For years there's been a conspiracy theory that Pro Evo is rigged, that it's scripted, that it will or won't let you win.
A goal before half time to draw even? Damn straight. Argentina suddenly forget how to pass? Sure. Get a player sent off and all of a sudden ten-man Hull turn into Brazil and stage a massive comeback to bap Chelsea? Oh yes.
That conspiracy has pretty much been confirmed as fact recently when series creator Seabass revealed the game's 'momentum system'. But he needn't have uttered a word as Pro Evolution Soccer 2009's new Become A Legend mode all but lays bare the AI that runs the game.
Become a legend
In a week's worth of matches (some 280 games) I must have played an hour's worth of gameplay. My player was consigned to the bench until his stats were good enough to take on the established side. Sadly there's no option to train outside of matches, play in a reserve league or even to skip matches you're never going to play in.
The season structure mimics that of the Master League ensuring that you're in for a slow slog. You can't earn and assign experience points. You can't develop sponsorships or have a hand in squad tactics. You sit, you watch, you wait. Compared to FIFA 09's Be A Pro mode, introduced last year, this is poor.
What's most interesting though is how the Become A Legend mode brings the AI to the surface. All those conspiracies are there to be seen. The game's slower pace only serves to unmask the mechanics even further.
Aside from Become A Legend there are few meaningful new additions to the game over last year's edition. Sure, we now get some minor graphical enhancements, including 3D crowds, new animated special skills and player likenesses; new licensed teams are in (Liverpool being one) and as it's the official game of the England squad, there's a fully rendered kit and model of the new Wembley. But for a series that has built its reputation on gameplay, these are superficial advances.
So what of the new gameplay? Well, there's no lag. So against a friend, Pro Evo 09 is still arguably the most fun footie game on PS3. It's fluid, skilful and eventful. When the AI is on your side, you feel like a golden-booted football god, stroking passes with ease.
The real downside is Konami's decision to tighten up the defensive AI (mimicking FIFA). The game closes you down more, ensuring that there's less space to make those old, Pro Evo defining maze-like runs. Against a friend there's no problem, but it makes the Master League a real chore, especially as early players lack the stats to sustain their balance against better opposition.
More so, a new physics engine compounds the frustrations as players now interact more; they bounce, stumble and collide both on and off the ball. It's not as bad as FIFA 09 can get, but the sight of Rooney bumbling through your defences is very annoying.
Against a human opponent, Pro Evo is still one of the most addictive and rewarding games on console.
Sure, the same failings are present: keepers spill shots into the path of secondary strikers, corners are easy to score from, counter-attack runs from defence to the opposing box result in cheap goals; it's all here, it's all still incredibly frustrating, but it's all redeemed by nail-biting (AI-scripted) matches.
The edit options have been improved too, so now you can tailor players and kits to perfectly replicate the real-life teams, players and sponsors Konami has omitted. You can, again, tweak players' stats to make the game more fun, ensuring long shots with the right players (Deco, Lampard) are accurate and rewarding. But Konami is placing the emphasis on the Pro Evo community to ensure its game is up to speed.