As a true Pro Evo fan it pains me to say that they have unequivocally failed to live up the challenge and have equally failed to provide an online experience equal to that offered by PES 6. Let us get the basics out of the way first. The graphics are functional but not what one expects from a current-gen console. Last generation player models and animation sets are not good enough, although player faces are impressive. There are some nice weather effects on show but overall the game still has the look of a PS2 title. The audio too is most unimpressive. They have made some strides in improving the crowd atmosphere with some real crowd chants. There is also support for custom soundtracks and importing of real crowd chants. However, and this will come as no surprise to fans of the series - the commentary is terrible. Why Konami can't see this and either hire new writers or spend money on better development is a mystery.
People have made a big issue of the fact that PES has lost a number of licences since the last game but for me that is a non-issue. Sure it is nice to play with teams with real kits and names but does it affect gameplay? No, not a bit. If it does bother you there are many option files available for download for both the PS3 and Xbox 360. In order to create these Konami has spent a lot of time developing the editing options in the game. It now boasts a pretty expansive editing suite were people with the time and patience will be able to spend many a happy hour creating their favourite players and teams.
Another area Konami has spent some time is the Become A Legend (BAL) mode. Viewed as a response to FIFA's Be A Pro mode, BAL actually predates the FIFA mode by a couple of years having been available in the Japanese version. BAL is a very substantial addition and very addictive and enjoyable too. Create your player, play in a trial game and sign a professional contract. Your goals are to break into the first Xl and keep your place. Then you need to worry about getting a move to a bigger club and playing for your country and finally becoming a legend in the game. It has an addictive quality as you feel you want to play 'just one more game' to improve your stats. Also the feeling of scoring a goal or getting an assist is greatly increased in this mode as you feel that you made the right moves to get into that position. You'll be punching the air after your first goal.
There are some niggles with this mode, mainly poor team-mate AI. Watch in tears of frustration as 99 times out of a 100 your winger will fail to deliver a ball into the box or a defender will hoof the ball for a throw in rather than play the simple ball to midfield. If you have patience though you can overlook these issues and you will get a lot out of this mode. The option to take your 'legend' online and play with up to three other 'legends' works very well, especially with some like minded players. Finishing off a free flowing attacking move with friends online is a sweet feeling.
The rest of the game however has been starved of such attention from Konami. Master League a staple of the series has been virutally untouched. Transfer negoiations have been speeded up. Really? Big deal. The Champions League is also a new addition but why is is not integrated into Master League? It seems the obvious thing to do really but that isn't Konami's style. At this point it must be said that despite the lack of innovation the actual gameplay is still perfectly fine. It plays just like every other entry in the series and is slightly slower in pace than last year. The controls are also nice and tight. There is a huge number of tricks that can be pulled off if you are willing to invest the time to learn them, adding a nice layer of depth to the game.
Now I have to address the online component of the game. I cannot find one justification for having to use the Konami ID system. Not only do you need a Konami ID but you also need a Game ID. It adds an extra layer of complexity when all you want to do is play online. The whole thing would not be so bad if the system worked smoothly but it does not. I regularly have to try at least five times to log onto the system. Once onine the lobby and match-room system is very badly designed and confusing.
How does it play online? Well I have found it to be fairly free of lag but not as smooth as it was for PES 6, which is unforgiveable. The AI on computer controlled team-mates online appears to be hugely compromised. The default difficulty when online is beginner and as a result online games are a goal fest. You will regularly watch in horror as your AI controlled defenders stand by and wave attackers through on goal. It makes for a very annoying and unrealistic game experience.
In summary the game plays very well offline and BAL is a very welcome addition. However the many online issues, a lack of innovation and a feeling that this is only a polished last-gen game means Pro Evo 2009 is found wanting in the face of fierce competition. Unless next years game is called Pro Revolution I for one will be giving it a miss.
There are some small graphical improvements over previous games but this is not how a current-gen football game should look. Player models haven't progressed from the PS2 era and animations are getting stale.
The comentary is as woeful as ever and utterly fails in comparision with FIFA. Some improvement in crowd atmosphere, a nice touch is hearing individual shouts. The soundtrack is improved from last year and support for custom soundtracks is a plus.
Controls are still nice and responsive. There is a good range of tricks to pull off and not easy enough to feel like a cheat. Passing has been improved, especially the manual pass option.
As a long, long time PES fan it hurts me to say that this is not the game I wanted. PES was supposed to come back with a bang but rather it has returned with a few minor improvements to core gameplay. This is simply not enough to recover from years of neglect. I simply cannot recommend this game when FIFA '09 is the competitor. For diehards only.