Pro Evolution Soccer - Will You Take Home The Cup?

December 15, 2008

Konami’s latest iteration of its award-winning soccer franchise arrives to renew its battle with EA’s FIFA series for the title of best footie game. Formerly Winning Eleven, it had a chokehold on the sport for several years, but recently the franchise has fallen on complacent times. Does it put in the performance required to take home the cup? Or should you send it to the showers?

Pro Evo comes equipped with several different modes to whet your soccer appetite. The UEFA Champions League option lets you select a squad and compete in Europe’s elite club tournament. You can select a one-off match, or play though the group and knockout stages to bring home the trophy.

Become a legend mode allows you to take control of one player and guide them through the ranks of the game from the age of 17, until retirement at 35. You can customize your player’s appearance, position, and foot preference before starting your career on some podunk team in the soccer wastelands. From there you can either stay with the team and become a big fish in a small pond, or take a chance and accept moves to bigger and better clubs, where you have to fight to even get a place on the bench. As you play more games your stats increase and more clubs will want to sign you. You may even get selected for your international team.

While this is a great concept, and adds longevity to the game, be warned. Early on you will only get to play tedious training matches. It’s also important to select your position well, as playing as a striker or goalkeeper can lead to spending 70 percent of the match watching the ball pinging about in midfield as you pray for some action.

Legend mode is online only, and allows you to take your player from the become a legend mode and play with up to three other players against the CPU. Your players are then rated and given a score based on completed passes, saves, or any other stat that’s pertinent to his position.

Master league is the real single-player meat of Pro Evo 2009, and that’s saying something. The object is to build a team to win league and cup matches over consecutive seasons. To succeed, you must adjust tactics and formations, keep the cash flowing by winning trophies, nurture young talent, and man the waiver wire. Most players will be spending the bulk of their time playing master league, and while it’s fun, the management side is far too simple compared to FIFA 09. It doesn’t even begin to approach Worldwide Soccer Manager.

If you had a checklist of modes and options for a soccer game, Pro Evolution would satisfy most of them. There’s plenty to do, but there’s nothing revolutionary. Pro Evolution does have an official license this time around, but that amounts to just 13 clubs. Compared to FIFA, it’s no contest.

The one area where the Pro Evo series has always surpassed any other game has been in the sheer fun the gameplay provides, and this one is no exception. The game offers a multitude of tricks and touches that are initially tough to master, but once you’ve got the hang of a few of them, the gameplay improves significantly.

The act of dribbling the ball past an opponent then whipping a cross in to the striker and then scoring with a diving header definitely gives you a sense of achievement and makes all the time spent mastering step-overs, jinks, volleys, crosses, and through balls thoroughly worthwhile.

Practice makes perfect, and in this game you will have to practice a lot. The aforementioned tricks require a high level of dexterity, and will leave a lot of casual players cold. Those who view the beautiful game as a simple one, and hate the over complication of what should be very straightforward will not be impressed.

The game offers several skill levels, and they range from dumb as a brush to insane. Finding that fine line between winning 17-1 and getting your cleats handed to you is tough

The Pro Evolution Series, in all its iterations, has always been known for its lean, mean, and downright unfriendly user menus. It’s the same deal here. Graphically, Pro Evo 2009 is also behind the times. The player models are inconsistent. Some players are immediately recognizable, while others are only roughly accurate. The signature scoring celebrations of a lot of the players have been faithfully replicated, but that’s as far as the authenticity goes.

Stadiums also suffer the same fate. There are just 20 to choose from, some of those aren’t even real. We hate to keep going back to it, but it’s yet another level of realism that you find in FIFA 09 but not in Pro Evolution.

Finding the right camera angle can also be tricky. There’s a close, side view that lets you see the players better, but it’s impossible to see the big picture. There’s also a much wider view, but it’s so far pulled out that it makes timing your tackles much more difficult than it should be. What’s most troubling about the presentation is that the same animations have been reused once again. It’s definitely time for an upgrade.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is a good game, but not a great one. The more players demand by way of stats, management options, and formation flexibility, the more this franchise gets left behind. Having a limited selection of real teams playing in a fabricated league just doesn’t cut it anymore. The gameplay remains as a solid foundation, but that can only take a game so far.