After several years since the original ISS Pro Evolution was released on the PSX, Konami Computer Entertainment America has finally brought the newest game in the Pro Evolution/Winning Eleven series to North America, Winning Eleven 6:International. The original Winning Eleven 6 (Japanese version) was released in April 2002; but WE6:I is not a port of that game. Rather, it is a slightly modified (and slightly better) port of a game called Pro Evolution Soccer 2 (PES2) that was released in the fall of 2002 in Europe.
While WE6:I isn't the best game in the Winning Eleven series (the newest titles in Japan, Winning Eleven 6: Final Evolution (FE) & J-League Winning Eleven 6 take that distinction), it is by far the best non-import soccer game available in North America and one of the best sports games of year.
Presentation/Graphics : 90
WE6:I's visuals are almost identical to those in Pro Evolution Soccer 2. That means they're not as good as those in FE, but are still easily the best graphics in a domestic soccer game in North America. And they could arguably be some of the best graphics in a team sports game.
The player models are slightly more stretched out than those in the original Winning Eleven 6 and exhibit more detail. The player similarities are fantastic and even from distant camera angles. You can instantly recognize not only the big stars, but also many of the mediocre players if you're a soccer fan. Up close in the replays, the resemblances are often jaw-dropping. Unfortunately, some of the details aren't perfect and since this is more or less a port of PES2, which was released last fall in Europe. England's David Beckham still has the mow hawk that he was sporting prior to the 2002 World Cup.
The kits are pretty much the same as in the original WE6. While most aren't identical to their real-life counterparts, they are fairly close. A few kits, such as England (who is sponsored by Umbro) are spot on (well actually, not really since they have changed their kit since their last match against Turkey!). Still, the excellent kit editor that was present in WE6 is here as well, but none of the club teams have sponsors.
If you have never imported a recent Winning Eleven or Pro Evolution Soccer game, then I am sure the animations in WE6:I will have you staring at your television in disbelief. The catalogue of different animations is mind-blowing with dozens of different context-specific animations for almost every situation. I am sure gamers will find themselves spending a long time playing around with the replays to take slow-mo looks at the precise and life-like animations of even simple actions such as players trapping the ball or dribbling with the outside of their foot. WE6:I arguably has the most life-like animations of any team sports game available.
The TV-style presentation is identical to that in Winning Eleven 6, showing highlights at the end of each half from different angles. The game also has a great variety of different camera angles, including a swing camera setting that allows you to slightly tilt the field which not only gives you a slightly better view of the action but also really makes it look like you're watching an English Premier League match on television! Unfortunately, WE6:I suffers from noticeable slowdown when you use the swing angle when 15 or more players are on the screen at one time. This is disappointing as this slowdown is absent in the other versions.
Regardless, WE6:I's visuals are phenomenal and it's great North American soccer fans who have had to deal with big-headed, massive-thigh, grotesque zombies in FIFA (EA Sports' soccer game) can now see what a real soccer game looks like.
Presentation/Audio : 55
"Now lets take a look at this incident;"
"Would I tell a lie, he's missed!"
"Well he really should have scored on that chance!"
If you choose to turn on the English language commentary get used to hearing these three phrases a lot. The commentary in WE6:I is the same pathetic effort as in PES2 with Peter Brackley and Trevor Brooking behind the mike. They are absolutely horrible and after only a few games I was longing for Jon Kabira's Japanese commentary in the import version of Winning Eleven 6. Brackley and Brooking are often behind the play, cut each other off several times a match and their comments are so poorly timed that it's almost funny. I can only hope for the next North American game in the series KCEA goes about improving the commentary and gets some American commentators. I would absolutely love to hear Christian Miles or Max Bretos do the play by play for WE7:I.
The crowd chants and in-game sounds save WE6:I from getting a failing score in the audio department. The chants are pretty much the same as in the original Winning Eleven 6 and they give a good sense of atmosphere to the matches. Winning the Konami Cup also allows you to assign team-specific chants to the club teams, which adds a strong sense of authenticity to the Master League matches.
Menu music is the exact same poor generic techno/dance crap that was in PES2, and for some odd reason, just as in PES2, the default audio options has the player name calling turned off.
Interface/Options : 90
First things first, you've probably heard that Winning Eleven 6: International doesn't have real player names. This is NOT (I repeat NOT) true!
