Since Konami is all about the acronyms when it comes to their soccer games I thought I'd give you a guide to some of these acronyms to help you through this review;
PES - Pro Evolution Soccer
- WE5:FE - Winning Eleven 5: Final Evolution, the improved Japanese sequel to PES
- WE6 - Winning Eleven 6, the vastly improved Japanese sequel to WE5:FE
- KCET - Konami Computer Entertainment, the makers of WE6 and soccer gaming gods
- KCEO - Konami Computer Entertainment Osaka
- ISS/WE - International Superstar Soccer/Winning Eleven
Presentation/Graphics : 95
To put it simply, WE6 is quite possibly the best looking sports title on the market! The game matches and in many instances surpasses the best looking sports games on the GC and X-Box! The graphics are simply jaw dropping.
The player models have been substantially improved from PES and WE5:FE with more polygons than ever before. If you're familiar with international and club soccer it's easy to recognize many of the players in the game even from the distant camera angles. The rosters are accurate to around May (before the World Cup) so a few players aren't sporting the latest looks (Ronaldo doesn't have that moronic hairstyle he had at the WC) but for the most part the players are spot on.
It's amazing how many new animations KCET has managed to include in each successive game and WE6 is no exception. The game has a staggering number of animations for almost every scenario. The transitions between animations are seamless and the result is that you have players that move incredibly realistic. Another great feature is the addition of a few player specific animations. Beckham's free kick animation looks like it was motion captured using Golden Balls himself!
The stadiums have also been improved and several new stadiums have been added bringing the total up to 14. These are some of the best stadiums I've ever seen in a sports game, the amount of detail in the stands, the pitches and just the basic structures of the stadiums themselves are staggering.
The TV-style presentation has also been improved, but if it weren't for some odd slowdowns on corner kicks (from distant camera angles), Winning Eleven 6 would be close to perfection in the graphics department.
Presentation/Audio : 90
One of the biggest problems with the ISS PE/PES series has been the pathetic commentary, however after playing WE5:FE, it's clear that the poor commentary says much more about Konami Europe's localization team rather than KCET because in the Japanese versions of the game the commentary is brilliant. Sure I don't understand a word that the charismatic Jon Kabira and his color man are saying but boy do they get excited! They are so involved in the game, following the play and screaming out player's names. When a goal is scored Kabira goes absolutely nuts! It really does add tons to the atmosphere when you have commentators that seem genuinely enthusiastic about the match. If you understand Japanese you're probably in for an extra special treat because you can set the commentary to be neutral or biased to one of the teams, and there's even a 'slider' for the commentary frequency rather than just on or off.
The crowd sounds are also magnificent with literally dozens of different chants and songs for the international teams. In fact, by winning the "Konami Cup" with a club side you can unlock a chant editor and assign club teams some of their corresponding real life chants. This does wonders to the atmosphere of games in the Master League. The home team cheers much louder than the away team. This aspect of the audio still needs some work (it's a bit too cut and dry between cheering and jeering) but it's still nicely done. You can even adjust the crowd behavior too and set the crowd to cheer for the home team, the away team, both (a neutral venue) or a derby atmosphere!
Interface/Options : 95
WE6 is filled to the brim with options. The major gameplay modes are basically the same as PES and WE5:FE, with the biggest changes in game modes coming in the exhibition match options, the new training mode, and the massively improved Master League.
The first time I went to set up an exhibition match I was ecstatic to see KCET finally include the ability to select player status for home and away teams. Now, rather than player statuses being completely random, you can select if you want both teams to be neutral, one team up red arrows, one team orange up arrow etc. If you've ever played exhibition matches against your mates you'll know how valuable this is as it makes the games more even.
The new training mode is also a brilliant addition. Along with regular training sessions there are now six training drills many of which are based on the real life drills you'd do in a soccer practice such as dribbling around cones, having a circle of players and keeping the ball away from two defenders, and so on. You're ranked according to how well you perform in these drills and if you achieve a high score you can unlock classic players that you can then assign to teams in the edit mode, or purchase in the Master League. Not only are these mini-games incredibly useful for improving your skills they're also very addictive!
