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Pro Evolution Soccer 2009

For: PSP   Also on: Mobile

Spot the balls

Product: Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 | Developer: Konami | Publisher: Konami | Format: PSP | Genre: Sports | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network) | Version: Europe
Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 PSP, thumbnail 1

Over recent years, the biggest criticism levelled at FIFA was that it went out of its way to emulate the more critically-acclaimed Pro Evolution series. Where PES used to lead, FIFA followed, even going so far as to include an optional unofficial PES control scheme – an admission that hardcore football gamers were used to a different, more sophisticated way of playing.

PES's rough edges have been frequently overlooked in favour of what has historically been a match-winning blend of open, fluid play. The unlicensed teams, backwards commentary and absolute lack of glitz or glamour only added to Pro Evolution's reputation. As far removed as possible from EA's prawn sandwich brigade, it was always 'proper' football.

This year, the competition is closer than ever. FIFA's brilliance – absent, in truth, since the 16bit home consoles – has altered the virtual beautiful game beyond recognition (read our PSP FIFA 09 review to see what we mean). Where once FIFA imitated, now it's introducing innovations of its own. Right here, right now, it's clearly the game to beat.

PES 09 kicks off well. From the start, it's clear Konami has tried to compete with EA in the mass-marketing-pleasing style stakes, with all-new snazzy movies, rousing soundtrack and a more welcoming initial play.

Beyond the new intros, there's nothing remarkable. The main game remains broadly unchanged from previous iterations – PES veterans will be immediately at home, the game's 'Evolution' moniker really living up to its name. Creases have been ironed out here and there – animations are smoother, controls slightly refined, even the series' trademark dreadful commentary has been mostly dropped. The main modes – Cup, World Tour, League and Master League – are absolutely unchanged. It's PES as we know it.

Full infrastructure play is introduced this year, offering actual human opponents to compete against. Removing the frustrations of grinding out a win through dogged AI opponents, the games do open up and prove more enjoyable – assuming you can overlook the occasional glitch and freeze in play.

The most obvious introduction, though, is the 'Become A Legend' mode, where you adopt the role of a single player and guide him through a career. Sound familiar? It should – FIFA beat PES to its game by a month or so.

Though there are differences here. Instead of filling the boots of real-life player, like much of PES's world it's all a fiction – build a player from scratch and send him into the out onto the pitch. Whilst it's nice seeing your name on the back of a virtual shirt, the ability to play as a genuine player does reduce the impact.

More worryingly, the mode's default view rotates instead of panning and zooming, which greatly reduces your ability to play as effectively as you'd like. When operating in attack, it's impossible to manoeuvre yourself into a decent position – often, you'll receive the ball, and turn to discover a player marking you from behind, resulting in an awkward stumble, a quick tackle and possession being lost. You can change to one other camera view – but, bizarrely, only during the initial set up. Once you've played a minute of football you're stuck with it. Forever. The alternative choices are equally odd: the camera follows the ball instead of the player. So you're rarely onscreen.

The matches themselves are frequently lonely. Without the ability to call for the ball or influence play at all, much of the time you'll be watching the action from afar, hoping the AI will spot your clever use of space or well-timed run – when invariably it doesn't.

Worse, the mode's mechanics can often result in you not being picked in the starting line-up. When this is the case, you're forced, literally, to watch from the sidelines until picked to come on as a sub. Whilst this may be realistic, it's far from fun. Watch out for future versions which will replicate a cruitate knee injury by sending someone round your house to hit your legs with hammers.

FIFA's 'Be a Pro' mode illustrated how rewarding this could have been – so it's clear Konami has dropped the ball rather than smashed it into the back of the net. Thrown into a side you'll not care about – unless you're a fan of the game's few licensed teams – there's little sense of teamwork, and the fussy controls stifle any sort of creative play. Reduced to little more than a spectator sport punctuated by the odd moment of action, it's a disappointing addition to PES's solid core gameplay. The career progression offers longevity beyond FIFA's four-season limit, but, in truth, most are likely to have given up on this mode before reaching a natural conclusion.

Which is a shame, because, at its heart, the main game is still pure Pro Evolution Soccer – thrilling, fast, frantic, dogged and frustrating but always punctuated by the odd moment of brilliance which encourages just one more play.

The problem is it's just not enough these days. In the past, we'd have ignored the series' trademark niggles – but things have moved on from PES's loveable amateurism. And FIFA has raised the bar so significantly that it's difficult to continue to accept its frequent shortcomings.

Despite the fact it's frequently playable and often enjoyable, PES's continued lack of real revolution is in danger of marking it down as a footballing relic if things don't move on significantly in subsequent versions. As such, it's difficult to recommend unless you're some sort of weird Pro Evo collector.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009
Reviewer photo
Simon Byron | 17 November 2008
One the series' die-hards only. Everyone else should bite the bullet and accept that for this season at least, FIFA's leagues ahead
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