Do you remember that old girlfriend you had, she was fantastic in bed but last year she got the clap and you broke up because of it? Well, imagine she’s just come back into your life, she’s all cleaned up and she wants to sleep with you again. Now you know how I felt when Nofi asked me to review PES 2009 for TSA.
You see, I used to love this series. I’ve owned every version of PES, going back to its ISS days. I even bought a copy of ISS for a friend’s SNES when I owned a Megadrive. That’s how much the franchise meant to me. Until last year. Don’t get me wrong, I bought it last year for the PC because reported framerate problems for the PS3 version were enough to give me cold sweats. The problem is this: Last year’s instalment wasn’t very good.
Now, I know that the football game debate can be just as divisive as the console debate (sometimes even more so in Europe) but it seems that even die-hard PES fans were unhappy about last year’s version so I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Konami dropped the ball. The question is, can Konami win back those jaded supporters that may have switched to the other side and reward those faithful followers who stuck by them in 2008?
I have been quite outspoken in my criticism of PES 09 recently. Let me point out that those comments were based on the demo that went up on the PSN Store and as we all know, sometimes a demo isn’t really representative of the full game. I can happily report that this is the case with PES 09 too, the demo was awful but the full game redeems itself in many ways.
Firstly, the presentation is good, the menus are uncomplicated and the whole thing slides along smoothly. Loading times are on the quick side of average and the look of the menu system is very nice. It looks like it has all been cut out with scissors and stuck on your screen with Pritt Stick. The music, long time cheese-fest in PES games, has been much improved. There probably isn’t anybody you’ve heard of on the soundtrack but at least it’s not all grating J-Pop rubbish. The menu sound effects are arcadey blings that you either like or you don’t but either way, they’re good, solid noises that let you know you’ve made something happen. The presentation of the Champions League mode (this year’s big license) is very slick, you even get the opening video from the TV coverage.
The on-pitch sound effects are another story. They’re pretty awful. Every time the ball is touched there is a generic thud that sounds like there isn’t enough air in the ball. Someone on TSA accurately described it as sounding like you were tapping a microphone. The crowd chants are limited. Sure, they have individual chants for some teams but they’re not varied enough and they sound like the crowd is actually about 40 people in a barn. Not good.
This brings me to the traditionally dismal commentary. As you would expect, it’s still not good. Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson return but they are just as badly scripted as they were last year. Lawro makes comments about the ‘keeper getting an operation to have his hands sewn back on and not being able to keep bees. It all sounds a bit childish and cheap. I can’t help thinking that the translation from Japanese into English could be better with some text in the game also being a little weird but then it was always like that and we forgave it.
The most important thing about PES has always been how it plays. We have been putting up with awful commentary and cheesy J-Pop for years because PES just plays like proper football. So what is it like this year? Well, it runs smoothly, no sign of framerate problems. Even the online play, although far too complicated with the Konami I.D. sign up process, is smooth and enjoyable. There is even the ability to send comments to your opponent. After a goal or a foul you press L1 and a little list of four possible comments pop up which are relevant to whatever just happened on pitch. You can goad your opponent or sympathise with them, it’s all quite fun.
The controls are responsive but limited in that you feel like you are restricted to moving in one of the eight traditional d-pad directions. Things don’t feel fluid a lot of the time, with passes needing to be recieved before the next animation takes place. The game plays like a series of set-plays that you have to string together but once you get used to this it is actually a very enjoyable experience. I found that if you put the camera on “Wide” and used the d-pad to control your movement it felt much more natural. The biggest problem with the way it plays is that the ball physics don’t seem quite right. The ball appears to be very heavy when it rolls but very light when it’s in the air. This leads to passes coming up short and shots sailing over the bar showing no signs of ever coming back to earth. Essentially, the only way I’ve found to ensure a good chance of scoring is to tap the shoot button and keep the ball low, otherwise it just flies towards the cheap seats.
The on-pitch animations are smooth and the players likenesses are realistic, possibly a little shiny-plastic looking but very close to the real thing. Tevez’s scars are even represented and Wayne Rooney does look like a spud, just like in real life. Kits are, in my opinion, better than any other football franchise this year. Yes, they are a bit stiff around the sleeves and yes, a lot of teams don’t have their real kits but this is not a huge problem because of this year’s best PES-related news: the edit mode is back!
Team names, stadium names, competition names, emblems, players and kits can all be edited to be just like the real thing. There is even an option to import a file for club emblems or shirt logos (sponsor) so you could make it in a graphics package on your PC (or download it) and import it in to the game. Edit mode was such a huge omission from last year’s game that PES fans will likely be skipping in the street to hear that it has returned, and it’s better than ever. You might not need it so much though because the player names are all correct. The only exception I could find was the German team, due to licensing restrictions they are all made-up players but no doubt there will be files with the real players on the internet within days and you can import edit data from file. Transfers are also outdated, which is disappointing considering there was a full six weeks between the end of the transfer window and the release of this game. If you want Berbatov, Robinho, Saha, Milner et al to be at their correct clubs you’ll have to move them about yourself.
Another comeback this year is the Legends mode, wrongly presumed by a lot of people to be a copy of FIFA’s “Be A Pro” mode. PES fans will point out that it was a feature a few years ago in the Winning Eleven series but others will remember “Libero Grande” and if you want to get fussy about it I clearly remember thinking it would be a good idea while playing “World Cup 94″ for the Megadrive so it’s actually my invention. You create a player, choosing from eight outfield positions (in midfield and attack) and start with a game for an unheard-of team where there are scouts from big clubs. You then get the option to choose a big team to sign for and begin your professional career. There is no on-pitch indicator telling you what position you should be in and no constant scale of how well you’re doing. It feels more like real football than the FIFA equivalent.
So to summarise, PES 09 is a well-presented, enjoyable game of football that suffers from a few issues involving sound and physics. If you loved PES 6 you will love PES 09 and in many ways I think this is the game’s biggest strength and, at the same time, its biggest weakness. PES 6 was the best football game of its time so it fills me with joy to see the series returning to that level of quality but at the same time, that level of quality is a few years old now and maybe PES’s competitors have moved forward in that time.