Product Type: Konami Xbox 360 games
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Reports of Pro Evo's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (Xbox 360)
Member Name: Puggers
Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (Xbox 360)
Date: 01/02/09, updated on 02/12/09 (302 review reads)
Advantages: Excellent gameplay, some nice innovations and introductions
Disadvantages: Not as improved as Fifa, licensing an issue as ever
Despite this, I couldn't bring myself to invest in the Dark Prince of football games, so I decided to give Pro Evo one more chance to prove to me it was still the Champion it used to be. Such was the overwhelming opinion, I didn't have high hopes.
First impressions are good, though. Pro Evo has always suffered from somewhat sloppy, often frightfully garish presentation - something which shouldn't be that hard to get right, in terms of making simple menus and pre-match screens look sharp. PES 2009, though, does show improvement. It's nothing mind-blowing - just simple, clean lines, attractive layouts and background music that fits nicely in - and this is all it needs to be. One of the most apparent innovations in this edition is the official Champions League license, with all the appropriate logos, format and much-loved theme tune. I gave this mode a whirl first, and it is excellent - watching the introduction to the "programme" and seeing all the formations come up on the screen as they do in reality really pulls you into the game and sets up the matches perfectly.
These being the positive new introductions to the game, there are other, more familiar features that become quickly apparent - and these are less welcome. Although Man United and Liverpool are fully-licensed, kitted-out clubs, which is a good move, the other 20 clubs are left behind, meaning we are treated to the likes of London Blue and West Midlands Village, those well-known Premiership names. The kits for these teams are also unofficial, and aren't even approximately right, save for being the right colour, broadly. This means a lengthy editing process to get something like properly named teams in their right kits. This, in turn, does highlight another of the game's strengths. The editing facility is very well-designed; easy to use, a great wealth of features that can be tweaked and fiddled with to update teams and players, or create new ones from scratch. This includes a neat touch amongst the kit-editing options - although there's no option to add, for instance, Adidas stripes to a shirt, you can choose a two-striped option, and add a single stripe between them. Cunning, huh? Likewise, all the features of current Nike, Umbro and Puma kits are here, if you're willing to devote the time to piling up the alterations. There are also various downloads that will save you this effort, although it can be quite fun personalising the kits, or editing your Sunday League side into the game!
Of course, Pro Evo's real strengths have always been on the pitch - you don't buy the game for the off-field features. Here, for me, the game delivers. The animation is top-notch, the players move smoothly and are respond sharply to your commands - in this department, I feel Pro Evo still has the edge over Fifa - you really feel like you're in control. A neat innovation also adds greater strength to this aspect of the game in PES 2009 - realistic physics are at play here more than ever before. Though not instantly apparent, these are things that add to the all-round realism of the experience; the game detects where your player's feet and body are, and reacts accordingly. Players can shield the ball much more effectively than before, can time tackles much more effectively and put themselves about much more forcefully. In short, the game is made more lifelike than ever before. Such tackles and challenges are expertly animated, making play a satisfying affair. Rebounds and deflections are also incorporated well, which means plenty of unique goals are scored, and play is less predictable. Aspects like the passing, crossing, heading and shooting are all as well done as in previous installments.
There are a number of aspects of the gameplay which are less effective, though. Set-pieces are frustrating, as they lack any of the sense of control that others parts of the game possess - you never really feel like you have much impact on what happens when the player strikes a free-kick or corner, just holding down the appropriate button and seeing where it goes. This is a recurring problem, and a really bizarre one. Pro Evo evolved from the ISS series of games on the N64, a franchise which boasted probably the best set-piece controls seen on a football game - still - yet this feature was never really carried through into more recent titles. It's a shame Konami haven't addressed this. Additionally, the intelligence of the non-player controlled players can be an irritation. Although there is some movement off the ball, and players will on occasions make runs for you, it doesn't happen enough, and too often you'll hold onto the ball for an eternity while your full-back stands ten yards away picking his nose, watching the wide-open space gaping in front of him.
Finally, there's one more thing that annoys me - ball sound-effects. While there's nothing wrong with hearing the ping of a cross-field ball above the noise of the crowd, there's no need for every two-yard pass to be met with a resonating "thud". It doesn't happen. It's not necessary. It's annoying.
Still, the match-day experience is overall a very good one. Play is realistic and satisfying, goals are varied and lifelike, and the visuals are strong - although perhaps not on Fifa's level. There are the usual twenty or so stadiums which are reasonably well-rendered, although, again, they don't quite match Pro Evo's rival for "it looks just like it!"-factor. Overall, I think PES 2009 has the edge over Fifa in terms of gameplay.
So, is Fifa the new king of football gaming? I don't think so. The gap is closer than it's been in many years, I'm sure, but I don't feel Pro Evo has been left behind just yet. This is a strong game that's great fun to play, with a wealth of options and possibilities (although the online mode is fairly weak - if you're a big fan of online-play, this game probably isn't quite as strongly recommended). The Champions League mode is a great addition, and the Be A Legend mode is an entertaining diversion. Equally, there are a variety of engaging Master League options which allow you to customise your team, transfer players and generally have more of a managerial control over your team than the traditional modes of play.
Nonetheless, Konami should take the reduced superiority of their title this time round as a real wake-up call. If Fifa continues to improve at the rate it has of late, Pro Evo will be left behind. There are simple things, like the set-pieces, like the licensing and online play, which need to be improved if Pro Evo is to keep its crown. But for me, it does still have it, for now.
Summary: Still the best, but can't afford to rest on its laurels.