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Three weeks after the home console release, we find out whether PES' pocket edition makes the net bulge...
- Become A Legend mode is promising.
- 2 vs. 2 online multiplayer for the first time.
- Online lag has been ironed out for the most part.
- The Champions League mode lacks substance.
- An auto-trick feature spoils the fun.
- Player animations are jerky at times.
Since PES 5, Konami has been working on a handheld version of its older brother on the home consoles. The road has been rocky but over time and through the usual yearly release format, Shingo 'Seabass' Takatsuka and his team have gradually sculpted a PSP game that's worthy of the much loved footy series. This year's title seems to have ironed out the last remaining hiccups from PES 2008 while adding some new features from this year's next-gen versions as well, offering up the most complete version of the game available on Sony's portable system.
Back In The Glory Days
The gameplay is much the same as last year. It's a whittled down version of what we've become accustomed to on the home consoles, with Konami's control setup for the main game being fairly agreeably trimmed down to fit on the PSP layout. However, the lack of a second analogue pad and additional shoulder buttons does minimise some of the gameplay's depth. With the shoulder buttons' responsibilities being simplified down to cursor and dash dribble commands, the intricacy of medium speed and double-dash dribbles as well as the game's mid-air jostling system are essentially lost. Likewise, the amount of skill moves you can pull off is limited to the likes of scissor moves and feints. There is the option to use the analogue stick for manual passes (this can be adjusted from the button configuration menu), but it's inadvisable. Player movement from the PSP's d-pad is square at best and unresponsive at worst, leaving analogue pad control as the only viable option.
It's certainly not ideal, but it does still feel and play like PES. In many ways it's a pure experience that eliminates some of the clutter that the last few years of home console games have taken on board. The PSP version reminds us very much of our early PES days, sitting down with a PS2 way back in 2001. It was a simpler time, when lobbing the keeper was a feat to be applauded and sweeping two-touch football was enough of a challenge to keep you hooked. It's a long haul from what the modern PES game has turned into, where players are more concerned with getting Ronaldo to skin multiple players using a cocktail of flick-flacks, Marseille turns, and step-overs.
But enough of our rose-tinted reminiscing. In addition to a control setup that does the job, PES' footie gameplay is also well translated onto a UMD. The game's fiery pace is still evident; ball physics and player balance still work well together to determine whether a shot screams off your player's boot; one-twos, chip through balls and crosses offer up enough attacking variations to keep things interesting, while dash dribbling down channels and fighting off defenders retains the end-to-end style of a PES game. All the basics that we know and love the series for are there and the AI is fairly sharp for the most part too, although an AI team's back four will occasionally part like a Moses harassed Red Sea for no apparent reason.
As we mentioned, this was all present in last year's game. What Konami has managed to shore up are some of the framerate issues that had previously dogged the game. PES 2008 on PSP had a tendency to suffer some mildly debilitating slowdown in the final third. As tends to be the case in games, it always happened when the action was at its most furious. You need a solid framerate at this point in a footie game more than in any other game (just imagine how annoying a choppy display is during a scuffle for the ball in the five-yard box), so we're glad to say that this year's PSP game has solved these framerate issues and the action is silky smooth throughout.
Another pleasing inclusion is the Become A Legend mode from the next-gen versions, which allows gamers to play-out the career of a single football player through over 15 seasons of the beautiful game. Players' stats improve and they receive better contracts from bigger teams as they progress by putting in good performances in matches and receiving high ratings. The mode has been cut down a bit for handheld play, with your rising star starting off on the bench (rather than on the reserve squad as in the next-gens), but it's still a fairly mammoth mode that adds a vast side portion of content alongside the usual Master League, Training, and Cup/League competitions.
The options for editing your Become A Legend player are actually surprisingly deep. Generally speaking, the range of options from the next-gen version are still present, although there tends to be less variations within these options (e.g. instead of there being 100 hundred goal celebrations to chose from there are only a handful). We were fairly pleased with the game's camera as well, which opts for a similar pitch level player trailing style of the next-gen games. Its transitions aren't quite as smooth as the next-gen game though and the angle often won't swing around fast enough when you're in possession of the ball, leading to opposing players nabbing it from you before you have time to react.
We were slightly confused by Konami's decision not to include the official European Champions League mode from the next-gen versions in this PSP game though. Granted, we weren't too impressed by this feature when we reviewed the main game last month, but it still seems a bit weird to pay for that license and then not include as many platforms as possible. On the upside, Konami has included the increased number of licensed teams that were in the Xbox 360 and PS3 game, which now includes most of continental Europe as well as Liverpool and Man Utd. from the Premiership.
As with the gameplay, the graphics in PES 2009 on PSP retain the same visual craftsmanship of last year's game. The odd character has been re-designed here and there (we noticed a slightly more quiffy haired Frank Lampard), but overall it's the same offering. For those who didn't play the 2008 game, the graphics were pretty impressive for a handheld footie title and look like the first PES game on the PS2 in the same way that this handheld game plays like it. Player models do appear overly chiselled at times with webbed hands, but Konami's shot on goal definitely finds the back of the net on the visual side of things.
Sound is a slightly more desperate state of affairs unfortunately. The PSP version doesn't even have half decent commentary from Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson to save it (as the home consoles did), as the only time commentary plays a part is when you score a goal and Jon Champion says a hyperbolic one-liner like "Oh! That was magnificent!" This leaves the awful (and I really can't emphasise how awful in words) soundtrack, which may as well have been taken from a local battle of the bands competition in Plymouth.