The game features a FiFPro license and the vast majority of the teams (almost all the teams in Europe, Africa, and some in Asia & South America) do have real player names! The remaining teams have pseudo-names that most soccer fans will easily be able to figure out (Real Madrid & Brazil's left wing back, "Roberto Larcos", anyone?) and in all cases the likenesses and playing styles are spot on. The only exception is that pseudo-names aren't present at all for the Dutch national team nor for any Dutch players on club teams - instead they're all named "Oranjesxx" - xx being a numerical notation. The game's thorough editor allows you to easily input the correct names but it's still a hassle.
The club team names, however, are not so obvious with odd names such Europort (Liverpool), Aragon (Manchester United) and so on. Again, these can be changed and teams identified either from kits or just a simple look at the rosters. Speaking of rosters, while WE6:I is a slightly modified port of PES2, you'd think in the six or so months since PES2's release in Europe, Konami of America would have at least updated the rosters. Unfortunately, they haven't and you have rosters that date back to last summer with Anelka at Liverpool, Ronaldo at Inter, Ferdinand at Leeds and many, many more. It's just mind boggling that KCEA wouldn't update these and it really is unacceptable.
Rosters and names aside, WE6:I features a plethora of options many have never seen before in a North American soccer game. The major gameplay modes are Exhibition Match (with Club or International teams), League, Cup, Master League and Training.
The pre-exhibition match options are the same as in PES2 and vastly improved from the original Winning Eleven 6 with the ability to select player status for both home and away teams. Strangely, the concept of player status (the colored arrows next to each player that denote random attribute changes) is not explained in much depth in the game's manual.
The Cup mode features several unlicensed versions of real life international tournaments such as the World Cup, European Championships, Copa America, CAF Championship and so on. There is also an option to create custom cup competitions (the Umbro-Konami Cup). The League mode allows you to play an 'International League' season against 15 other nations.
The best part of WE6:I is undoubtedly the Master League. If you've still been playing the old (old) Master League in the original ISSPE1, you'll wet yourself the first time you see the new three division Master League (8 in the third division, 16 in the second and another 16 teams in the first division). You start the game in the third division with a team of fictional players who aren't very good. You then accumulate points for victories and scoring draws, which you can then use to purchase players.
A full battery of GM options are available that are easily on par with the best the NCAA and Madden games have to offer. With the points you accumulate, you not only have to pay the wages of your players on a game-by-game basis, but also negotiate all aspects of player transfers (you have to negotiate a fee with the club you want to buy a particular player from and you also have to bargain a wage and length of contract with the player himself!). Players are also reluctant to move down a division, so even if you have the cash to tempt Juve, trying to sign Del Piero when you're in the third division will undoubtedly fail.
The top two divisions and the third division have different transfer windows during the season. In the off-season, you're given eight weeks to play a few preseason exhibition matches and to make transfers. The transfer market is incredibly dynamic and fluid. During the season and in the postseason, dozens of players are moved as teams get promoted or demoted, inherit the need to dump salary or improve for the stretch run. The CPU also tries to make an offer for your players, which helps make the management experience even more immerse. The game even has an option where you can take players out on loan for a few games!
During the course of an ML season, individual player fatigue is cumulative so if you play a player too many games in a row he'll have less than 100 percent stamina at the start of a match. This encourages you to build a fairly large and versatile squad, but at the same time you have to be weary of an escalating wage bill that you can't afford. The top two divisions also have a league cup with fixtures intermittently through the season. The third division has its own league cup at the end of the season and a playoff for promotion places!
The tactical options are incredibly extensive and blow away both 989 Sports' World Tour Soccer and FIFA. There are dozens of formations with the ability to edit each one, three different types of man marking, player role editing, attacking and defensive bias arrows, set plays and more. One of my favorite things about WE6:I is the fact that players don't have a single teamwork rating, but rather a teamwork rating between specific players. For example, Ronaldo & Romario may have a higher teamwork rating between them than Ronaldo & Edilson. In the Master League, the teamwork rating actually improves the more you play certain players together, which adds even more depth to the game.
The training mode (something that's been absent in FIFA games for a while now) isn't just a last minute add-on. It features many training drills, such as dribbling around cones, having a circle of players and keeping the ball away from two defenders that are similar to those in a real-life soccer practice. You're ranked according to how well you perform in these drills and if you achieve a high score, you can unlock classic players who 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!
