World is never short of great rivalries. Windows vs Mac. Manchester United vs Liverpool. Federer vs Nadal. iPhone vs Blackberry. This also happens in football games space. There always be this endless debate: “Which one is better? Electronic Art’s FIFA or Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer (a.k.a. Winning Eleven)?”
For the past 10 years, the answer is easy for me. It’s Pro Evolution Soccer all the way. Its addictive gameplay is no match to FIFA’s unrealistic game engine. Despite of inferior presentations and graphics, PES is still the “king of football game”. If you are in Indonesia, one quick look at the Playstation rent place, you already know the answer. Kids, teens and adults are all playing kick-a-bout on PES/Winning Eleven. FIFA is nowhere to be seen.
Until last year, when Electronic Arts released FIFA 08. It undoubtly had raised its standard and brought the scene to rather evenly match. Gamers found FIFA to worthy alternative to PES, even though not much. And this year, EA claims to improve its last year outing, and released FIFA 09 on 3 October 2008. Konami followed closely by releasing their Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 on 13 October 2008. How do they fare each other?
Before we go there, let me share you my background first. I’ve been a football gamer since Atari’s Pele Soccer was the best in the market. Football game has always been my favourite game. In fact, maybe 70% of my gaming time in all consoles are dedicated for this type of game. I’ve played Kick Off (Edited–thanks to the visitors who pointed out that Sensible Soccer WAS not Kick Off), Sega Soccer before I started playing FIFA series. It started in SEGA machine back in 1994, and continued the domination until FIFA 98. By that time, I switched my gaming system from PC to Playstation, which then introduced me to Japanese footy game called “Winning Eleven 4”.
When I first tried it, it felt clumsy and the graphic was poor compared to FIFA 98. But the animation looked so realistic that time. After few tries, the game grew on me, and when I made those first killer through pass for a beautiful goal, I was hooked. “This is how football game should be played”.
And since then, I never returned to FIFA series. Konami continuously improved Winning Eleven series (or PES as what it is called in the other part of the world aside Japan), while relatively stick to their core game engine. FIFA tried and tested new methods but it failed miserably. PES had been the king of football game since 1998 for the serious football gamers.
Until last year.
EA Sports launched its highly-acclaimed FIFA 08 with innovative ‘Be a Pro’ mode, while Konami, probably too much rested on their laurels, delivered PES 2008 with minimal improvement plus jerky framerates in PS3 system. Suddenly, football gamers looked at worthy contender of PES. I was also introduced by a friend on FIFA 2008, claiming PES 2008 is too “arcadey” and “play well too fast”. I tried this game, and eventhough I initially got interested with its next-gen presentation quality (Martin Tyler and Andy Gray commentary is just brilliant), the “simulation approach” gameplay convinced me to give this game more than a “go”.
Gameplay in FIFA 08 forced us to be patient, passed the ball around, waited for openings before passing that final through pass to the penalty box. It is really unlikely for our star player to run and weave their way past defenders at full speed, just like what we loved to do in PES. We also need to direct our pass and through-pass precisely using the analog controller. We can’t just press the through-pass button, and hoping it will produce those defence-splitting pass as what normally happened in PES world. The unthinkable happened: suddenly, PES is indeed an “arcade” game than FIFA 08.
So, without hesitation, when I bought myself an XBOX 360 early this year, I instantly tuned into FIFA 08. I did really enjoy the ‘passing game’. And given the more difficult way to score than in PES 2008, it felt more rewarding to score one. I had to unlearn the tricks I used to play in PES to win in FIFA. Simply, it was totally different game.
On the downside, the game also felt a bit sluggish. It less slick than PES, and in my personal opinion, also missed those “punch” feeling when you ripped out a scorcher in PES. It also lacked of variety of where the goals came from. In PES, all of your players seem to be able to score. You can score from crossings, through passes, knock offs, headings, 30 yard screamers. Everything. But in FIFA 08, given the super-ability of its keepers (which is a “bug”), it seemed the goal can come only from one source: close tap-ins after a cross from your winger.
I kept on playing FIFA 08 until EURO 2008 was out (another game from EA Sports, based on FIFA 08 engine, but focused on European Football tournament). In overall, EURO 2008 was a better, faster gameplay, but still it was not as fast, frentic, full of action pace as PES.
And probably that what I missed from PES. Because, after failed to win EURO 2008 at highest settings many times, I started to begin my Master League in PES. Oh boy, how I missed that full of action gameplay. And how Master League mode is so addictive/ It made me always think to buy a player whose their real-life counterpart just played an outstanding game in TV (I bought Theo Walcott rightaway after he starred in England World Cup qualifying match :)). I instantly forgot about FIFA 08, and went match after match trying to lit Newcastle United to stardom. PES held me back and won me over at the end. Again.
Now, will it be the same story this year with FIFA 09?
Honestly, I haven’t played PES 2009 a lot. The only time I did was during a visit to video game retailer last week, when I tried 3 exhibition games with the store keepers (won all of them :)). From this relatively very short experience, I feel it is still the same-old-addictive gameplay of PES 2009, with improved graphics and presentation (not much). But by itself, it’s already a warranty for me to devote some time when XBOX version is released.
On the other hand, I’ve been playing FIFA 09 for two weeks. My initial impression: great game. Excellent presentation (as always), improved game play, and much more variety in how you to score goals. I struggled to score and win at my first few tries, but after playing it dedicatedly, I managed to raise my level from “Professional” to “World Class” and finally to “Legendary”, while still sitting at the top of table of England league with 7 points clear. Not bad, but there are still many game modes I haven’t tried on (e.g. ‘Manager Mode’ or ‘Be A Pro’)
I will write the comparative review of these two games when I play enough games of PES 2009 in XBOX. As for now, I’ll let my Wayne Rooney add his tally of what-it-has-been-a-phenomenal-38 goals in a season on FIFA 09!