used to play soccer back in the day, a dark time where none of you were
lucky enough to have me in your lives yet. I can't say I was a super
star or anything but I was great at knocking people
over and stealing the ball. Unfortunately games like Winning Eleven 8
kind of frown on that sort of thing but when you do make a clean
tackle, it is sweet! Prederick is a veteran of the series and sent in
this review of Konami's latest.
A man must have priorities in life, and, for the Gamer who also enjoys Soccer, the Winning Eleven series has definitely earned itself a place in the list of things you Ã‚"must-haveÃ‚" if you enjoy the sport. Dare I say that this yearÃ‚'s incarnation of the series is a must-have for anyone who enjoys sports games on any level, whatsoever.
I should make the point now that, in the battle between Konami and EA Sports over supremacy in Soccer games, that I am pretty staunchly in the Konami camp. The two are the biggest kids on the block when it comes to soccer games, and when Winning Eleven 6, the first iteration to hit North American shores came out, I was one of the disenfranchised ex-FIFA players standing in line, wondering what this sensation that all the people we knew in Europe and Asia were babbling about. IÃ‚'d like to think, for most of us, it was a revelation, a breath of fresh air.
Winning Eleven 8 continues down the path its predecessors have set for it. Konami is intelligent enough not to tear down the entire structure of a perfectly fine house and start again from the ground-up, but to continue refining and tweaking, adding new rooms, a mini-movie theater next to the den and a indoor, heated pool. Significant problems have been fixed, and where change was needed, Konami has, for the most part, stepped up to the plate.
IÃ‚'ll get the shortest part of this review out of the way early. The flaws. There are two glaring ones, and a third negligible one, but that is simply from my perspective. The two glaring flaws are in the soundtrack and the commentary. Synthesized faux-guitar rock will grate the nerves after a few hours, and one can only wonder why Konami wasnÃ‚'t kind enough to allow Xbox users to add their own custom soundtracks to the game, which would make many of the menu screens infinitely more bearable after the 50th hour of gameplay.
Moreover, the commentary has improved from last year, when it was awful. Now itÃ‚'s just dreadful. Peter Brackley and Trevor Brooking rarely have anything substantial to say about the game itself, although Brackley does a reasonable job of at least keeping up with the play. For all the wonderful things the game does right, it desperately needs to give us some play-by-play that befits a title of this caliber. The third, and to some, killer flaw is the exclusion of Xbox Live capability. Konami has dropped the ball here, and FIFA 2005 will probably outsell WE8 on this facet alone. WE8 should have shipped for the Xbox with Live capability, and, although there have been some small rumblings of a downloadable patch for the game that will add it in the future, those are naught more than mere rumors.
As for what the game gets right, simply stating Ã‚"everything elseÃ‚" would reek of rabid fanboydom, so IÃ‚'ll detail better.
In a review I read for Winning Eleven 6 some two years ago, I remember seeing the FIFA and Winning Eleven series compared as one might women. FIFA was that gorgeous looking girl at the club with the 36DDs, great hips and killer face that was as dumb as a brick, had halitosis like you wouldnÃ‚'t believe, and was the veritable antithesis of Ã‚"eroticÃ‚" in the sack. Winning Eleven was the girl who may or may not have had a mole and but was smart, intelligent, funny, everything you couldÃ‚'ve wanted for the perfect mate, mentally.
Well, WE8 (for the Xbox, at least) is the latter woman again, only after having gone on Ã‚"Extreme MakeoverÃ‚" or something. Konami has, to its credit, continually been improving the graphics of the Winning Eleven titles, but last year, Winning Eleven 7 simply wasnÃ‚'t as grandiosely pretty as FIFA 2004 could be. This year, the playing field is leveled. Winning Eleven 8 looks absolutely gorgeous. The stadiums are lush, the pitch fresh and green, and players wonderfully detailed and animated. Faces especially have gotten a new treatment and players are immediately recognizable. Zidane, Beckham, Totti, even the improbably ugly and talented Ronaldinho all look like their real-life counterparts.
I mentioned the players are wonderfully animated, and IÃ‚'d like to expound on this. Where Winning Eleven really shines is the simply spectacular amount of animations packed into the game. Individual players have an obscene number of animations for any given situation, from chesting down the ball and spinning to drill a volley to hooking their leg in a savage slide-tackle to win the ball. More importantly, it all looks fluid, it all looks right, not a single motion seems to be in excess. By doing this, Konami allows the players to really see the differences between the best the world has to offer and the worst, so donÃ‚'t expect many high-flying bicycle kicks from the Jamaican national team.
There have been a lot of little touches added graphically which improve the gamesÃ‚' over all experience. The addition of an on-field referee certainly doesnÃ‚'t seem like much, but it just adds to the immersion factor. Moreover, the small vignettes that occur during stops in play are all wonderful, including substitutes coming onto the field, players helping one another up after a fierce challenge, and the referee lecturing more petulant players. I was stunned to see that there were over 30 unique goal celebrations in the game, some of which specific to certain players. ItÃ‚'s that attention to detail, honestly, that makes this game so beautiful.