The best addition to the game is the vastly improved Master League. The ML is now three divisions (8 new teams have been added bringing the total number of club teams to 40), 8 in the third division, 16 in the second and 16 in the first. As in previous games you start in the third division with a team of nobodies and gain points for victories & scoring draws that you can use to purchase players. However, the big difference is that a whole slew of other management options and features have been added. Now you have to actually set aside player points in order to pay the wages of your players on a game-by-game basis. Furthermore when you attempt to sign a player not only do you have to actually negotiate a wage and length of contract with the player, you also have to negotiate a fee with the team you want to buy him from! Players are also reluctant to move down a division so even if you have the cash to tempt Arsenal, trying to sign Henry from Arsenal when you're in the third division will likely be an exercise in futility.
The top two divisions and the 3rd division have different transfer windows during the season, and in the off-season you're given 8 weeks to play a few pre-season friendlies and to work on improving your team. The CPU is no slouch in the transfer market and there are literally dozens of players that are moved over the course of a season, while in the off-season there's major player movement as relegated teams accept transfer offers to dump salary while promoted teams try to improve. The CPU also isn't afraid to try and make an offer for your players, which helps make the management experience even more immerse. There is even an option to try to take players out on loan!
Another brilliant addition is the fact that fatigue is now cumulative so if you play a player too many games in a row he won't show 100% stamina at the start of a match. This encourages you to build a bigger and more versatile squad (squads can now be as large as 40 players!) but at the same time you have to be careful you don't have an escalating wage bill that you can't afford. The top 2 divisions also have a league cup with fixtures intermittently through the season, while the third division has it's own league cup at the end of the season and a playoff for promotion places!
WE6 also features an incredible edit mode to change player attributes, names, likenesses and so on. The player edit mode is incredibly thorough (there are around 60 different hairstyles alone) and now you can finally create custom teams and use them (along with club teams) in custom tournaments. When editing club teams you can also specify home stadium, call name, and while the game doesn't feature a license for the correct kits the kit editor is so thorough that with the right template you can recreate club and national team kits almost perfectly (with the exception of the sponsors, of course).
The tactical options have also been improved with the biggest addition being a player specific teamwork rating whereby players don't have a single teamwork rating, but rather a teamwork rating between specific players. So, for example, Ronaldo & Romario may have a higher teamwork rating between them than Ronaldo & Edilson. As mentioned before in the Master League the teamwork rating actually improves the more you play certain players together which adds even more depth to the game.
Finally, the game features a plethora of hidden/secret teams including all-time/classic teams for England, France, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Holland and Germany, current day all-star teams, as well as dozens of free agent classic players (Hagi, Rush, Dalglish, Best etc) that can be unlocked assigned to teams or purchased in the Master League.
Gameplay : 98
It really is hard to quantify all the improvements in WE6 from WE5:FE without going on and on since there are so many of them. It's amazing that once again the latest game in the Winning Eleven series instantly renders the previous game (WE5:FE) obsolete. After playing WE6 you can't go back to WE5:FE or PES, they both seem too archaic. The major improvements come in the areas of ball physics, AI and control.
First off, the ball physics have been significantly improved. The ball bounces and bobbles realistically and KCET has made more of a noticeable distinction between players with hard shots and shots from guys like Roberto Carlos, who really can rocket through the air with venom. The ball physics have also been improved when it comes to control and again there's more of a distinction between players with good control and poor control. I mostly play with Wales and it's amazing to see the differences in controlling a high ball with someone like Ryan Giggs compared to Nathan Blake. Giggs will gently chest the ball down (and can even turn while chesting the ball!) and have the ball stop right near his feet in a quick, fluid motion. With Blake the ball will slam into his chest and drop down, bobble and only after a second or so will he have control of the ball. Deflections and spin on the ball is also more realistic and it's amazing to see how realistically the ball moves when you look at the replays. If there is one area where the ball physics need improvement for the next version it's in the goalie rebounds - the goalkeepers are too good at knocking the ball away when making diving saves and the ball will often travel a tad too far to be realistic. It's a niggling point but it's something that wasn't a problem in some of the older ISS games (ISSPE2 in particular) so it's perplexing as to why it's present here.
