Publisher: VU Games
Release Date: April 9, 2004
For being the self-proclaimed ‘most popular sport in the world’ soccer sure hasn’t been very thoroughly represented in the digital interactive realm. The North American audience has had to pretty much make due with EA’s FIFA Soccer games and it wasn’t until only last year that the long-running Winning Eleven franchise was released stateside. Now with World Soccer Winning Eleven 7 International breaking new ground on the PC platform Konami is officially past the port bow warning-shot phase and in an all out fight for genre dominance with EA.
Some practice and patience may be required for casual soccer fans that are not familiar with Winning Eleven’s strict simulation style of play. Although there is a default level of familiarity is present even for newcomers thanks to the game’s super-smooth and responsive control system, intelligent button mapping, and intuitive depth of gameplay mechanics. Moving your character around on the pitch, executing passes, and attempting shots pretty much came naturally. Dribbling, passing, and taking shots isn’t the problem, it’s doing them right that requires some serious trial-and-error.
Beginners are free to hone their footie skills in the free practice mode or in any of the other included modes at one or two stars of difficulty, but to be a competitor at standard difficulty levels or in multiplayer against someone who knows what they’re doing you’ll need to learn how to keep the ball moving and develop disciplined defense. If you are not constantly on top of the opposing team’s ball carrier, getting in his way and challenging his every move you can pretty much bet you’ll be going home a loser on the three stars and up difficulty settings. Relying on your teammates to intercept balls, score, or even be where they should be at any given time won’t get you very far in Winning Eleven 7. The game puts the player in direct control of nearly everything your team does. For example, when you pass the ball to a teammate, player control is redirected to the receiving character before the ball even arrives at its destination, leaving it up to the player to properly position the receiver in time to keep the possession going. While the fact that these sorts of things are not automated for you will inevitably frustrate newcomers, the satisfaction level that comes with mastering these nuances is great.
Konami did an admirable job in porting Winning Eleven over to the PC, sidestepping the all-to-often annoyances that sometimes come with this sort of platform transition. Everything from the PS2 title, in addition to heightened resolution, is fully in tact here. This is mostly a good thing because the experience that has been lauded for so very long on the PS2 can be seamlessly tapped into with the PC version, but it’s not such a good thing in terms of using the PC’s input devices for navigation within the game. Mouse support is nearly non-existent in the game’s menus, on-screen cursors are controlled via the directional keys or gamepad, and unless your gamepad is as feature rich as a Dual Shock your experience may be relegated to clumsily using a gamepad and keyboard in tandem.
Of all the modes of play, which include the obligatory single-player exhibition mode; a Cup Mode, which is a 32 team round-robin tournament; and the surprisingly entertaining Training League mode, which challenges the player to complete an assortment of challenges under varying circumstances – it’s the Master League mode that features the most depth and long-lasting appeal. In this mode you’ll have a startling level of control over your team with the ability to endorse trades, recruit and train prospects, and manage the physical condition of your players throughout entire seasons. These variables on top of the already-satisfying foundation of actually playing the games makes Master League mode something more than just a series of straightforward competitions.
Unfortunately, Winning Eleven 7 doesn’t boast the best multiplayer component; meaning no online play, no network play, and no plans to integrate such things at a later date via patch. While the same can be said about the game in its original form on the PS2, no network functionality in a competitive sports game on the PC is a gross oversight indeed.
Winning Eleven 7 has received a boost in the graphics department thanks to a substantial increase in supported resolution. Besides that the game already looked impressive on the PS2, it’s just even more so now. The two-dozen included stadiums look phenomenal with their real-life dimensions being admirably replicated along with an assortment of environmental additions such as advertisement displays, jumbotrons, and thousands of rowdy spectators that audibly react to the proceedings as well as get out of their seats, throw confetti, and proudly wave banners in support of their team. The players on the pitch benefit from smoothed and detailed character models that are customized down to the smallest detail to resemble their real-life counterparts. Character models feature fully articulated mouths, facial maps, and unique body dimensions to ensure no two players look the same. There is also a wealth of extra curricular character animations such as when a player is physically emoting their frustration over a penalty call or buoyantly bouncing around the pitch in joy as they celebrate a made shot.
Konami did a great job with the sound as well. In game sound effects, such as crowd reactions, player grunts, and ball percussions sound very authentic. Returning commentators Peter Brackley and Trevor Brooking mostly do a good job of calling the shots, though on occasion some things they say just don’t seem to coincide with the on-field proceedings.
Overall, World Soccer Winning Eleven 7 International is a welcome addition to the scant few soccer options currently available on the platform and possibly the best recreation of the sport on any platform. If you’ve grown weary of EA’s FIFA Soccer games or just would like to experience a different spin on the sport then checking out Winning Eleven 7 should be on your to-do list. Be warned though, in order to properly play the game you’ll need a Dual Shock caliber gamepad and plenty of patience to overcome its trying difficulty curve.