Release Date: February 17, 2004
Soccer (better know as football elsewhere) is probably one of the most underrated sports in the US. There is a much larger fan base for the NFL (US football) but you may find a few people who are still dedicated to this form of football. Personally, I am a pretty dedicated fan to soccer and became so after watching the World Cup games. I just keep replaying the Argentina vs England game in my mind, hoping to recreate such a match in a video game. Fortunately for me, Konami has produced a game that may emulate the realism of soccer. To us gamers, we know this as the epitome of all soccer games: the name Winning Eleven.
To our satisfaction, Konami decided to bring out another one to strengthen the series. The first Winning Eleven to come to the states was 6, and because of the decent fan support 6 received, they decided to bring out 7 with an improvement to their already flawless system. So how can Konami's new game live up to its predecessor? The first thing was to dump Renderware's CG sequence. Not that Renderware is a bad company, but Konami decided to use their own graphics engine this time, allowing for more control over the players' features and creating a more realistic feel of the game.
And boy, did that work out well. In Winning Eleven 6, there was a slight problem in volleying - it was actually quite difficult to tell when a player would volley (a volley is when the player does a bicycle kick, and it can be quite impressive if you ask me). Now, you can clearly see the point to volley a shot. It all depends on the height of the lob pass; usually, if it's lower than your head, it'll be a volley. Otherwise you will execute a header. You can plainly see from this that the players' control has grown extremely detailed and is much easier to handle. But like I said before, in Winning Eleven 6, the controls of the game are not the easiest to pick up. Winning Eleven 7 utilizes the same system(R1 Turbo, L1 switch players, Triangle through pass, Circle long pass, X short pass, Square shoot) so if you are new to the series, you may need some time to learn the controls. The best way to do this is to enter the practice challenges where you will learn the basics of the game such as dribbling, passing, and even shooting. These challenges are not easy, and they took me a good amount of time to complete. I am not certain what this unlocks if you finish all the challenges, but I know for sure that after completing them, you will have a better understanding of the game and a higher chance of defeating the computer AI.
The AI in this game has got to be the best in any soccer game around. The teams play like you see them play in the World Cup, and this is only at level 3. I am kind of afraid to move the AI setting to 5; it's difficult for me to beat the computer even at the default level. The game plays like real life, requiring you to really pass well and find the open space to open up the defense while utilizing through passes, pass and goes, direct passes, and lob passes. Without mastering each of those skills, you will not be able to create any opening to make the GOAAALLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!
But shooting is truly an art. Before, it wasn't as hard, but the new version has truly revamped the shooting system. Now you really can shoot in the eight directions of the goal. Most players aim for the top right or left corners, and depending on the situation, they would use the ground attack to kick it in (in which the soccer ball stays on the grass, never getting air rolling in). The computer really does that a lot; I can't believe how many times the ball just passed by the goalie, making me go haywire to the point where I can't help but curse at my player. This shows how realistic the game is - I just get that into it, and I have to vent my frustration. All I know is this: defense wins championships, and I definitely need to fix up my formations before I can even be a good contender in the cups.
There are several modes of play, but I personally like the cups because those are the ones I've actually seen on TV. I play the International Cup because it plays much like the World Cup, and that is where I became addicted to soccer. The structure of the World Cup is that, for the first round, the best two of the four teams progress to the next level. The second round on are single-round elimination matches. If you do get bored of this mode, you can play two other modes: League or even Master League (something you should only play once you really understand the game physics). League is pretty much a season where you run through a set number of games. Winning games will earn you points to purchase items and trade with other players. I am still not completely certain about how the WEN system works, but it seems you get more points for winning or finishing the objective with the highest number of points. WEN is important for Master League, where you have to pay for the players' salaries and acquisitions.
The heart of the game actually resides in Master League mode, and this is where the computer is incredibly powerful. You manage one of the teams in the league, and you can trade them, train them, and much more. Like Madden, there is player progression, but rather than every player progressing, only the promising player whom you take to training will move forward. Training also gives you a better feel of how the team plays and who your star players are. It's also a good chance to test the skill of your goal keeper, passing the ball through your front line and trying to aim for the hot spots. Seeing these hot spots can be hard, but if you are good, you can probably play like a pro and make a game seem almost like a TV match.
While the graphics aren't real-life figures, they are close representations. Unlike the previous installment, this one has improved facial looks. If you look at the replays, you can see there features, and this time they seem more identical to who they play out to be. The characters also have more "facial expressions" whenever something goes wrong or right. You can see the entire team celebrate whenever a player scores a goal, and you'll see them rushing over to him and dog-piling him. During that time, you may also be able to observe the stadium, filled with well-trimmed grass, and this time with a line that you can actually pass. The borders of the field have been widened, and you can run all the way to the dividers if you wanted, but that would defeat the purpose of playing. And if you are lucky, you may also see some fireworks and effects from the stands; sometimes you'll even encounter rain, which greatly affects how the ball moves. Between GT3 and NFSU, we understand that GT3 has a lot better physics, and for Winning Eleven, the same concept applies against its counter part, FIFA. One thing that is in slight need of work is probably the WE7 menu system, which is quite archaic.
Even though it is archaic, it's easy to maneuver around and reach the options. And this game's best option is the ability to change the commentary language like in the last game. One vast improvement is that the commentary is no longer just a single person; no, there seem to be two characters constantly informing us of what is going on. To me, this is more realistic, but the comments still don't match what is going on sometimes. I guess it's still hard to make a perfect commentary. And if you get the chance to move your focus from winning (or in my case, from losing), you will get to listen to its BGM tracks. The techno-type tracks that get repeated over and over are especially noticeable when you are in the start menu for too long. If you do get a goal, you will also enjoy the welcome sound of scoring.
Well, to me, scoring is a feat in and of itself, but when I do I can't help but celebrate. The game's controls have greatly improved, giving the gamer a more precise response time, although I still have a problem with the character locking up in a certain position. The game is really advanced and can beat the pants off of FIFA any day. But one thing this game is missing is the ability to play online. You don't know how much I would love to play this game against a fellow friend. Beating them with style is always the way to go. Overall this game, like the last, is SOLID, and soccer fans like me will keep up with the series, hoping that our call for an online mode will be answered soon enough. FIFA, watch out, for Winning Eleven is slowly digging away at your throne. If you are a soccer fan, I definitely recommend this; the game beats all other soccer games at this time. However, one thing is for sure - Konami needs to really improve the load times. They're kind of long but still bearable. Thankfully, those load times are only at a few locations, the start, changing audio commentary and before a game is loaded.
Score : 9.2 / 10