Lastly, the game has many hidden/secret teams including all-time/classic teams for England, France, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Holland and Germany; current day all-star teams; and dozens of free agent classic players (Hagi, Rush, Dalglish, Best etc) who can be unlocked assigned to teams or purchased in the Master League.
Gameplay : 96
The basic kernel of WE6:I's gameplay is very similar to that of the original import Winning Eleven 6 that we reviewed last year: (http://www.sports-gaming.com/soccer/winning_eleven_6/review_ps2.shtml)
I'll discuss improvements that have been made to an already deep and magnificently balanced game engine. The biggest improvements came in the areas of ball physics, player control/interactions and AI. The unscripted ball physics in WE6:I are simply mind blowing and are noticeably improved over those present in WE6. There are a staggering number of ways the ball can ricochet, deflect and spin off in different directions. It's incredibly realistic and light years ahead of the ball physics in World Tour Soccer 2003 and FIFA 2003. The deflections are even more variable depending upon what part of a player's body they come off, the speed at which the player is moving and the angle at which the ball hits a player's body. You also see a lot more mis-controlled passes, mis-hit shots and awkward bounces than in WE6, which again really ramps up the authenticity and realism.
The player interactions and tackling in WE6:I are fantastic. Players jostle for the ball and position themselves realistically with their arms sticking out, shoulder barges, the works. Mid-air collisions in the air are also very realistic and varied. Tackling, in particular the slide tackling, is much better than in WE6 and a perfectly timed slide tackle can be a devastating weapon both on offense and defense. An individual player's strength rating also plays a much more important role. Stronger players, like Viera and Davids, hold off opposing players much more effectively and are sometimes able to plough through weaker opposing players on slide tackles.
Control is tight as always and there are a few new additions that weren't present in WE6, such as the ability to push the ball ahead with your very first touch. With quick wingers this can be a devastating maneuver to just get that extra yard of space to whip in a cross. Likewise, speedy strikers with close control will become even more dangerous. Another addition is a dummy while in motion, which allows you to have even more spectacular passing movements. For example, if you have a player making a diagonal run across the path of the ball and hold down R1, the player making the diagonal run will step over the ball without breaking stride! This can be used to great effect to confuse defenders.
The AI is excellent on both sides of the ball, and the computer mixes up the long and short ball often. It also switches wings more often, which is great. One of the problems with PES2 was that CPU defenders pushed too far up and just weren't aggressive enough. The player ratings were also jacked up in that game and those two problems meant that Winning Eleven veterans could destroy the CPU with all but the weakest teams. Thankfully, it seems that the CPU defenders are actually more aggressive in WE6:I, and though the player ratings are still a bit too high (long time veterans of the serious who have gone the import route will be able to dance around most defenders with Recoba and co.), the game poses much more of a challenge and has more longevity.
That said, this is really only a concern for veterans of the series who have played recent games. The vast majority of North American soccer fans will find the game plenty tough on even 4 out of 5 stars of difficulty.
Replay Value : 98
If you're a newcomer to the recent games in the series you will be playing this one for a long, long, time. The learning curve is perfect and there is just so much to master. Every game is different and throw in the amazingly addictive Master League and multiplayer (up to 8 players) and you have a game that will have you playing till Winning Eleven 7:International!
Overall : 95
A grade of 95, 90, 96, or 99 ... the exact score really don't matter because the bottom line is this -- if you're a North American sports fan who hasn't gone the import route to get your soccer fix, then run (don't walk) to your nearest store to pick this game up. Not only is it the best soccer game you can buy in North America, it's one of the best sports games, period! Finally, gamers in North America can experience what the rest of world has been enjoying.
If you have gone the import route things are a bit more complicated. Is WE6:I better than Winning Eleven 6: Final Evolution or J-League Winning Eleven 6? No, it's not. WE6:FE is clearly superior and with the multitude of mind-blowing user-created patches and updates that add different teams, sponsors, music and chants you won't find yourself playing WE6:I that often. That said, while I'm not advising anyone to buy a game they won't play too often, there is something undeniably cool about being able to stick in a copy of Winning Eleven into your PS2 without having to perform a swap trick, knife trick, magic trick or voodoo import game ritual.