Winning Eleven 8 International Soccer
Release Date: 02-02-05
In this recent era of sports license exclusivity, there has been one franchise that gamers have heralded as proof that you don’t need to pay the leagues millions to make a great game. That franchise has been Winning Eleven Soccer, or Pro Evolution Soccer in the European market. Now making it’s X-Box debut, and subsequently gaining my attention for the first time, lets see what all the fuss is about.
Story / Modes:
No real story to speak of, it’s a sports game. Super League Mode, which is Konami’s version of a franchise mode, is about as close as it gets to a story. The Super League is rather deep, making use of European soccer’s relegation system by making you earn your way into the best league. Just imagine the NBA allowed the winner of the NCAA Final Four to become a team in the NBA, and the worst team in the NBA gets demoted to the NCAA. You start off as a team that is in the second tier league and make your way into the first tier. You have a limited opportunity to improve your team by attempting to purchase players from other teams, but you have to win to earn money to do it.
Super League Mode does allow for a bit of story to creep in, as you can play the game one of two ways. You may pick your team and have the actual players from the end of last year be used, or you can choose to play with some generic players who will improve as you play them, like a very very mild sports RPG. The presentation isn’t exactly clear, so you may have to do some experimenting or (gasp!) read the manual if you want to play with the real players, as the default option is to use the generic ones.
The game runs smoothly and suffers no jarring screen movements like the past few FIFA games have had around midfield, so right away it scores some points. If you have any inkling of what your players actually look like in real life you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the player models, most of which look fairly accurate, if not exactly life like. This isn’t the greatest looking sports game of all time, but it doesn’t look like it belongs on a PSOne either.
Because Konami couldn’t obtain the official license for the English Premier League, and the English are just bonkers about soccer, they have included an option to design your teams logo and uniform, as well as giving you the option to rename the teams. This is certainly one way of working around the lack of a license, but it is a tiny bit cumbersome. If you have the patience and dedication to redo your team logo it can be fairly rewarding, as you can see during replays fans waiving your custom made flag around. This is also kind of cool if you just want to design a logo that has nothing to do with any league. Pirate Skull anyone?
Commentary comes in multiple languages, but since I only speak English you’ll have to excuse my ignorance when it comes to the excellence or lack there of in the commentary. What I did understand, namely the English “broadcasters”, was good, but not spectacular. The play by play is full of little comments like “That was a good idea” or “He must score from there!”, while the color commentary was heard from every so often, chiding me for not concentrating. That’s not a comment on my attention being elsewhere either, he really does say things like “He must look where he’s passing the ball” The halftime and post game commentary were pretty good too, with the interplay between the two resembling a real production.
The stadium sound is very average. Lots of background stadium noise but no hecklers, no drunken mobs yelling obscenities at one another, just lots of drums and ra ra ra chanting. No team specific ones that I could tell. Even for the national teams. Nothing spectacular in anyway. Gameplay sound effects are there, but nothing to cheer about. Maybe that’s why there’s no interesting chanting in the stands.
Gameplay & Controls:
The game controls much like all soccer games, you have your pass button and shoot buttons, your sprint button and your through pass (leading the player by firing it slightly away from your player but also nowhere near a defender). You have the choice of playing the game left to right or up and down the screen, with numerous camera angles in between. Tackling is handled a little differently than it is in FIFA, as you must continue to hold the tackle button long enough to win the ball off your opponent. Or you can just hold down another button and have another defender obtain the ball for you, assuming anyone is close enough to do it for you. This is a nifty addition, and I hope other developers make use of the ability somehow.
When it comes to playing a soccer game or any other sports game involving shooting, in my book at least, less control is better. By that I mean it is kind of assumed that your players are programmed well enough to shoot at the opposing net when you press the shoot button. You may want to aim at a corner of the net or lob it over the keeper from a distance, but you would hope that your players would be able to hit the broad side of a barn. Not so in Winning Eleven. Sure, it may head towards that end of the stadium, but accuracy is left entirely up to you. And if you are fortunate enough to get into position for a shot that will head in the general direction of the net the meter that gauges how powerful your shot will be is exceedingly sensitive, meaning you really have to just glance the button to do anything other than rocket a shot into the stands.
