PES 2009 is under pressure, and Konami knows it. It knows that last year's effort was a disappointment, suffering from technical problems and complaints surrounding the more arcadey gameplay. PES fans want, indeed demand, better. And if they don't get what they want then it may, dare we say it, be time to switch over to the dark side. But fear not virtual football fans. In Konami's behind closed doors booth at Games Convention in Leipzig we got our grubby mits on an Xbox 360 pad and challenged the Japanese publisher's UK representative to a few games and discovered that lessons have clearly been learnt.
The first thing we were told by the Konami rep is that the frame rate issues that plagued the last game are completely gone. Well thank God for that. Fans will remember that the PS3 version in particular suffered from game breaking slowdown whenever the action approached the penalty area. The Xbox 360 version wasn't without its problems either, although it was a much smoother experience. But the fact is that it was a stuttering, annoying mess.
Well it's all gone. Completely gone. We played match after match on the Xbox 360 version and didn't spot a hint of slowdown. It all runs in what looks like gorgeous 60 frames per second graphical goodness, which delighted us, and we're sure will delight anyone who loves the series.
It's all down, we're told, to Pro Evolution Soccer creator Shingo 'Seabass' Takatsuka concentrating almost exclusively on the 'next-gen' versions of the game this time around. He himself admitted in the wake of the wave of criticism that followed the release of PES 2008 that the team wasn't well equipped to deal with multiplatform development. Well, instead of deciding to get better at it Konami has simply decided to negate the issue by focusing on the PS3 and 360 versions of the game, putting the other versions on the back seat or indeed farming them out to external developers. The best thing? The frame rate issues have been completely eradicated from both versions of the game, our Konami rep assures us. So PS3 owners will have just as good a game of football as their 360-owning gaming cousins.
Which is great, because PES 2009 plays a better game. We quite liked PES 2008's gameplay, in that it was a lot better than Pro Evo 6 - the one with the overpowered Adriano. But 2009 feels even better. It actually feels more akin to Pro Evo 5, in that the speed of the game has been reduced and players are no longer the dribbling machines they have been in recent years. It's much harder to keep hold of the ball now, and, therefore, much easier to take the ball away by pressing. This forces you to think creatively with passing, much more than in recent years. No longer will you be able to bomb it down the wing, twisting up the entire opposition team before rifling a shot into the top corner. Now, you'll need to build up intricate moves, select your passing carefully (accurate passing is a lot harder) before threading the killer through ball. Creating space is of vital importance, because you're quickly hounded by the opposition AI.
Once you get into a scoring position, you'll find the keepers vastly improved. In our play tests we noticed that the keepers didn't fumble quite as many shots as in the last game. This is down to a GK AI improvement, but also better shooting. You won't always hit the ball straight at the keeper now, so scoring cheap rebound goals won't be as frequent.