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Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 (Playstation 3)

Featuring some fairly significant additions, such as the UEFA license and a new mode that lets you create and use your own player, Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 is an excellent sports title that offers plenty of depth, excellent controls along with better opponent AI. PES 2009's comprehensive selection of modes offers superb variety for players of all stripes, whether you're looking for a quick match between rivals or a deeper simulation mode where you can do all-in on the details. It's a fairly excellent soccer game and delivers some intense gameplay and deep strategy as well. While PES 2009 isn't as flashy as FIFA, it retains the solid play-mechanics that have made the series so popular with players.

Konami's soccer games have always have an incredible feel dating back to the Winning Eleven days,and this year's installment on Playstation 3 is no exception. While numerous changes and enhancements have been made, the core gameplay remains solid, intuitive and fun. The controls and play mechanics are quite solid and its fast action and excellent pacing makes up for the lack of flash with solid game mechanics and plenty of depth that should please hardcore soccer fans. Once you get onto the pitch, you'll find the familiar play mechanics that make passes, crosses and set-up plays so intuitive in this series. The controls haven't changed much which should let most players get up to speed almost immediately. PES 2009 is just as intuitive and easy-to-play as previous games, though setting up shots and aiming has been simplified considerably on the PS3 thanks to its smart implementation of the dual analog pads, where the left stick moves the player and the right one aims the shot. This configuration makes things very easy on the field and allows you to play without much though. Players wishing to use a more traditional button system will find this implemented as well. Overall, the game looks and plays quite smoothly with pacing and function very similar to last year's installment. One of the subtle changes that you might notice is the increased difficulty in the AI mechanics, where your opponents will more aggressively charge and tackle you. The increased pressure makes things more difficult, but ultimately more satisfying. A deep layer of tactics and techniques underlies the action, and you'll need to study and counter your opponents' moves on and off the field as well. The solid gameplay mechanics extend to individual players as well, with each having their own strengths and weaknesses. Getting the right players to the perfect locations isn't always easy, but it pays off when the situation falls in your favor. Its this detailed and sophisticated approach to soccer that makes PES so appealing. From a gaming standpoint, this installment delivers what players have come to expect from the series.

It doesn't have all the officially licensed teams and players that other games have, but PES 2009 has a number of high-profile teams including AC Milan, Manchester United, Celtic, Real Madrid and many other teams. You can also edit your own teams to fill in any gaps, though its time consuming to make up kits and enter your own rosters. Even though the team logos and kits might be slightly different, the game compensates by including an impressive roster of licensed players. Big names like Beckham, Ronaldo and Kaka make appearances in PES 2009, which gives you access to plenty of professional soccer players on your team. While its not as logo heavy as other soccer titles, PES' most significant change this time around is its use of the UEFA Champions League license, which adds an entirely new mode of play where you can compete in this world famous tournament with your favorite team and see how your squad compares against the elite clubs. It makes for a much deeper and more satisfying experience overall, with the enhanced production values and added dramatics spilling over to the rest of the game as well.

Adding to the UEFA mode, you can choose from a number of traditional PES modes including Practice mode, where you can build up your skills, League mode, where you compete over a season. There's also the usual expected Single match, and Cup modes that allow you to play either a short tournament against other teams in your bracket. You can also create and customize your own leagues and championships, which adds to the game's replay value. All of this builds successfully on the previous installments, but Konami hasn't stopped there. The biggest new addition to the game, from a gameplay standpoint, is PES 2009's Become a Legend mode. This is an exciting mode that allows you to create your own player from scratch. You can customize their appearance, set up their position and build up their skill sets. Once created, your avatar can, compete in matches with your club, go up the ranks depending on your performance on the field. It marks a nice change of pace from the team-oriented gameplay in previous titles, and it's a bit challenging to hold back in your position. You have to be careful not to make a mess of things and not get in the way, since you're being watched by scouts for other teams at all times. As you compete in matches in this mode and add to your skills, you'll be rewarded with better contracts and transfer offers. Once you've created your character, they can be used in many other modes of play and you can even use them online against other players. The system in this mode is well designed, with easy to navigate menus making it easy to track your progress. PES 2009's player creation system is somewhat similar to the Pro mode in EA's games, but it's not as elaborate, but this still offers a deeper sense of identification between the player and the onscreen character.

In addition to these standard single player modes, you can compete against other players online using the Network mode where you can set up and play matches with players around the world. Matches are easy to set up and play using the onscreen menus and lobbies, and the games unfold at an excellent pace that delivers the same level of excitement you'd expect from a console game. PES 2009 also offers a deep, simulation style of play with its Master League mode where you can compete over the course of a season against other teams both on the field and behind the scenes using transfers and trades. Before each match begins, players can set up a variety of options including formations, length of matches, rosters and positions in addition to weather and difficulty settings to name just a few. This gives you plenty of flexibility and allows you to play the game in whatever style you like and allows you to experiment with different formations and strategies to figure out which one best suits your team's abilities.

From a visual standpoint, PES 2009 might seem a little plain in comparison to other sports titles. Its character models are decent but not spectacular, though there's a noticeable improvement from the last installment. Players will find a good selection of camera angles ranging from wide views to close-range angles which allow you to either look from a larger perspective or go zoom in on the pitch to see the action close. To compliment the new Legends mode, PES 2009 implements a decent on-field camera angle that allows you to see things from the player's perspective, though this suffers a bit from sudden changes in angle which can be distracting. There isn't an extensive amount of flash, but PES 2009 does have an impressive replay feature, that allows you to view and save the more exciting moments in your games. In addition, the commentary is fairly solid and the game's character models look and move realistically. PES 2009 looks decent with good production values that show some improvement from last year's installment, but don't exactly push the hardware. Overall, PES 2009 delivers a solidly entertaining soccer experience that captures the intensity and strategy of the professional game. It's excellent gameplay mechanics are easy to learn and sophisticated, making it easy to pass, dribble and shoot the ball up and down the field. An excellent selection of modes range from quick, on field action to simulation modes and the addition of the UEFA Champions League and player creation modes add depth to what was an already solid franchise. Comparisons between PES and FIFA are inevitable, but both games seem to target different audiences. FIFA emphasizes flashy moves and style while PES takes a more grounded, realistic approach. This means that, in the end, both of these high-profile soccer titles wind up complimenting, more than competing with each other. 

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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