So then, for all the superficialities that divide PES and FIFA, there's quite a lot that unites them. But superficialities can be a bitch. PES has the UEFA Champions League licence, and Manchester United and Liverpool licences (it's Liverpool FC's official game, for goodness sake), along with previous agreements involving Spanish and Italian sides, among others; but most of the other Premier League clubs still have silly names, some of the national teams are totally fictional, and there are lots of noticeably incomplete transfers, with Berbatov yet to arrive at Old Trafford and Shevchenko still running around Stamford Bridge. Although he's not, of course, as the game only models 19 stadiums. Elsewhere the commentary's dreadful, and the crowd chants lack the overlapping you hear on TV or the growl of being among them, and are sickeningly rhythmic and artificial instead.
PES's answer to FIFA's Be a Pro mode (and its online counterpart) is weaker, too. You define a custom character, starting out as a reserve at 17, and then play one role in the team - either midfield or striker - earning experience points in practice matches and trying to break into the first team. But it lacks FIFA's coaxing feedback - the greens and reds acknowledging good movement and involvement during the game - and in a mode where the significance of good movement is amplified so considerably, the fact FIFA kicks the PES movement code so hard around the park that you could stitch lines on it, throw on laminate and sell it at JD Sports, is rather damaging. That said, there's a bit of value to be had from it if you ever overcome that hurdle, and the four-player online variant may lack FIFA's 10v10, but it's still a good number. (We'll be comparing PES' and FIFA's single-footballer modes in more depth soon.)
Inevitably, PES also suffers from the same football-isms we brought up with FIFA, namely passes going to a player other than the one intended, the game selecting the wrong player in a moment of crisis, and a bit of residual input skewering the odd attack. But it also suffers the odd PES-ism, like players confused what to do with a loose ball when in close proximity, throw-ins, corners, free-kicks and ball distribution from that keeper that all rob the game of pace, and being unable to tell at a glance which slide tackles are fair and why. You often suspect the game computes the outcome fairly, but the paucity of animations and grid-like movement means you can't tell at a glance, and it's frustrating.
PES still has the Master League though, providing many seasons of well-designed progression, and the Champions League is a boon, even with its overblown presentation coupled to misnamed teams and, hilariously, Sony PlayStation ad hoardings all over the 360 version (probably down to the terms of any UEFA licence, but we like to think it's the new spirit of friendship). There's also a full Edit mode for people who want to tweak their line-ups.
Even so the result, overall, is a game that by any objective measure now languishes in second place behind EA's spirited new-look FIFA. And yet it's only with a heavy heart that we mark it down a point lower, because we still love PES for its personality. The new generation of FIFA games are so new that we're still exploring their limits, but we already understand all that about PES, and when something out of the ordinary occurs, like a shot-cum-cross from halfway up the touchline creeping in at the far post, it's like hidden treasure. When you realise the ref isn't calling play back for astonishingly vicious tackles that occur after the ball has gone, preferring to let attacks develop, it's hilarious.
Should you stick with Konami, then, PES 2009 will grow on you, and you may forget you ever thought about switching teams in the first place. But personality isn't always enough, and the fact is that PES can only draw alongside FIFA in the areas where the Konami game's strong, falls short in others, and never could hope to compete on the glossier, contracts and lipstick side of sports game production that EA's ruled for years. Not quite a reversal, but PES needs to be a very different game when it hits 2010 if it wants to overhaul the Canadian upstart.
7 / 10