After last year's good, yet disappointing PES 2008, Konami have to win over the mass market and hardcore fans with their latest edition. EA's stranglehold on team/player/stadium licenses immediately puts pressure on PES 2009 to placate those who refuse to play with Man Red at the St Bristol Mary stadium. Thankfully, the edit mode is back, which means you can create badges, kits and players from scratch. And with the capture of the Manchester United and Liverpool licenses - sans stadiums - and the Champions League competition, the layman is partially catered for in this respect. But for everyone else, it's more of the same to a large extent.
Changes wise, the first thing you'll notice with PES 2009 is how much more measured the game plays. The zippy arcade feel has been substituted so now the game - like aging Hull City striker, Dean Windass - has a slower approach than previous seasons. This isn't to say that Ronaldo, Robinho and Walcott aren't still lightning quick, (more on this later), it just means that you need to be ready to make decisions a split-second sooner than you think. Hold onto the ball too long, with a defender charging in, and you're in trouble. Hammering a button and hoping it'll find the closest man isn't a sanctuary anymore. You'll need to have selected your target as the ball approaches and pass it off instantly or your player will just knock it into space under pressure.
Midfield technicians like Scholes will be able to bring the ball under control, swivel effortlessly and then pass to feet with ease but less able cloggers like Tom Huddlestone will struggle with this play. The same goes for dribbling. Pick the ball up with Messi and you can really torture defenders simply by switching directions with the D-pad. These organic controls (now with the Marseille Roulette on D-Pad, confusingly) allow you to leave defenders in knots when performed with quality dribblers before bursting off with a sprint that will leave defenders trailing. But try this with Bouba Diop, for example, and the big lad will struggle and lose possession. This adds another layer of individualism to each player that EA simply can't match, and is another reason why PES will always be the footballer's football game.
But, while the current FIFA rights some of the wrongs in terms of the series' shooting mechanics Konami take a step backwards with theirs. With the new laborious approach, getting a shot off can be a frustrating affair. Cracking home a Stevie Gerrard thunderbolt from outside the area doesn't happen very often due to a combination of psychic defenders who are on the scene in nanoseconds, and too much dallying required to get the ball under control. Shots from distance are equally annoying too. Ping one in from further than 18 yards and, more often than not, the ball will suddenly fill with helium and head into the heavens. And some shots from certain angles in the box - no matter how much you try - never seem to hit the target, never mind the back of the net. It's initially jarring to get used to this new scheme but you eventually will with a little patience and practice.