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Pro Evolution Soccer 2009
Score: 75%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Konami
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Sports (Soccer)

Graphics & Sound:
For the last few years, Pro Evolution Soccer (formerly Winning Eleven) was the soccer game to beat. Although EA's offering managed to top the series when it came to presentation, Pro Evolution always managed to come out on top when it came to gameplay. That is, until last year when EA suddenly stepped up its game while Konami tripped. Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 doesn't do much to reverse last year's trend, though it does turn back the clock just a bit.

When Pro Evolution 09 first starts up, it looks good. The menus and front-end presentation have a nice, retro look to them that is appealing. Then you realize that the "retro" look goes beyond the menus; the entire game looks dated. Although the series has never been known for mind-blowing visuals, it is really easy to see how big the gulf is between Pro Evolution 09 and most other sports titles. Player models have a creepy, ashen look and move with all the grace of a G.I. Joe figure with rusty joints. Movements are absolutely wooden and, when taken with the passing mechanics, detract from the overall experience.

Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson's commentary is passable; it lacks the fire that is usually associated with soccer games. It feels really disjointed and lacks a sense of presence. In other words, it feels like videogame commentary rather than the real thing - something you want to avoid with a sports title. The soundtrack doesn't earn many points either.

Other than a new version every season, you can always expect a sports title to advertise a big, new mode or feature. This year Pro Evolution 09 brings out Be A Legend Mode, which is essentially the same "superstar" mode EA has been using in all its games for a few years. You create a player, choosing his physical attributes as well as things like celebrations. If you have a PlayStation Eye, you can even use your face, which is kind of cool even though the end result is sort of creepy.

Once your player is ready, you can stick him on a team and play, though the experience is pretty lackluster. It's understandable that you can only play one position, but it would be nice to actually feel like part of the team sometimes. The A.I. can be a bit of a ball hog, so it is rare that passes will come your way - or at least it will feel that way. Your player's skill attributes are developed during scrimmages, though these drag on way longer than they should. Once you make a team, there's little incentive to perform; there are no rewards for going above and beyond other than the chance to move up to another squad, something I was able to do even with my mediocre performances.

The online version of Become A Legend is a little more rewarding, making it a much stronger offering. The rewards aren't anything special, but they're enough of a "brag tag" that they provide some sort of motivation.

Another new mode is UEFA Champions League, which is Europe's biggest club tournament. This is a pretty big "get" for Konami and the series, and it goes all out with a great TV-style presentation. However, several teams aren't in the game, though this is something Pro Evolution fans have likely come to accept by now. Everything can be edited, including team names and stadiums. There's even an option to import images such as club emblems.

Despite a few questionable mechanics, Pro Evolution Soccer 09 is still fun. Games feel much quicker and have a more frantic feel, which is something I can appreciate as a non-fan. At the same time, there's a disparity between the pacing of the animation, gameplay and even the player. All of the animations are canned and want to run through their cycle at a certain pace, meanwhile the game wants to push things along a little faster, while the player wants to slow things down. This can lend an erratic feel that doesn't ruin things, but can be disorienting.

Player A.I. is decent, though opposing A.I. usually seems a little more alert than your own players. When you have full control over your team, the difference isn't noticeable, but you can only switch players so fast so you can expect to lose a few loose balls to your opponent.

Game Mechanics:
One great thing about Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is that it is incredibly accessible, even to people like me with minimal knowledge of the sport. The general pacing is quicker than FIFA, though when compared to last year's game, Pro Evolution 09 is a slower game overall. Although it is easier to pass, there's a certain sense of predictability when it comes to passing. The ball seems to launch between players with laser accuracy - something that defies even the most basic laws of physics. Even errant passes will make like the JFK bullet and slightly alter direction. When taken alongside the choreographed animations, ball movement gives Pro Evolution 09 a "canned" feel.

Although online play is available, getting online is a pain. Unlike the 360 version, which allows players to jump right into games, PS3 owners need to register a player ID with PSN as well as Konami. I'm not sure why Konami insists on doing this, but it isn't worth the hassle, especially since most games are plagued by lag.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is a good game, though it is clear that it is quickly losing its footing as king of the hill. The new modes are great, but in the end, they just come off as window dressing and back-of-the-box bullet points. Soccer fans who like the game's faster, arcade gameplay (or absolutely refuse to make the jump to FIFA) have a reason to pick the game up, but the series is in serious need of a retooling if it wants to hold onto its top spot.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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