Review:Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (PC)

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009
Genre: Sports
Developer: Konami Digital Entertainment
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
Release Date:10/17/2008 (EU)
11/24/2008 (US)

I’ve been a fan of PES (aka Winning Eleven) ever since it first debuted as “Goal Storm” back on the original Playstation. It was a revelation at the time, with the ball considered a different entity than the player it boasted the most hardcore simulation of the beautiful game and continued to hold the title of “Football connoisseur’s game of choice” for years afterward. However, it recent years the series has been dogged by accusations of stagnation by its fans and the increasing quality of their main rivals, EA Sport’s FIFA series, which was almost always an also-ran in terms of quality (though EA’s giant sales machine and FIFA exclusivity gave it better sales). After a public apology last year from “Sea bass” (the game’s head designer) about the lack of originality in last year’s version, will Pro Evolution soccer return to form?

1. Story/Modes

The big addition this year is the inclusion of the formerly Japan-only “fantista” mode, dubbed “Become a Legend” mode in the English release. It’s basically a career mode where you control a single player throughout his career, starting out in the reserves of a small team before working his way up to the bench and then first team before signing a large contract with a world-class team.

This is usually my favorite mode in any sports game, who doesn’t want the chance to be the next Maradona and play alongside the greatest players in the world?

However, Konami botched it. The mode is the epitome of the phrase “bare bones”. You play matches, the game distributes your experience points automatically (you can influence it a bit though). Rinse and Repeat.

Yes, that’s all you do in “Become a Legend Mode”. No, you can’t spend your salary on cars or houses or get married and have kids or interact with your fellow team mates or coach in any way shape or form. You just play games over and over again.

How did Konami mess this up? Wasn’t this mode in the Japanese version for several years now? I’m miffed about this because Konami already released a game with very in-depth RPG modes. I’m talking about MLB Power Pros 2008 for Wii and PS2. That game boasted not one but two excellent RPG modes! Even if you say that’s a baseball game and doesn’t count, Konami already released a footy game with an excellent career mode in International Superstar Soccer 2000 back on the Nintendo 64, as seen here and here.

I do acknowledge that PES’ RPG mode is better than FIFA’s Be a Pro mode but it wins by default, not through any sort of quality.

The other new mode is the UEFA Champions League. Basically, it’s exactly the same as a regular league from previous games except now it’s got all these shiny UEFA skins and some extra lines of commentary before and after the match, very lame and lazy from Konami.

The Master league receives its yearly lick of paint to cover up its complete lack of improvement in any way, shape or form. The only addition is that players now have a “heart” meter which shows how much they love the club which effects transfer and contract negotiations.

All other modes remain unchanged.

Story/Modes rating: Poor

2. Graphics

Last year, the game received criticism over its graphics. The switch to HD and the multiple systems the game came out for (PS2,PS3,Wii,Xbox360,PC,DS) meant the lack of features in the facial editor which lead to a lot of “clones” running around the football pitch! In addition, the player’s clothes looked like wet plastic and the game crawled to less than 10 frames per second during replays which is a big no no.

Those issues have been mostly sorted out in this edition and all players look distinct. So you can tell Stewart Downing from Frank Lampard this time around.

Overall, the game looks decent and generally is on par with FIFA in this regard. However, in regards to the players’ kits, they don’t quite look as good as FIFA’s; whereas you could make an argument that FIFA’s kits look like cloth, in PES, they just look like textured polygons.

The player models however have received a bump in the number of polygons and the models look nice and smooth with impressive hair textures and even little details on things such as friendship bracelets, longer sleeves and gloves during winter matches and even the studs on the the player’s boots are nicely detailed.

The place the game takes a hit is in animations. Though they have increased the amount of animations from last year it pales in comparison to FIFA09. It is completely trumped in that regard since EA sport’s offering is one of the most smoothly animated games around while PES still looks like robots with human shells playing. This really detracts from an otherwise good looking game.

Graphics rating: Above Average

3. Sound

One of the recurring “features” in Pro Evolution Soccer is the crap menu music they have each year. But this year they have something different, good menu music! Now, I don’t really judge my sports game purchases on which game has better music during menus but if I did I would choose PES. The game still has no name bands playing but there’s a lot of indie rock and grunge and similar music which fits nicely with the stylish menus in the game and I really prefer it over FIFA’s licensed garbage.

