The 360 and PS3 versions of PES 2009 are disappointing. There's no two ways about it. In the same year that EA released the best FIFA ever made, PES 2009 seems distinctly last gen. How then, does the PSP version shape up to its supposedly more illustrious cousins? The answer is quite well, actually.
Just as the PSP version of PES 2008, which scored an admirable 8/10 when we reviewed it back in March, did. In fact, we'd be as bold to say that it shows them up. Why? Because it's got more to do with the PS2 version of PES 2009, which still feels like the lead platform for the series, than it has with the next gen versions.
PES 2009 on PSP plays great. The animations somehow seem better than on 360 and PS3. The gameplay is fluid, fun and addictive. It's not easy to dribble past players, it's not easy to create chances and it's not easy to score, which is just the way we like it. Yes, it doesn't look like much, but the graphical deficiencies are much less prominent on the PSP than they are on the PS3 or 360. Yes, the audio is awful, with a track list that'll have you bleeding from the ears and with commentary-less matches (apart from on goals) that make games feel like friendlies at the City of Manchester stadium. Yes, a complete roster of official licenses are still a distant dream. And yes, the lack of four shoulder buttons limits the scope for tricks and simply dribbling past players (double tapping the shoulder buttons triggers skills), but, overall, the PSP version of 2009 feels more like old school PES. It feels more like PES when it was great, when it was brilliant, when it was real football for real gamers.
For us, the best thing that's new with this year's edition is that, thankfully, Konami has eradicated the technical issues that made PES 2008 difficult to play. The crippling slowdown, seen whenever more than half the players are on screen at once, has been eradicated, making for smooth matches and accurate shots unaffected by enforced mistiming. The long loading is, once again, a frustration, but then that's a criticism of the PSP as a games platform rather than the game. Hilariously, taking free kicks quickly requires over five seconds to kick in.
Beyond that, the new features are pretty much carried over from the 360 and PS3 versions of PES 2009. The Become a Legend mode from the other versions of PES 2009 makes an appearance without any significant downgrading. Here, you control a single footballer in a career mode from a slightly befuddling camera angle that twists and turns depending on which direction you're pointing as if it's having an epileptic fit. Like in the other versions of the game, Become a Legend mode isn't that much fun and, once the novelty of only controlling one footballer wears off, you'll swiftly return to traditional matches.
Familiar game modes from the previous game return: Exhibitions, leagues, cups, training, edit mode, and the PES mainstay Master League all make an appearance, as well as the World Tour Mode, which is perfect for decent-length commutes. Here, one off challenges need to be overcome before you can progress to the next, like winning by a two goal margin. The World Tour is good for a laugh, and played on the hardest difficulty level can be satisfyingly challenging.
In a first for PES on PSP there's wireless support for one versus one matches online. Although most games are choppy with occasional teleportation, the lag isn't too bad. What's important is it's playable online, and, unlike 90 per cent of the handheld games we test online, you won't have a problem finding a game. Oddly there aren't any online leaderboards, despite the fact that you've got a rating, which makes every match you play feel more like a friendly than the epic encounter it should.
Perhaps even more mysteriously absent is the Champions League license Konami trumpeted in the run up to the game's release. This is particularly puzzling, given that it made it into the other versions of the game. We're not bothered by this omission in the slightest, though, since the license amounted to little more than a quick video of the Champions League entrance and that epic music. Liverpool and Manchester United are still the only officially licensed teams from the Premier League, as they are in the other versions. What's better is that the roster seems to be more up to date, with classy grump Berbatov at Manchester United and moneybags Robino at Manchester City.
PES 2009 is a better game than PES 2008, on account of the technical issues being ironed out and solid but basic online support, but, disappointingly, it's practically the same game. It's a roster update if ever we saw one. Because of that we can't recommend the game to anyone who has PES 2008. If you don't, however, you could do a lot worse than pick up perhaps the best version of PES 2009.