PES 2009 Review

As a die-hard PES player I always get a tad excited around this time of year when the latest version of the ultimate football game is thrust upon us, replete with plenty of splendid improvements. However, this year was a little different as by now I’d gotten wise to Konami’s offerings. Suffice it to say that the two previous PES games on the 360 didn’t exactly shower themselves in glory – the first feeling like a rushed and undercooked affair and the second pretty much more of the same; while both suffered from far too many online issues to make them fun. With FIFA putting in such a strong showing this year it may finally be time for a rethink.

For those of you unfamiliar with the previous entries in the series, it has often been said that PES is the more fluid and realistic of the two major franchises; whereas FIFA often concentrated on licences and flashy presentations at the expense of gameplay. PES was widely acknowledged to have gone the other way and focused on providing a great game of football first and foremost. This is down to Konami concentrating on making what people see on screen seem authentic in relation to what happens in an actual match. With such success over the years it often became hard to see how they could make any further improvements – and sadly it seems that Konami have subscribed to that point of view as well.

Anti-gravity boots were soon outlawed by the FA.

The real problem here is not what has changed but rather what hasn’t, as the game just feels like a rehash of what has come before. In terms of actually playing the game it’s still enjoyable but just doesn’t seem to offer enough this time around. The only minor alteration is that the speed of the action has been slightly reduced which makes things a bit more responsive and means you don’t always feel like you are being rushed. The passing has also undergone a few minor changes as you can now string together neat moves in order to break down the opposition and through balls seem to have a bit more weight to them meaning you’ll have more joy making that killer pass. The problem here is that the changes are only quick fixes and everything feels a bit too scripted. FIFA has upped the stakes this year by asking players to constantly tussle for the ball and thus adding a layer of unpredictability to proceedings, whereas in PES you always feel that you are capable of scoring with every attack.

Where other previous titles in the series have often fallen down is in terms of variety; PES usually offers a pretty solid game of football but it is often lacking in competitions and ideas outside of the generic leagues and cups. This year however they have gone all out and secured arguably the biggest club competition in the world in the Champions League. Even the presentation is superb and makes you feel like every match is being broadcast live onto your television. Considering such a fuss has been made about this feature though it is surprisingly disappointing to play, as at the end of the day it’s just a glorified cup competition. Not to mention the fact that only thirteen teams in the competition are actually officially licensed, and the dodgy names of London FC (Chelsea to all non-PES folk) still continue to rear their ugly heads. It’s one thing to have a great competition like this but surely you have to make sure that all of the teams included are accurate too, as the current set up takes away a lot of the gloss.

In fact this year’s offering has even taken away two formerly licensed leagues in the form of the Italian Serie A and Spain’s La Liga. A harsh price to pay for exclusive rights to the Champions League and one that constantly feels like a bit of a bad deal. No offence but given the choice of leagues to ply your trade in, I doubt many people would plump for Ligue 1 or the Eredivisie (outside of folks within those respective countries that is). The game also has an issue with almost bog-standard presentation throughout the menus and while in-game. In fact the quality lavished on the Champions League mode only serves to highlight the lack of window dressing everywhere else. It’s also starting to border on the embarrassing that, after all these years, Konami still can’t provide us with a decent commentary team. Mark Lawrenson is pretty annoying in real life but his nonsensical ramblings in this game are almost beyond a joke, as both commentators will often make references that have no bearing on what is happening in the game at all. Year after year I end up turning off the commentary and, sadly, this year is no exception.

Diving header or blatant dive?

Another hasty addition is the ‘Become a Legend’ mode, which bears a remarkable similarity to ‘Be a Pro’ in FIFA. Beyond the names and the fact you control a single player that is were the similarities end as the PES version feels like a hastily added riposte to counter FIFA’s efforts. While it can be fun to initially create a player in your own image, the feeling soon wears off once you start to play. Most of your time will be spent metaphorically twiddling your thumbs as there is no active way to get your team to pass the ball to you, so you’ll spend large amounts of time getting into good positions only to be ignored. It’s horribly frustrating. Couple that with the fact that there is no fundamental reward for doing well and the whole thing seems a bit pointless. Win games and you’ll get a chance to move to a bigger team but even if you lose you never get dropped or put under any kind of pressure to perform. Frankly, with no kind of incentive on offer you’ll soon stop caring whether you are doing well or not.

It’s worth noting that there is a comprehensive "Edit" mode on offer so that you can make your Legend player as realistic as possible and also, that you can alter all of the teams to match their official counterparts. This is all well and good but should we really still be expected to have to spend hours editing teams to match their real life likenesses – it’s a problem that has plagued PES for years and it is finally starting to grate. Considering what you’ll be paying for this glorified update is it really too much to ask that we get all of the teams and competitions we’d come to expect?

The makings of a wonder goal - or tragic mis-kick.

A big problem with PES in the last two years has been the pretty poor online modes, as they suffered from a distinct lack of options at best and a crippling amount of lag at worst. Plenty of matches soon became practically unplayable thanks to balls that seemed to have a mind of their own and some incredible slow down. I’d love to say that this problem had been solved but alas it still pops up with surprising regularity. It’s also a bit of a pain to get into a match due to the poorly designed lobby system; though at least if you and a friend do make it into the same room you can arrange a match with relative simplicity. The best addition online comes in terms of the "Legends" mode which is the same as the single player equivalent but can accommodate up to four players. The only bug there is the fact you are restricted to games against A.I teams – with FIFA 09 offering ten versus ten match-ups then this is a bit of a disappointment and that’s somewhat of an understatement.

The achievements on offer are rather lazy as they borrow heavily from last years list. All of the new additions are to do with the two new modes: Become a Legend (both offline and online) and the Champions League. Scoring plenty of goals, winning leagues and doing well online will all bring in the points but yet again they’ve slapped on the Ultimate Player achievement which is just as much a grind to achieve as it was last time around. I enjoy playing football as much as anyone but frankly you’ll be able to get everything else done long before being anywhere near Ultimate Player, so it turns into little more than a boring slog through a ton of games.

Overall this is still a good football game but it just feels as if Konami have rested on their laurels while EA have stormed ahead. Perhaps they read into their own hype just a little too much as the core game is still fun to play but it just feels like the same old thing. Continuing criticism for the online play is hardly a good thing either and needs to be put right immediately, as most football games thrive when you can play with friends. It’s not quite as much fun when your players are randomly bouncing around the pitch and you aren’t entirely sure where the ball is. Frankly it’s a case of back to the drawing board and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but my recommendation is that you plump for FIFA this time around. As the legendary Sid Waddell once said, “It’s the greatest comeback since Lazarus” – just not for PES.

Pretty terrible and keeping up the great tradition of diabolical commentary that seems to have ‘graced’ every PES game thus far. In a sports game having some good commentary is a basic necessity.

Nice to look at but by no means the best out there, the animations can be patchy in places and some players look completely unrecognisable.

PES still offers a solid and enjoyable game of football but it feels like you’re playing the same game that you bought two years ago as they just haven’t made any kind of progression.

A mixed bag as the addition of the Champions League comes at the expense of losing a large amount of official teams, not to mention the poor menus, presentation and dubious Legend mode.

An almost carbon copy of last years list with a few new additions to complement the Legend and Champions League modes. The Ultimate Player achievement still seems to be more trouble than it’s worth too.

In one word: disappointing. This is exactly what we don’t expect from a PES game and considering the improvements made by its nearest rival it comes as even more of a surprise. Hopefully this will provide the kick up the backside needed for a complete overhaul but that will do nothing to placate fans that were expecting so much more this year.

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