So round one to FIFA then. A hard fought victory it may have been, but FIFA's superior player fluidity, robustness and buffed visuals gave it the edge in the single-player and local multiplayer department over its more rigid, aesthetically inferior rival. Time then for the return leg, only this time it's PES's Legends mode taking on FIFA's 10 vs. 10 online multiplayer.
Let's kick off with PES's Legends. More modest in scope than EA's twenty-player offering, Legends allows you and three other players to slot into an otherwise AI-controlled team and take on opposition comprising of 11 computer-controlled players. Rather than controlling a real-life superstar, you must use your player from the single-player Become a Legend mode. Setting up a game is simple. Press the 'Auto Match-Up' button and wait for three other likeminded individuals to be plucked from cyberspace and plopped into your match. The process is usually fairly speedy (depending on what time of day you're playing), but more feedback regarding team-mate connections would have been welcome, as there's currently no indication of how long you may be waiting till you start playing.
Once four of you have been thrown together, one of you is appointed Leader and bestowed the honour of choosing the opposition and setting match parameters. After this you must all select a position. Bafflingly, you can't play in a central defensive role. Perhaps Konami assumed we wouldn't want to, or thought we lacked the competence and discipline to man a rearguard position for the duration of a match, but whatever the reasoning, playing as a stopper isn't an option. The flipside is you're regularly involved in attacking moves. With the AI taking care of defensive duties you can concentrate on getting into the right position for the next attack rather than stifling the opposition.
Thankfully, much of the lag that blighted PES 2008's online encounters has been eradicated, with the action often seamless and uninterrupted by stuttering jumps. The visuals have also been kept surprisingly crisp, with little compromised in the detail and resolution departments. However, one major bugbear is Konami's inexplicable decision to plaster the pitch with Combination Points (which score how well you're playing) whenever your team pulls off a decent move. String together several passes and a succession of numbers (usually housed in gaudily coloured stars and boxes) flash up on screen and obscure your view, making it impossible to see what's happening on certain sections of the pitch for several seconds. A misjudged feature if ever we've seen one, especially as the numbers that flash up make little sense.
So, let's move on now to FIFA 09's 10 vs. 10 online games. Following on from FIFA 08's five-against-five matches, this year's version has taken an impressive leap forward by doubling the number of human controlled outfield players. Clearly, this mode has captured the imagination of the masses, as there's an impressive number of willing participants no matter what time of day you play. Options abound when setting up a game, including customisable searches that give you full control over the calibre of players you want to be matched up with. Once a game has been set up, a five-minute countdown provides plenty of time for players to enter the fray and pick a side, after which there's a mad scramble to select a position from the ten available outfield slots.