Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 PS3 review

The football game you could always bank on returns to do battle with FIFA. And, for the first time in donkeys, it loses...

Let’s deal with the familiar problems first. The player and team names are all over the shop here, with a mixture of official licences sitting across fudged creations that are inspired by, but absolutely aren’t, the real things. The graphics too, while improved, are some way behind FIFA. And the commentary team frequently feel like they’re watching an entirely different game to the one they’re describing to you.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is, however, a cautious return to form for Konami’s football franchise, even if it displays the hallmarks of a puppy that’s been kicked around the year before, and is thus sheepishly returning to its basket, only making tentative steps forwards. For this is as risk-free an approach as Konami could have taken after the battering it got for last year’s Pro Evo 2008 (which was still a good game, but undeniably a misstep for the franchise).

It’s also mainly about fixing things. The speed has been brought down a little. Strikers aren’t quite as good. Penalties are back to normal. Set pieces are no longer an easy way to smash in reliable, regular goals. Dribbling has been curtailed. And the game itself feels a little tighter.

What it doesn’t feel, though, is that it’s moving forward particularly. While the fixes outlined above are welcome, Konami seems to be content to allow Pro Evo to be a pacey jaunt around the park. It’s still imbued with the assorted skills and tricks that the franchise is famed for, but unlike this year’s FIFA game, it’s less vital that you use them to break teams down. That said, if you do take the time to learn them, then you can put together – quite frequently – some terrific moves, and the games flows exceptionally well. It’s good to see the game’s AI spotting gaps in your own defence too, and attempting passes to make the most of them.

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Most matches in Pro Evo 2009, however, still end up being very end to end, and goals are still in abundance. We’re not quite at the level we were last year, but the old days of PES matches being tactical battles, or midfield quagmires, really do feel some time ago now, and this latest version does little to address that. FIFA is where it’s at now if you’re looking for the more tactical, thoughtful football game, and that has all the official teams and likenesses too (even if the close ups of players in that game makes them look like George Romero extras).

All said though, Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is very good fun to play, more so than last year’s edition. In fact, at times it’s just hard to resist, so flowing and fluid does the football tend to be. Compared to FIFA, pulling off a good tackle is easier, long balls are simpler to direct, and pulling a save out of the keeper is likewise not the challenge that EA has served up. There’s a real energy to it all, too, and while you accept that realism has been sacrificed as a result, if you take things simply on a videogame level, then Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is a quite arcade-feel, at times majestic piece of entertainment.

Off the pitch is still a little problematic. The menu systems have been smartened up, and there’s the addition of a Champions League mode – replete with dodgy music – and the Be A Legend segment, where you take on the role of a single player. This isn’t as polished as EA’s FIFA version, that was introduced last year, but we look forward to seeing it develop in the years ahead nonetheless. And then there’s those player names and licences, which really, surely, need to be sorted out.

There hasn’t been much tweaking done to the main Master League mode, and you still have two-legged cup ties early in the season when you don’t want them. We still found it to be the best way to play through the single player iteration of the game though, even if our desire to battle through to the top seems to temper a little year on year.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is, though, the game that Konami perhaps needed to put out, and get out of its system. It’s as much a statement that things are getting back into place at Seabass, and that the series is finally back heading in the right direction. It’s a minimal gaming improvement on the Pro Evo games in the first half of the decade (PES 4, which we tested prior to this review, just seems to play better), you could argue. But it is this year’s choice for faster, easier on-pitch action, and leaves Konami with a better platform to build on for next year.

The real problem? That FIFA has just managed to overtake it. And, you feel, that Konami has some real work on its plate to match the momentum of EA Sports’ football rival.

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4 out of 5