However, Winning ElevenÃ‚'s bread-and-butter has always been the gameplay. The game actually bills itself on the box as Ã‚"The WorldÃ‚'s Best Playing Soccer GameÃ‚" and, as someone who has played FIFA 2005, I can say that they sure as hell have a claim to that title. The gameplay is much the same as last year, and yet, as always, Konami has tweaked and changed things that needed it. Shots from well outside the area are easier now, shot-blocking, which reached ridiculous proportions last year, is down. Moreover, the game is much more fair in the styles of play you may employ. Last year, speed was often the single most reliable way to beat the opposition, but now, the game more accurately represents how slow-footed players like Roy Keane can still dominate a match through good positioning, good tackling and good passing. To put it simply, players play a lot smarter, and teams play a lot smarter. Facing Brazil is not the same as facing Italy, both on terms of skill and on terms of style of play. Teams and players are more unique now, and as dangerous as their real-life counterparts, so you may seriously want to consider double-teaming Thierry Henry.
The A.I. has also received a serious bump. The computer uses its assets as well as any sports game in the market right now. If you give it too much space on the wing, itÃ‚'ll run past you all day, blasting cross after cross into the box. If you leave the middle of the field open, itÃ‚'ll set up killer passing plays to defeat you. Push up your defensive line without enough thought, and youÃ‚'ll watch your defenders watch in dismay as a through ball floats over their heads and to the opposing striker, who plants it past your goalie.
For a better example, let me use this. I played an exhibition match between English Premiership teams Arsenal (Me) and Manchester United (the CPU). After a first-half penalty, I was up 1-0 in the early moments of the second half, when I whipped a cross into the box that the CPU couldnÃ‚'t quite clear. Getting the ball to the feet of one of my forwards, I quickly passed the ball to a midfielder who had been trailing the play and snuck past the defense, unmarked to fire the ball home for a 2-0 lead. 2-0 down with 30 minutes left to play, Manchester United subbed out a defender for a striker, and switched from their 4-4-2 formation to a more attack-oriented 3-4-3. They turned up the pressure all over the field, especially in midfield, and it is only through luck that the scoreline finished 2-1.
I could babble on and on for hours about the gameplay, but IÃ‚'ll put it simply. The players on both teams play both as a team, and as individuals. Your team will play together, but you can set your players to have individual roles on the team as well, so if you want to supplement your strikers with a midfielder making crashing runs into the box, you can, and they will. I cannot understate how much of an entertaining tactical edge this brings to the game.
There are 80 European Club teams to choose from, and 57 National teams. For people used to FIFA, seeing Ã‚"West London WhiteÃ‚" for the first time will be a bit of a frustration, until they realize itÃ‚'s just Fulham with a fake name. Konami was only able to secure the licenses to the Italian, Spanish and Dutch top leagues, so while youÃ‚'ll get to play with an authentic Barcelona and Ajax team, if youÃ‚'re a Borussia Dortmund fan, youÃ‚'re out of luck. That said the robust (and that would be a grand understatement) Editor tools allows the player to easily rename the teams, stadium names, change kits, and otherwise customize teams and players alike.
All of last yearÃ‚'s play modes are still around, although now Leagues have been domestically specified, so you can play a season of the Serie A, French First League or English Premier League (although the latter two are not licensed and are not named as such, nor are the teams, as noted above).
If a career-mode is your preference, the Master League has gotten a good revamping, now allowing players to start with a squadÃ‚'s default roster, whereas previous versions of the game gave you a default, unchangeable squad to work with. Players will now improve and decline as the season progresses based on how you play. Frankly, the Master League simply has a new, fresh feel to it, and while I long for the day when Konami will license all the major European Leagues and allow us to play (and win) the UEFA Champions Cup, IÃ‚'ll take this reasonable facsimile for now.
Frankly, I would argue that Winning Eleven 8, as I stated above may be the best sports game on the market right now, superior even to Madden and NFL 2K5. ItÃ‚'s certainly the best Soccer game, and I would hotly agitate that anyone who has played FIFA but has not experienced the wonder of Winning Eleven get over the lack of licensed teams and just play the best soccer game ever. The only possible arguments against Winning Eleven is that a player would want a more streamlined version of the sport, in which case, FIFA would be your best bet, or that the lack of online play is enough to warrant not purchasing it (and youÃ‚'d be seriously missing out).
In short, if youÃ‚'re curious, itÃ‚'s worth it. If youÃ‚'re on the fence, itÃ‚'s worth it. If youÃ‚'re going to get it anyway, then dance the dance of glee with me. World Soccer Winning Eleven 8 International is the bar for all future soccer games, and a sterling example of when not just sports gaming, but gaming itself is done right.