Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is a game that finds its publisher, Konami, licking its wounds somewhat. Last year’s outing was a bit of a mess, and a game that took three steps forward, four steps back. Courtesy of a dribbling mechanic that allowed you to dominate games with ease, and star strikers who employed special boots that ensured pretty much every shot went veering off towards the goal, the balance of play was significantly out of kilter. Add in the fact that the online play was broken and a good game found itself heavily diluted, while main rival FIFA continued to make up ground.
PES 2009, then, almost inevitably plays things safer, and spends much of its time fixing faults rather than adding much new of note. The game, as a result, is more tempered, with the match action slowed down a little and key skills proving to be less effective than they were. This is all necessary work and it does reduce the almost-nonsensical 6-4 scorelines that were commonplace last time around.
It doesn’t, though, take Pro Evolution Soccer back to the point where you had to fight really hard for your goals, in the time when a cracking 0-0 draw was as likely as a 2-1 result. That now seems to be FIFA‘s domain, as in all the time we were testing PES 2009 there wasn’t even a sniff of a goalless match.
Which, ultimately, helps to position Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 where FIFA of old used to be. It’s now the easiest of the two games to play, while still retaining depth to the range of moves on offer. But it’s also the least realistic in feel, opting for a more arcade-a-like zip around a football pitch.
That’s slightly harsh, to be fair, and the main game itself is still very good. It’s just not quite as vital any more. Still, it lets you get to grips with spraying passes around and pulling off some really exciting moves. Plus it’s easier to defend with Pro Evo than you’ll find with FIFA and the goalkeepers lag those of its rivals.
The commentary, we should note, is still hilarious, only seeming to match what’s happening on the virtual park by sheer coincidence.
Off the pitch things are still a little muddled, which doesn’t help. The Master League remains pretty much as it was last time we saw it, although the addition of a Champions League segment is welcome. But it’s all hurt, as usual, by the general lack of real team and player names. Sure, some teams are licensed, but many remain as ‘homages’ to their real-life counterparts. Konami really needs to sort this out.
All things considered, the company has made some inroads with PES 2009 but it’s done them by taking a few measured steps back rather than adding major new innovations. The big new inclusion, Champions League aside, is the Legend mode where you can play as a single player on the park. Yet FIFA introduced this last year and right now does a better job of it.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is still a very good football game. It’s just not the best any more, and needs to garner some serious momentum if it’s going to catch the resurgent FIFA. On current form, though, FIFA leading Pro Evo may be the status quo for some time to come.