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ncaa football 2005
madden 2005

Winning Eleven 8 Review (PS2)

By Tim Martin -- Reviews Editor
Published 2/17/2005

Publisher: Konami

Background Info

PS2 Screens(6)

To understand Konami's Winning Eleven series, you must first become aware of its international roots. Winning Eleven, essentially, is the Madden for most of Europe and Asia where the game -- called Pro Evolution Soccer there -- sells millions of copies. Thusly, Konami exerts a lot of effort in mapping player faces, uniforms, and stadiums, while perpetually tweaking a deep Master League Mode that puts to shame most American dynasty modes. Their marketing agenda: It's likely someone, somewhere cares whether the back-up goalie for Portugal has the right hair style. While soccer has gained popularity as a sport in America, interest in the video games has not. Part of enjoying soccer, virtual or real-life, is appreciating the beauty of the set-up, the intertwining team work. Take for instance that most "futbol" fans can enjoy a scoreless game. But that really runs counter to American culture, particularly among gamers accustomed to NFL Blitz and NBA Street. Note how EA Sports' FIFA game has appeased to that demographic, with its whirling dribbling moves and easy shooting system. Maybe that's why Konami decided to release its Winning Eleven series on the PS2 in 2003 with version No. 6. Both 6 and 7 received high praises, but the challenge for all successful sports games is this: Can they keep the momentum?

Presentation/Graphics : 91
The sheer number of face mapping for players is astounding: more than 4,500 of the world's best players, the game case boasts. Now hold that up with other sports games. Football games have barely half, baseball about one-fourth, basketball games little more than one-tenth. The feat, logistically, should be applauded until you look at the competition: FIFA 2005 has 15,000 players. Winning Eleven edges FIFA in quality, even if its overwhelmed in quantity, as faces wear real emotion. Eyebrows furrow, mouths smile and yell. And then there's the waving and flapping hair. In FIFA and most other sports games, computer players seem to have used Donald Trump's hairspray that restricts all movement. The game loses some points here with its stadiums that don't look as photo-realistic as FIFA (nor are there as many).

Presentation/Audio : 75
The announcers will sometimes throw in a good insight or zinger, and the crowd pipes out some recognizable chants, but the audio struggles for the most part. You don't even notice the commentary most games, except for a quick comment after a foul or goal. The crowd roars and boos, but passion is not communicated. While this was a feature in Winning Eleven 7, this game also gives you the option for English or Spanish commentary. The in-game music, a slate of techno songs, is sufficient.

Interface/Options : 94
The same game modes return: Match; League; Cup; Master League; and Training. League is sort of like the single-season of other sports games, Cup is the Tournament or Playoffs, and Master League is the multiple-season dynasty mode. Master League is my favorite game mode in any sports game, trumping even NCAA Football and its addictive recruiting in the Dynasty Mode. The reason: Master League essentially has in-season recruiting but with the twist of player salaries. The set-up is similar to the multiple-season modes in some of the collegiate ESPN Videogames and 989 Sports games where you start with a mediocre school and work your way to a powerhouse. There are four leagues in Master League, with each having 24 teams split into two divisions. You start on the lower division and attempt to work your way to the top league where you will be entered in big tournaments. The incentive of winning is high, as you are allocated points for salary based on your success. With that money, you can negotiate the transfer of a player, acquire one on a loan or retain your current ones. The vast number of player ratings and an impressive player search engine enrich player development. After each game, players will increase or decrease in their more than 30 ratings.

Where Winning Eleven shows some weakness is in its rosters and licensed leagues. For this version, Konami did add officially licensed club teams from Italy, Spain and Denmark. Three other unlicensed leagues (player names are accurate, but you must edit team names) also are there: English, German and French. The additions are much appreciated but pale in comparison to FIFA with its more than 350 official licenses and 20 leagues. WE8 added 72 club teams (136 total) and one national team (57). Additional historical teams can be unlocked. Also, the rosters seem to not include most of the recent player transfers that have occurred since Pro Evolution Soccer was released in Europe and Asia last year.

The learning curve of the game is steep, but helpful training modes, similar to Madden's Training Camp, allow for an entertaining skill development. The instruction manual is 52-pages long and useful - a rarity for most non-RPG/strategy games. The interface throughout the game received a much-needed face-lift, bringing in more bright colors and graphics. The previous Winning Elevens had the feel of a mammoth Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

Gameplay : 93
No other sports game matches Winning Eleven's ball physics. In fact, no game comes close. This is the area where Winning Eleven lengthens itself from the competition. In FIFA, if you go to Instant Replay, you will notice the ball acting funky, spraying and deflecting to accommodate the attacking dribbler. Some times you will even notice the ball not touching a player and caroming in a direction. Not the case with Winning Eleven, where you seem to have a connection of the analog stick with the ball's direction. Never have I felt such precision in a sports game, in part because soccer has more ball touches than baseball or football, but mainly because the number of dribbling, shooting and heading animations. Basketball games are getting close in recreating that "connection" of player with ball, but they still have a far way to go.

The core controls remain the same. I liken the depth and flexibility of the control to the Tony Hawk Pro Skating games. You have your basic functions: X is pass, square is shoot, circle is a cross, and triangle is a thru-pass. If you know those four buttons, you can play the game with a minimal amount of success in the same you could rack up respectable scores in THPS by combining a few aerial tricks with some nose grinds. But the beauty of Winning Eleven is in the spontaneous, a one-touch pass for a goal or perhaps a body feint or step over dummy. One-on-one encounters, both on offense and defense, provide for exciting mini-battles. It seems that for every possible situation there is a move and a countermove.

For beginning players, remembering all of the button combinations can be difficult. I played the game for more than a year before I felt comfortable executing on offense. Practice mode can blunt the maturation process, but Winning Eleven falls into one of those "easy to learn, difficult to master" categories. Free kicks and corner kicks take time to master. Scoring is difficult, even for accomplished players, as the shooting meter that gauges a shot's height, ramps up quickly.

The changes to this year's game are subtle. The default camera angle is panned a bit farther back, which allows for better vision. Referees, which now roam the playing field among the players, take a more active role, calling more minor fouls. The game feels smoother, crisper and more responsive regarding player movement. The A.I. was boosted up, as CPU players are more attentive and will perform better dribbling moves, but the default, three-star level seemed easier this year. Teams will display varying styles against you. Matches against Brazil and Germany will feel much, much different.

Replay Value : 97
As great a single-player experience it is, the multi-player (up to 7 can play) is amazing. Aside from NBA Street or Madden, Winning Eleven has logged the most hours of any sports game at my apartment over the last three years. The realism of the game makes for a fair game (there's no glitchy three-point shots or I-can't-stop-that-QB-rollout moments). Additionally, the Master League mode is comprehensive and, with the improved interface, is aesthetically pleasing.

Overall : 94
As I wrote in my Madden review, scoring an already great sports game can be difficult. Do you lower a game's score if it does not re-invent itself or bring a heavy batch of game modes? I mean, if the game remains the same, except for a few small additions, how can the score be lower? Winning Eleven added enough Master League features, tweaked the interface, and smoothed the gameplay enough to warrant another strong score. The new licensed club teams help, as do the additional club teams. And so, even in a year when EA's FIFA series was pretty solid, Winning Eleven again reigns king because of its excellent game engine and overall depth.

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