Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 PS3 Review

Perhaps its complacency to blame as to why some fans of Konami’s annual football series have jumped ship and now have a new first choice of football games, that being the always improving FIFA. In comparison, the Pro Evolution Soccer series is now looking grey and wrinkly and in need of a makeover, although as a standalone game, it’s still the kind of fast paced fun that loyalists should be very comfortable with.

But even these loyalists can’t really fail to say that Pro Evolution Soccer is looking a little on the creaky side, particularly if they’ve played FIFA 09, which has once again went to great lengths to become the best football game that money can buy, and as I said in my review, I think all the effort has really paid off for the talented folk at EA Canada.

As unfortunate as it may be, Pro Evolution Soccer hasn’t exactly had the overhaul that some may have expected. The animations are looking stiffer and more robotic than ever, the visuals are little more than slightly above average (at least there’s no slowdown on the PS3 version this year), and the ball physics are perhaps a little too weighty for their own good, simply put, FIFA has now become the benchmark and Konami‘s series is beginning to be shown up like a house that needs badly painted in a terrace of freshly coated buildings. But enough comparisons and less of the negativity, Konami still knows how to make a great game of football.

So, what’s new then?

For starters, the weather and condition of the ground is now taken into account for the solid ball physics, whilst tricks are more about the movement of the player as opposed to inputting fighting game like commands. The shooting looks as great as ever, and powerful shots really come off the boots of players with a net bursting purpose. It’s the same fast paced game that many people have been in love with for many years now, whether you like this or not, depends on how you feel about the series in its current and dated format.

As for options and licences, Konami have picked up the exclusive rights to the Champions League in a four year deal, which means that this major European competition has been included in its entirety, although, oddly it only appears as a standalone mode, meaning that the popular Master League is, once again, pretty much unchanged, a missed opportunity and a complete waste of the licence to say the very least. You’ll never forget that you are playing in the Champions League either, courtesy of the presentation and the theme music in the menu screens. Club licences are still an issue for Konami, although the edit mode has once again been improved. If you really care that much, you can alter the club and cup names to their proper ones, move players around into their current real life teams, edit kits and even import emblems. It’s just as deep as the dedicated football fan would want for a game that isn’t exactly rich on licences, although to be fair it does improve every year, with the securing of more names, and this year Konami have announced a patch (currently dated for November) to add more team licences and to update some of the kits.

Moving on, the Become a Legend mode will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played FIFA’s Be a Pro and, less likely, the Fantasista mode in Japanese releases of past games in the Winning Eleven (that’s Pro Evolution Soccer’s name in its birth country, if you didn’t already know) series. Just like FIFA you take control of one player, although those who have the desire to be a rock in defence should play EA‘s game, as here you can only become either a midfielder or a striker. Don’t expect to be taking shortcuts and starting out as a fully fledged professional either, Become a Legend expects you to create a player from scratch (through a rather extensive toolset, and you can even add in your own face if you literally want to see yourself out on the pitch), in which your aim is to grow from a promising 17-year-old youngster into the kind of player that every club would be eager to snap up, at least until you reach the ripe old age of 35 anyway, it’s then that your legs start caving in, leaving retirement as your only option (you can opt to retire from the tender age of 27, if you’d prefer to be kind to your legs).

After signing with a club, you’ll start your career playing inter-squad matches, with the aim being to impress enough in order to get called up to, um, keep the bench warm (during the moments that you‘re a spectator you can speed up matches, if all you crave is some action). In my own professional debut match, after being introduced to the pitch at around the hour mark, I was delighted to score my very first goal for “Yorkshire Orange“, it was nothing less than a match saving equaliser as well. Playing well can earn you lucrative offers from bigger and better clubs (international call up may even be in your destiny), although playing badly can see you embarrassingly released from your contract, and you may then have to lower your sights a little as to who to play for.

Obviously, on the pitch, Become a Legend has a vertical camera that is closer to the action, and like FIFA’s Be a Pro you can request passes (AI players don’t really make stupid mistakes, so will only really pass the ball if you’re in a workable position), although if you’re a bit clueless as to where your player should be on the pitch when off the ball, holding down a button puts your player in the hands of the AI, which will automatically steer your “legend of the future” into the correct position. I myself prefer FIFA’s arrow system, although when you’re as comfortable in your chosen role as any decent real life player should be, all the movement can, of course, be left up to yourself.

The improved online play also gives you the opportunity to play – using your created player – with three other people in Legends mode. You don’t ever play against them, but rather you play on the same team, formulating attacks and leaving most of the defending to the AI, as you go up against a fully AI controlled team (it‘s a shame you can‘t play against another team of four players). The concept is, of course, similar to that of FIFA’s online Be a Pro mode, although as you can’t play in defence, it’s all about getting the ball up the field and combining quick attacking team play as you all hunt for goals (in a very unselfish manner of course, or perhaps you should just go back to the ordinary one-on-one matches if you really want the ball all to yourself). It’s great fun playing as part of a small team of human players and when combinations really come together it’s extremely satisfying, not only as a scorer but also as the all important architect, setting the ball up for a well positioned team mate. A two against two mode is also a lot of fun, although sadly this can’t be played with two players on a single console, and whilst the overall performance of the online mode has been improved over the previous release, bouts of lag can still be distracting at times.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is a great game that doesn’t take any real risks, although I still feel that the series could do with an overhaul to make it feel like a game that would only be possible on the two most powerful consoles on the market rather than a mere spruced up PS2 game. All the brand new modes in the world (as good as they are) can’t save Pro Evolution Soccer from feeling overly dated, with that said, perhaps some freshening up is overdue.

Maybe next year.