Can Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 seize back the initiative?

Pro Evo's lost its way a bit in recent incarnations - is that about to change?

Pro Evo 2008

For a long time, there were certain things in life that you could rely on. You could, for instance, bank on the fact that a Brett Ratner-directed film would never be a classic, that 24 would pull a cliffhanger ending at all costs, and that Police Academy movies got progressively worse.

You could also, until at least a year or two back, be safe in the knowledge that the annual battle of the big football games between EA Sports’ FIFA and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer would be won by the latter. For a long time, Pro Evo – as we came to know it – eschewed the flashy gimmicks in favour of a crushingly brilliant gameplay mechanic, that never isolated the beginner, but amply rewarded the person really willing to put the effort in. Goals had to be earned, scrappy 1-0 games were commonplace, and the world was right.

The rot, however, started to set in with Pro Evolution Soccer 6, back in 2006, where there was a real suspicion that dribbling was getting a little too powerful, and that if you had a striker with good shooting ability, that goals were getting easier to come by. Last year, as the game took on a 2008 moniker, it was all bets off, as goals rained in from all over the shop, while dribbling was ridiculously overpowerful. Meanwhile, FIFA – while still a little mechanical at times – had been gradually building itself up, and was fast closing the gap.

Many now believe that this is the year where EA could at last reclaim the lead, and many eyes have been on Konami – whose developers had conceded problems with the multi-format annual development cycle – to see what happens next.

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Early signs? Who can really tell. Thus far, the press information has been full of the same blasé stuff that rolls off the EA fax machine, with meaningless phrases like “unique control system” and “closer to the game”, while Lionel Messi has been signed up to be the face of the game. Big deal.

EA, meanwhile, is championing its intriguing mode where you play as one player on the park, an introduction from last year that’s now being beefed up. That’s the kind of innovation we like to see.

That said, we’d be happy with a back to basics approach where Pro Evo is concerned, with the focus back on the gameplay as a whole rather than individual players’ gimmicks. We know that the graphics are getting a long overdue overhaul, and that’s fair enough, but it’s not where Konami has gone wrong. For years, we’ve accepted made up names, tatty graphics and the lack of EA glitz. But we’ve always had a great game to fall back on. PES 2008 was a shadow of its former self, with admitted touches of brilliance, but a big improvement is needed this time round to hold off the FIFA challenge.

We find out in October whether it’ll be up to the job…