The question that comes to mind for me here is how badly do you want a soccer simulator? I ask this because the Winning Eleven series is famous for being the real soccer fan’s game while EA’s FIFA series is supposedly more of an arcade like experience. And in truth, I guess I’m not a real soccer fan, because I found myself getting more and more frustrated the more I played WE. The learning curve to get anywhere near respectability is staggeringly high. Winning Eleven will eat you up and spit you out if you think you can just step in and play it like FIFA; the defense is just too smothering.
And that is on the standard difficulty. Go even higher and see just how much pain you can bring upon yourself before you finally give up and surrender. I’ve never seen a game that felt more like work than this one. If you want to get good, you have to practice, practice, practice, in both the training mode and in game situations.
If you can be patient and really learn how to play then this is one game chock full of replay options. Firstly you have the individual leagues, then you can move up to the Konami Cup, which is basically the World Cup. After you’ve done that there is the Master League, which combines many of the smaller leagues into one giant all consuming league that never actually ends. You can keep managing your team, earning money to meet payroll and transferring other players to your squad, becoming the Man Reds… I mean Manchester United of the gaming world. And then you can do it all over again at higher and higher difficulties. Every game you play earns you a certain amount of Winning Eleven Points which can be put towards various unlockable items like new stadiums, new balls and even a higher difficulty level.
This game was supposed to ship with X-Box Live functionality but the developers took it out a short time before they shipped the game. Was this a good move? Probably. A bad Live mode would hurt the game more than a good one would help it. It does take away from the replayability though, as online is expected by now.
Replay Ability: 8/10
I can’t recommend this to anyone who just wants to sit down and enjoy a quick game of soccer. This is really a game for the hardcore soccer fan who dreams of managing some no-name team to Champions League glory. If however you are tired of sports games getting too arcade like then you will find Winning Eleven’s gameplay and realism quite a refreshing change of pace.
I like the originality shown by the producers to find names for the various English Premier League teams, and I did find the team, uniform and emblem editors to be a unique joy. It’s something I wish other sports games would include, as there are some really ugly looking uniforms in the various sports.
In terms of gameplay the ability to have a team-mate tackle an opponent is a good idea, but the the implementation is problematic when the cpu changes what player you control so frequently. Thankfully this is one problem that can be fixed in the option menu.
Having to negotiate with players to get them to sign with your squad is something I can’t say I’m all that thrilled with, but in a game that is striving for realism they do a really good job of making you pity the managers of soccer teams everywhere.
It’s hard for me to judge this game’s addictiveness, as once I’m finished this review I’ll never look back at this game and be happy doing so. I guess this is one sport where EA has me for life. But I do know this is a quality game. The graphics are good, the controls are serviceable and the gameplay is there if you care to dig deep enough.
Konami couldn’t get the English Premier League license, or the FIFA license for that matter, but that didn’t stop them from getting a few other official leagues. The Italian, Spanish and Dutch leagues are all there and all well represented, uniforms and all.
Also, not getting the official EPL license somehow didn’t stop Konami from naming the league the English Premier League in the game, which puzzles me. I can’t imagine 2K Games will be able to name its league National Football League, but maybe the EPL just isn’t trademarked when the team names are. Or maybe I just blurted out a big secret and now EA’s gonna sic it’s lawyers on Konami. Sorry Konami.
Replay Ability: 8/10
Overall Score: 62/100
Final Scrore: 6.0/10 (ABOVE AVERAGE!)
Short Attention Span Summary
So is this game just too hard or do I just suck at it? It’s probably a combination of the two. I never claimed to be the worlds greatest expert at soccer, but at the same time I have never run into a game that’s stymied my attempts to become merely adequate at it so fully. At the standard difficulty setting and higher this game is for the hardest of hardcore.