There was a Pro Evolution Soccer in 2008. 2007, too. And 2006. And so on, and so on. So it will be again in 2009, with the release of Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer 2010.
Last year's edition was a crushing disappointment. For the first time in recent memory, the series yielded its crown as the best football game on the market to EA's FIFA, primarily because Konami seems intent on releasing the same game over and over and over, with tweaks, rather than really adding anything new.
So what's in store this year? Judging from this first press release for the 2009 edition of the game, sadly, it doesn't sound like much. Because while there's lots of talk about a little nip here and a little tuck there (with lots of vague marketing speak in between) there's no mention of real improvements or additions to the game's two fundamental flaws: an ageing game engine and a lack of licensed real-world teams.
Instead of a new engine, Konami are boasting of "live player expressions to be depicted with an improved lighting system", along with "grass and other in-stadium elements [that are]finely depicted". That sounds a lot less like a new engine and a lot more like incremental improvements to an engine that's showing more of its last-gen roots with each passing year.
And instead of promises of an increase in the number of officially licensed teams, particularly in the Premier League, Konami can only proclaim that, along with the Champions League licence from last year, they've added the new Euro League. As in, the UEFA Cup. As in, something nobody cares about.
In fact, the only thing I can really see that's a significant improvement is the promise to get an entire team working on online multiplayer. Then again, fixing something that was broken in last year's version isn't really an improvement.
Now, don't get me wrong. There's plenty of time for these things, and more, to be announced in the coming months. But if there was an all-new engine, as we saw with FIFA a few years back, wouldn't it have been announced in big letters in the game's first press release? And if there had been big improvements made in the number of licensed teams, wouldn't that also be something to crow about?
Let's hope Konami are keeping a few things under their hat, and that Pro Evo 2010 doesn't follow the precedent set by the last couple of current-gen versions and try and pass off a tarted-up PS2 game as a modern football title.
For those interested, here's the full list of promises made in that press release.
• Gameplay: PES 2010 focuses on enhancing the excitement of matches between players, making for a truly challenging experience that will constantly test the player. Intuitive zonal defending will cover spaces and players need to look constantly for new ways to attack. PES 2010 focuses on being a real football simulation, as it requires both strategic play and quick reactions, as in real life. In addition to key out-field elements, goalkeepers are more versatile and with abilities matching those of modern shot-stoppers. The game's referees have also been reworked, with smarter AI elements allowing them to make more balanced calls during matches.
• Improved Visuals: PES 2010 has undergone a major visual revamp, with its celebrated player likenesses and animations now even closer to those of real-life players - including live player expressions to be depicted with an improved lighting system which differentiates between various conditions! Stadium detail is also massively improved, with the grass and other in-stadium elements finely depicted.
• All-new animation and moves: Animations now dovetail into each other seamlessly, with dribbling and shots on goals worked into dribbling animations. More individual skills are also on show, including new flicks and tricks that have a definite showing on the way a game flows. Several elements have been completely reworked, with the dribbling, turning and kicking animations greatly enhanced, while there is a noticeable change in pace when a player passes a ball from a standing position than from within a run.
• Match-Day Atmosphere: Crowd reactions to the on-field action are now more varied, with all new chants and cheers. The subtle difference between Home and Away matches will be reproduced, and the crowd will react spontaneously to specific situations in a game, showing their disdain or pleasure as fouls are committed and goals scored. Likewise, the commentary has been altered to offer a fresher, more concise overview of the game.
• Enhanced Master League: Master League has been thoroughly renewed with the enhancement of managerial aspects, which enables users to enjoy managing a team for a longer career lifespan. Seen by many as a key contributor to the series' success, the Master League elements in PES 2010 have been bolstered by far-ranging and vital new additions, dedicated to enriching the mode. Further details will be announced shortly.
• AI: The Tokyo team has worked to improve the AI of the game, with Teamvision 2.0 implemented. Midfielders and defenders now work together to cover open space and close down attacks, meaning that cover can be provided for lower-ranked defenders. This also has the additional effect of removing soft goals, thus returning PES 2010 to its simulation roots. In terms of attacking, players can also now move several players once, sending them into different areas, opening up more goal-scoring possibilities than ever before. As such, PES 2010 necessitates a new level of control from the player. Strategic thinking is as important as quick passing, but the new system greatly opens the way the player oversees control of the team. In free kick scenarios, for instance, players can now instigate the runs of the players awaiting the ball in the penalty area.
• Individual Play Characteristics: In previous PES games, the team formation has determined the movements of the players. PES 2010 introduces a new system wherein the individual attacking and defending nature of the players is integral to the way they play. Each player enjoys unique AI tied into their best abilities, and is reflected in the actions of their team mates - i.e. if a player who is known to be a good crosser of the ball is in possession, more players will flood the penalty area to receive it. Similarly, if a player is known to be good with close control, defenders will work to cover their stronger side, while lone strikers will be automatically supported by midfielders on receipt of the ball.
• Strategy Use: A new power gauge system allows users to balance their strategy in a quick, but wide-ranging way before a match. Every element - pass frequency, movement, the line of defence, width of play, or the position of the front line - can be altered to match those of a favoured club: Juventus Turin are a dangerous side on the counter-attack, for instance, while FC Barcelona use width in their attack. These formulations can be altered at any point, too, with Home and Away matches forcing different circumstances on the user, as does the rigours of a Master League season.
• Penalties: An all-new system has been implemented, offering greater control, placing and accuracy.
• Enhanced Online: A new dedicated section of the Tokyo team is committed to improving the online side of PES 2010. More downloadable content is also planned. Konami has supported PES 2009 with the release of new licensed teams, transfer updates, etc, and this support will grow for PES 2010. Team and content updates are planned throughout the game's lifespan. These will make the game even more bespoke to the player's match day needs.
Konami has strengthend its relationship with UEFA and can announce it has secured the exclusive video game rights for the Europa League Licence (formerly known as the UEFA Cup). In addition Konami will be enhancing and developing the use of the UEFA Champions League within PES 2010 to make even better use of the best club football competition in the world.
Pro Evo will be out later this year on 360, PS3, PC, PS2 & PSP (the Wii version now being a separate title in the series)