After last year’s good, yet disappointing PES 2008, Konami have to win over the mass market and hardcore fans with their latest edition. EA’s stranglehold on team/player/stadium licenses immediately puts pressure on PES 2009 to placate those who refuse to play with Man Red at the St Bristol Mary stadium. Thankfully, the edit mode is back, which means you can create badges, kits and players from scratch. And with the capture of the Manchester United and Liverpool licenses – sans stadiums – and the Champions League competition, the layman is partially catered for in this respect. But for everyone else, it’s more of the same to a large extent.
Changes wise, the first thing you’ll notice with PES 2009 is how much more measured the game plays. The zippy arcade feel has been substituted so now the game – like aging Hull City striker, Dean Windass – has a slower approach than previous seasons. This isn’t to say that Ronaldo, Robinho and Walcott aren’t still lightning quick, (more on this later), it just means that you need to be ready to make decisions a split-second sooner than you think. Hold onto the ball too long, with a defender charging in, and you’re in trouble. Hammering a button and hoping it’ll find the closest man isn’t a sanctuary anymore. You’ll need to have selected your target as the ball approaches and pass it off instantly or your player will just knock it into space under pressure.
Midfield technicians like Scholes will be able to bring the ball under control, swivel effortlessly and then pass to feet with ease but less able cloggers like Tom Huddlestone will struggle with this play. The same goes for dribbling. Pick the ball up with Messi and you can really torture defenders simply by switching directions with the D-pad. These organic controls (now with the Marseille Roulette on D-Pad, confusingly) allow you to leave defenders in knots when performed with quality dribblers before bursting off with a sprint that will leave defenders trailing. But try this with Bouba Diop, for example, and the big lad will struggle and lose possession. This adds another layer of individualism to each player that EA simply can’t match, and is another reason why PES will always be the footballer’s football game.
But, while the current FIFA rights some of the wrongs in terms of the series’ shooting mechanics Konami take a step backwards with theirs. With the new laborious approach, getting a shot off can be a frustrating affair. Cracking home a Stevie Gerrard thunderbolt from outside the area doesn’t happen very often due to a combination of psychic defenders who are on the scene in nanoseconds, and too much dallying required to get the ball under control. Shots from distance are equally annoying too. Ping one in from further than 18 yards and, more often than not, the ball will suddenly fill with helium and head into the heavens. And some shots from certain angles in the box – no matter how much you try – never seem to hit the target, never mind the back of the net. It’s initially jarring to get used to this new scheme but you eventually will with a little patience and practice.
Other than the Champions League there’s a familiar feel to the rest of PES 2009’s modes. The International Cup (read: World Cup), leagues, and exhibition games are all in attendance and, of course, with a new PES there’s a whole new Master League, right? Wrong. Save for the new loyalty indicator that signals whether a player is happy at a club or not – giving you an idea of how easy/hard it will be to pry a player away – everything is exactly the same. You can play as your favorite team with their current squad, or the default players like Huylens et al, or make your own club from scratch to compete in the make-believe league and that’s about it.
Konami haven’t even incorporated the Champions League into the Master League either, which seems like a strange use of the competition. We know EA have all the licensing power to make their career mode exciting and accurate but Konami need to come up with some great ideas for PES 2010 because this is starting to wear really thin. But, judging by their Be A Legend mode – a carbon copy of FIFA’s Be A Pro – it looks like they’re all out of inspiration for the moment.
Be A Legend could’ve been huge but instead it feels incredibly shallow and soulless. The gist is that you create a 17 year old player and work your way up from, say, Sunderland’s reserves to the first team and beyond to giants like Barcelona or AC Milan. We’re gutted that you can only improve stats by playing training games or the odd first team game when they could’ve used the training mode that’s already tucked away on the disk to create realistic challenges and sessions which concentrate on specific skills. Hell, they could even have brought back the challenges from PES6 where you had to hit targets in free-kick training to bring some excitement to the fore.
In return for this hiccup, KCET have added some neat animations to liven things up like a jumping back-heel flick or a little nod-down header to bring a lofted ball under control and still continue your run seamlessly. The weapon that we’re sure will get Seabass’s pants in a twist this year (he hates it when player’s ‘break’ the game) is the chipped through ball. It works like a dream as you laser-target a pass over a defense with the likes of Fabregas. Used at the right time, it’s impossible to defend against as back-peddling defenders often pull up or labor behind the attacker who’s already going full-tilt on goal. A sweeper will help stem the tide though.
Whilst PES 2009 looks better than ever (they’ve captured Ronaldo’s hateful, preening face to a tee) and the tweaked animations make it look more realistic than ever, we still can’t get our heads around the commentary, which is down-right bizarre. It’s Champion and Lawrenson back in the hot-seats and their scripting is dreadful. Comments like ‘These two managers will share a bottle of wine after this, but now for some whining’ or ‘the half-time lottery was won by chief of police today’ are two of the most insane remarks that they spout. Their delivery is so dry you can almost hear them choking on grains of sand. There’s an unintentional humor to the banter, which will have you laughing out loud the first few times, but after a couple of sessions it’s just terrible.
Despite the lack of movement regarding the new modes, licenses and Master League improvements, PES 2009 is still the game that will have you coming back for more. Look past all the awful commentary, and disappointing Be A Legend mode, and you’re left with a title that delivers the most complete footie experience to date. Rest assured, PES 2009 is back to its best on the pitch. Let’s just hope that Konami can add some fresh ideas for next season.
Oct 16, 2008