The real important sound in sports game are the two sounds categories during play: commentary and stadium noise.

The first category is disappointing. Mark Lawrenson and Jon Champion return to do another season of this game and frankly they only have a few new lines this year and the same old problem of the commentary not matching up to the match. For example, I might miss the goal by 6 inches and they’d say “That’s closer to the corner flag! bad miss!” or when I hit the ball all the way up to Row Z they say “How close was that! Nice try!” which baffles me to no end.

They do deliver their lines well but with a certain lack of enthusiasm that really shows that it was recorded in a sound booth.

The stadium noise has been much improved this year but I didn’t notice it till I was playing Liverpool. Usually, in this game series stadium noises are fairly standard and you can’t make out anything of what the crowd is saying, but playing against Liverpool I noticed that the crowd was chanting something. I then realized it was “The Saints go marching in”! Other clubs also have chants too like the Manchester United fans chanting “United!*clapclapclap*United!” but there is two downsides to this.

First, only licensed clubs get these chants, which makes me wonder how Liverpool managed to get the copyrights to the “Saints go marching in”. This is bad because Konami has fewer licensed clubs than EA Sports.

Second, these chants are simply a loop, and very bad loops at that, they cutoff at awkward moments as though the whole crowd was silenced at once. Poor Show.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

4. Control/Gameplay

This area has always been Pro Evolution Soccer’s stronghold. FIFA always claimed more licenses and features but all that matters is their respective rendition of the beautiful game.

The gameplay you always expect from PES is still here but several tweaks have been introduced.

Dribbling has been changed drastically. To execute tricks in previous games you had to use the right analog stick to trigger them. In this game the players can introduce tricks into their movement using the movement stick.

This can either make or break the game for you. For a defensive minded player like me, this is terrible. A lot of emphasis has been placed on dribbling as your main offensive weapon and a defensive player like me who used to depend on fast counter attacks to score is going to be left impotent in attack since I can’t string together a 20 meter dribble if my life depended on it. On the other hand, if you love to dribble the ball past defenders then this should really spice up the game for you.

As a further blow to defense veterans such as myself, defense has been nerfed again. Sliding tackles are harder to execute and if you mess them up and get a foul be prepared to meet the all new stricter referee who isn’t shy about handing yellow and red like candy.

This is going to be frustrating for players like me. I can’t attack because I’m no good at dribbling and I can’t defend because dribbling is more effective and tackling is less effective than in previous years.

However, it’s not all bad news for us 1-4-5ers and our unattractive art form, goalkeepers have been improved in one on one situations and it’s harder to score because of a stat most people overlooked in previous games, Shot Technique.

For those that don’t know, shooting is determined by three attributes in PES. Shot Power, Shot Accuracy and Shot Technique. The first two are self-explanatory but the last one isn’t. It judges how well a player strikes the ball when in an awkward position, such as being unbalanced or pressured by a defender. You’ll see many shots which looked like an easy goal go wildly off target because your player was trying to shoot while running too quickly or being shoved around by a burly defender. This gives players like me some chance and more options in the defense, we don’t need to steal the ball, just make our opponent mess up his shot.

The aerial game has been toned down. Last year you could get many goals from corners and crossing so this has been toned down to more reasonable levels. Free kicks however are still very difficult to score from.

The long through pass has also been upgraded. Always a long shot in previous games, try a high through pass with (LB+Y) or (L1+triangle) when you’re stuck and you might be pleasantly surprised.

Master League is barely improved over last year; with the only addition being adding a heart meter to all players signifying their love for the team, plays exactly the same as always. It’s still a fun mode but Konami have to spice it up a little bit to make it truly engaging.

All in all, while people like me who would like to park 80% of their team in front of the goal and hoof it up to the strikers when they get possession and hope for the best might grumble a little, PES is still PES, for better or for worse.

Control/Gameplay Rating: Great

5. Replayability

There’s a lot to do in PES2009 but the fact is that we’ve seen and done them before several times.

The master league for example is a fun mode despite its lack of options but the fact is since the game has almost no improvements to its mode there is little to do here except win all the trophies and leagues you’ve already won for the past 5 years running.

