|System: X360, PS3, Wii, PS2, PC, PSP||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Konami||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Konami||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Nov. 11, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
Lucky Win-Win Goal
by Jonathan Marx
Pro Evolution Soccer is the best-selling footie franchise in the world. Known for its supple control and massive modding community, PES has won a special place in the hearts and minds of world football fans.
Unfortunately, jumping to current gen consoles has been a difficult transition for the franchise. Last year's outing was a major step down for the series and this year's is only marginally better. It seems like the Japanese-made soccer franchise has lost something in translation. New additions like the famed UEFA Champions League license and an improved friendly A.I. go a long way to making it a more enjoyable experience. However, one can't help but get the feeling that Konami is trying to follow in the footsteps of EA. The problem is, they're unable to execute upon this strategy with nearly as much finesse and polish.
Thankfully, PES 2009 is still enjoyable to play. The passing game has been tweaked just enough to make anyone Brazilian samba-slick. I loved the intelligent runs made by my teammates, and getting through-balls to them with a perfectly weighted pass is a dream. Crossing has also been vastly improved. Sending in high, low, and ground crosses takes a bit to get used to, but the end result is usually lethal; crossing the ball into the box will always challenge the defense and keep them on their toes. This emphasis on possession play is both satisfying and extremely effective. PES 2009 is definitely better than the series' 2008 edition, and it even manages to somewhat outplay the competition. By far, the friendly A.I. and the forgiving passing mechanic are the most interesting aspects of this title, though much of the simulation feels is lost due to the uber passing-friendly gameplay.
Moreover, there is a significant learning curve when it comes to controls. In fact, I would consider the controls to be brutal. Sure, it's easy to casually dribble, make short and long passes, execute a through-ball, and get a shot on goal. But, if you really want to compete online, mastering double and triple taps, holding down modifier buttons, memorizing button combinations, and executing feints, challenges, and give-and-go's with perfect timing is absolutely essential. The control layout is incredibly complex and frustrating and will take at least ten hours of getting your butt handed to you before muscle memory truly begins to set in. As such, PES 2009 is not for the casual footballer. This game truly takes a commitment from the gamer.
Control pitfalls aside, there have been a couple modes added to the mix. The all-new Become a Legend is very similar to FIFA's Be a Pro feature. Gamers create their own player by tweaking all the vital statistics, and then set off to play as an individual star. However, like what plagued EA's attempt, soccer just isn't made for such a mode. It can get rather boring making unused runs and watching the game being played around you, and constantly calling for the ball kind of defeats the purpose of taking on a specific role. Thankfully, Become a Legend mode does allow you to bring your star online. This serves to bolster the mode and make it worthwhile, even though playing by yourself can be mighty boring. Playing online with up to three other friends can be a lot of fun, but points are awarded for individual prowess on the pitch, so ball-hogging can be a significant issue. What's more, you will still be playing against the same A.I. you were whilst balling alone. Not being able to play against human competition is a decided detriment to this mode of play.
Of course, the Master League mode is still in full effect and provides for an engaging career mode. However, it is no longer the star of the PES show. That distinction goes to the exclusively licensed, UEFA Champions League mode. This tournament of tournaments does a great job of capturing the essence of European football. Playing the best teams in Europe with full licensure is a much needed addition for Konami's franchise. Unfortunately, not all teams and individual leagues are fully represented. This has been a constant critique of the series as a whole, and one where EA has always had an advantage. Though the Champions League comes with all the fanfare and trappings of the actual competition, key teams are missing, which hampers the overall experience.