The AI has also been improved with some incredibly intelligent off-the-ball runs. Those who've spent solid time with WE5:FE and PES will notice that players with the "pass" and "control" special abilities have an even greater influence on the game than before. As mentioned before, the most amazing AI addition is the teamwork rating and how it improves the more you play certain players together. It's cool to witness the progression of a new winger being useless, not taking up intelligent positions nor linking well with his teammates, to then 15-20 matches later being star of your team.
The most significant addition to the gameplay definitely comes in the form of the control, specifically in the dribbling department. PES and WE5:FE provided an incredible freedom of movement when compared to the restricted 45/90 control schemes of ISS PE. WE6 really ups the ante and the dribbling is a complete blast. Not only are you given plenty of freedom when dribbling, there are a ton of new dribbling moves from shimmys to special cut backs at your disposal. Even old moves such as the fake shot have been refined (there are now 3 ways to fake a shot, and in the traditional fake shot you can specify which side you want to cut to!). Using a skilled player experienced gamers will be able to dribble the pants off 2, 3 or even 4 opposing players when the situation arises. However, the dribbling is always skill based and there's no single button to press or no single move that will let you dance past defenders, it's all about using the right changes of pace, shuffles, moves at the right time and most importantly of all, practice. Dribbling in WE6 is almost analogous to the precision required in pulling off a special move combo in a fighting game. And of course, since it is skill based the feeling of satisfaction you get when you leave a defender in the dust is incredible. Dribbling is also very dependent on the particular player you're controlling. If you try dribbling past a few defenders with John Hartson or Simon Davies and you won't get very far, whereas the reaction time and turning circles of guys like Recoba or Ortega are far superior and you can dance past defenders with them.
Once you master the dribbling it really makes the game even more exciting and makes skillful players that much more valuable. At the same time though KCET didn't forget about the less nimble players and shielding the ball (another very valuable skill) and holding off tacklers has been improved and allows you to appreciate players like Patrick Viera just as much as the spectacular dribblers. Another neat addition is the fact you can now cancel CPU initiated runs (when one of your players runs after a lost cause & concedes a throw in) by pressing R1 and R2, and holding down R1 when the keeper has the ball allows you to run around the penalty box looking for a quick throw which is invaluable to the counterattack. Unfortunately, though, goalie throws are still line of sight, but the ability to move the keeper around quickly and freely helps tremendously.
The final significant addition to the controls is the improved sliding tackles. The tackles are completely unscripted now (they were only partially scripted before) which has two consequences. For newbies it means a lot of red cards until you get used to it, but after practice the possibilities are almost endless. Now it's so much easier to cut out passes by slide when you couldn't before, the actual tackles become so much more involved and even more dependent upon timing. If you've got really good timing and the situation arises you can even go through a player with a strong slide tackle but also making sure you hit the ball first and aren't called for a foul. These kinds of tackles are especially entertaining in multiplayer games! This isn't to say that the tackling becomes the ultra-vicious, ice hockey on grass stuff you see in Fifa but that the variety of tackles is much wider, more realistic and includes the good old clattering tackle.
No game is perfect though, and despite its greatness there are still some flaws in Winning Eleven 6 that need to be fixed for the next title. One of the problems that really gets on my nerves regards the referees and how they react to shoulder charges or pushing fouls - the ref never, ever gives red cards for pushing infractions! You can be on a breakaway and a defender can push you over (or nudge you) from directly behind and by the letter of the law they should be sent off. However, while the ref will indeed call the foul the worst he'll do is pull out a yellow card! It's incredibly irritating and has led to a few controller-throwing incidents. Fortunately, fouls and situations such as the one I described don't occur often but when they do it is incredibly annoying and a red card decision can sway the outcome of a match that makes it even more infuriating.
Another problem comes in the form of random player 'spasms' every once in a while; there will be a loose ball situation and you'll have a player selected and want to move to the loose ball but he simply will not respond and just stand there shaking for a second or two. Again, this is something that can lead to excessive cursing and controller throwing if it occurs at a key time in the match. The fact that it occurs so infrequently (I experience it maybe once every fourth or fifth game) makes it's presence even more perplexing.
