Winning Eleven 8 Review (PS2)
By Tim Martin -- Reviews Editor
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
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