it wasn't a problem when it worked, but after awhile I came to realize that it wasn't actually me making the passes; it was the AI.
At the end of the day Pro Evolution Soccer 2009's gameplay simply isn't as tight as what's in FIFA 2009. It's a less accurate representation of the sport thanks to its overly quick gameplay and floaty physics. The AI, while improved over past efforts, still needs work when it comes to realistically working the ball around the field. Other missing elements include the aforementioned passing meter and it's those little things that make a big difference for such a long-running series.
Luckily there is online play and the classic Master League mode to keep you busy if the single-player offering isn't your thing. Online play sees the addition of a Legends mode that allows you to take your created player and see how he stacks up against the rest of the world. There's also standard online team play, but both modes were hampered by serious lag. It might have just been because PES 2009's servers were extremely vacant and I was likely playing someone in Europe, but animations stuttered and controls were unresponsive at times.
The rest of Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is very similar to what you've seen from the series before. The presentation values aren't up to what FIFA brings to the table, though they are better than in the past. The convoluted menu design has been cleaned up quite a bit, so that's something. Sadly the player models and on-field presentation elements don't mesh very well. Players clip together, the camera moves through pieces of the environment and everything has an unnatural plastic look to it. Almost like the models needed another texture pass to add a layer of detail.
The sound is standard stuff with the usual assortment of good quips and those that get redundant in a hurry. If I hear the commentator say something about a match being "only friendly in name" at kickoff one more time, I'm going to hurt someone in our office.
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