Multiplayer is still fun and Pro Evo is still a very competitive game but if you’ve bought the game for a while now you’d know this already.

Replayability score: Poor

6. Balance

My comrades in the school of defense, this year we are again nerfed in an attempt to make up for the tight defensive game that was Pro Evolution Soccer 5 (My personal favorite in the series). In addition to harsh referees and the difficulty of executing sliding tackles as well as enhanced dribbling all take their toll in making this year a very attacking one. There are some lights at the end of the tunnel as mentioned above but overall, we’re screwed.

The Master League also harbors the same crushing flaw it always has. Three or four seasons into the league and you’ll have a dream team of stars that go several seasons without losing a game and swipe all major trophies without difficulty. They should add something like star players asking for way too much money therefore limiting how many you can have on your team (like in real life), deduct money for ground maintenance or have the ability to buy training upgrades or the like, anything to force you to spend more money and therefore have less money to spend on your players.

Balance rating: Poor

7. Originality

Originality has always been a weakness for all sports games but for Pro Evolution Soccer its one of its most glaring problems.

Sports games are criticized for being “yearly roster tweaks” and no game symbolizes this more than PES. I can count the major improvements this series has undergone for the past five iterations on one hand. The only change this year is a lackluster “Be a Pro Mode” and a worthless UEFA Champion’s League mode. The master league receives a heart meter and that is it. If you have bought a Pro Evolution Soccer game made within the last 3 or 4 years then there is no reason whatsoever to buy the 2009 version.

Originality: Dreadful

8. Addictiveness

Despite all the criticism I’ve lobbed against the game itself, it’s still got good gameplay (as mentioned in the gameplay section) and if you’ve got some similarly minded friends with you this game will keep you going for several rematches till you’re all too tired to play football. For football crazy maniacs like me, football is incredibly addictive and a game which attempts to recreate football as accurately as possible transfers that addiction onto itself. Always on top of my mind after watching a football match is “I’ve gotta play some PES to get more footy action!” which proves its addictive qualities.

However, I’ve been addicted to this game for what? 3 console generations now? I can only enjoy the same game so many times before it wears off and the lack of new material shows.

If a new master league comes up with additional features like interaction with your players, your fans and boardroom, club finances and stadium and training ground upgrades come along with a robust MLB Power Pros style RPG career mode, I probably won’t do the review because I’d be too busy playing the game to care about Diehard Gamefan!

But alas, the modes are not that robust.

Addictiveness rating: Good

9. Appeal Factor

Pro Evolution fans have always been far less than fans of the more mainstream FIFA franchise. The series more “simulated” feel and lack of licensed clubs and teams is a turn off to many.

Still, that doesn’t stop the game from boasting sales that regularly surpass one million units worldwide and have huge superstars to grace its boxart. Last year was Portuguese sensation Cristiano Ronaldo and this year we have Argentinean superstar Leo Messi. So the series is popular enough with the videogame crowd.

Well everyone except the American videogame crowd, who would rather play football with their hands.

Appeal Factor rating: Above Average

10. Miscellaneous

While it is true that the lack of licenses hurt this game, it ships every year with a robust edit mode that fans use to release unofficial patches which add official team, kits and balls amongst other things. In fact, here in Saudi Arabia, people have even released full Arabic translations of the game with teams from the Saudi Premier League and Arabic commentary!

Being on PC offers the easiest way to patch your game as well as add pictures for fantasy teams easily because you can just upload any old .jpg or .gif file from your computer and the game will recognize it as you can see from the screenshot here.

Also, last year’s player evaluation feature returns, still tucked deep inside the gallery menu, which gives you ratings for things like playmaking and sportsmanship. I still love that thing.

Miscellaneous rating: Very Good

The Scores
Modes: Poor
Graphics: Above Average
Sound: Mediocre
Control/Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Poor
Originality: Dreadful
Addictiveness: Good
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Very Good


Short Attention Span Summary

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is a decent update to last year’s edition but therein lays the problem, it’s just an update. No great attempt has been made to add groundbreaking new features of any kind and the “Become a Legend” mode is a good idea that is poorly executed. Konami really need to shape up and match the amount of self-improvement that’s been evident in the FIFA series for the past few years and is frankly the better game. Here’s hoping that next year will provide a truly next gen Pro Evo.



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