The final 'problem' associated with the game is in its difficulty. Because of its depth WE6 can be a very tough game and there are so many factors involved that it can be overwhelming for those who are new to the series or do not have much experience. One of the best things about the game is how it plays on difficulty level 5 (the toughest). Here the CPU is ruthless in closing you down, pressuring you off the ball, creating chances and putting the ball in the back of the net. For long time ISS/WE veterans this is heaven as the game forces you to play a possession oriented game, to keep the ball, work it around, fully utilize set plays/strategies and basically get best out of your players by fully knowing their abilities and limits and also by using all the tactical options available to you. It's here that the game reveals depth that will blow away even the most hardened ISS/WE vet.
However, for newcomers to the series the toughest difficulty level can be a very frustrating and tedious experience and I think this has to do with the transition in difficulty from 4 to 5 - it is far too steep. There really should be an intermediary difficulty level between them. On level 4 newcomers to the series (or those that don't have much experience and previously only played the original ISS PE) can be lulled into believing that they're 'ready' for the hardest difficulty level when they're not. Run and gun soccer will work on Level 4, but of course, only with good teams. Those who tough it out with mediocre or poor teams will be much better prepared as they'll know that possession and teamwork is the name of the game since fast break soccer is impossible with the weaker sides. If you do pick up the game after reading this review (and you should!) my rule of thumb is this; you know you're ready for cranking the game up from level 4 to 5 when you can beat the big guns of world soccer with the minnows - when you can consistently take out France or Holland with the likes of the USA (who are underrated in the game), Wales, or Costa Rica then you know that you've essentially flushed 'fast break' soccer from your system and you're ready for a real challenge. I only add this caveat because I know that some newcomers to the series (or those that have just played ISSPE and then jumped six game engine revisions to WE6) have experienced grief with Level 5 difficulty. However, if you've been weaned on PES & WE5:FE already then Level 5 difficulty offers football action that will keep you up till the early morning and beyond.
To be honest though, I almost feel silly for focusing so much on three minor 'problems' in the game (the last point not being a problem at all) when the game does 100s of things so brilliantly. There are so many more improvements and additions to Winning Eleven 6 that I really could go on for pages but the bottom line is that the game is simply amazing, despite it's few faults. It takes everything good from WE5:FE and PES and just improves upon it, adds to it and the result is a concoction that will have you glued to your TV screen for months on end. There is simply so much depth that even after 4 months of playing this game, and years of playing the preceding titles in the series I am still amazed by something every single match.
Replay Value : 99
The Master League alone could keep you occupied until the next game in the series, throw in multiplayer, the plethora of international tournaments, the secrets, and just the plain joy of playing the finest soccer simulation money can buy make this packed with replay value. If you're new to the ISS/WE series this game could easily last you years (hey, some people are still playing the original ISSPE) and even if you've played WE5:FE and PES to death there is more than enough here to uncover, master and keep you entertained.
Overall : 98
What more can I say about this game? (quite a bit actually, but that was a rhetorical question). If you have even a passing interest in soccer you will love this game and if you're a hardcore soccer fan you'll be in heaven. KCET have outdone themselves again. Winning Eleven 6 not only raises the bar for soccer games to come, I really think it raises
the bar for all live-action sports games. A lot of developers could also learn a thing or two from KCET as they put more improvements and new features in each successive incarnation of their series than most developers do in several years. It's scary to note that WE5:FE came out December 2001 and WE6 came out April 2002 - a mere 4 months later! Yet, rather than being a pathetic cash cow it's a brand new and improved sequel (EA Sports, are you paying attention?). For those reasons it's just a damn shame that Konami USA, in their infinite wisdom, do not release the game here in North America. It boggles the mind that you can buy "Lego Soccer Mania" in North America but not the best soccer game on the planet! It just doesn't make any sense at all. There is no reason to think that, properly marketed, Winning Eleven 6 wouldn't be a massive success in North America. Surely any sentient being who played World Tour Soccer, Fifa World Cup 2002, and Winning Eleven 6 would realize WE6 is a far, far superior sports title?
However, until Konami finally gets a clue, you'll have to import this one. If there was ever a game to justify the cost of modding your PS2 or buying a Japanese one, this game is surely it.