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PS2 Review - 'Winning Eleven 8'

by Hank on March 20, 2005 @ 6:48 a.m. PST

Winning Eleven 8 will once again raise the bar for the critically acclaimed series with even more in-depth gameplay, improved realism and increased control. The game features more teams, players and stadiums than ever before, including all the teams from the Italian, Spanish and Dutch leagues under the official license.

Genre: Sports
Publisher: Konami
Developer: KCET
Release Date: February 1, 2005

Buy 'WINNING ELEVEN 8': Xbox | PC | PlayStation 2

Sports games have made a great impact on the gaming industry, as every year sees either the launch of a new type of sports game or, at the very least, updated versions of an existing sports series. One such sport genre that has been gathering popularity is soccer, known to the rest of the world as football. This new gain in popularity has prompted several companies to create their own simulation or arcade game, but there has always been one series that seems to be ahead of the pack, Winning Eleven.

Winning Eleven is to soccer as Madden is to American football: it's one of the older franchises that has been around for many years and can be considered the best out there (pre-ESPN Football). With the eighth release, can we expect an incredible game that surpasses its predecessors?

Some may say that Winning Eleven 8 is identical to previous installments, except with a few minor changes, but it's these changes that made me appreciate this game more than its predecessors. The major difference that I've noticed is that the characters seem to respond quicker than before, which means those throw passes and one-two passes actually get executed, and I'm finally able to somewhat score against the AI. Those who were able to defeat the AI in Winning Eleven 7 may not appreciate this addition quite as much.

In other improvements, Konami has finally obtained official licenses for the club teams from Italian, Spanish and Dutch leagues, 57 national teams, and 80 European club teams. Days of dealing with player "orange001" are a thing of the past. The graphics have also improved from the last installment; the soccer field is more defined, and the characters sport more detailed facial features. Another addition would be the ability to create and delete players, and a pixel editor has been added so you can create your flag, emblem or motif. All in all, bells and whistles aside, it all comes down to the gameplay.

The gameplay for the new Winning Eleven is almost identical to the previous; the control scheme is the same, and the physics have been slightly tweaked to feel more realistic soccer game. You also have more intelligent AI partners rather than ones who always stopped dead in their tracks until you took over. Unfortunately, the problem with players locking up on the field has carried over into this version; when a player tries to intercept a passing ball, the character is "locked" and cannot move until you hit an extra button to unlock him. This makes the game slightly more difficult to control unless you're really skilled, which is a shame because the ability to execute interceptions is key and can completely change the course of a game.

While there is no drastic overhaul in gameplay like the transformation from Madden 2003 to Madden 2004, a couple of changes did occur. The loading menus seem to have converted to a Windows XP style with pictures, rather than the old plain-text menus. There are also a lot more drills that you can take your player through, which even keeps track of what your skill rating should be, and lastly, a new difficulty level has been added, allowing you to choose between one through six stars (you need to unlock the last difficulty level).

The modes for play are cup, league, master league, match, and training. As for all sports games, it's usually quite wise to learn the system first, and I would strongly suggest going into training mode to understand the heart of WE. This isn't like FIFA Street, where you can pick up the game and own on your first try. The WE series has always required skill and some idea of how to play soccer to win, unless you play an opponent who hasn't played before or you have the AI set to a extremely low level.

In the more difficult modes, it simulates soccer quite well, requiring you to utilize precise passes to generate any goal opportunities. Going against the goalie one-on-one is always great; trying everything to fake him out or just use his position against him by kicking into the bottom of the goal, or embarrassing him by lobbing it right over his head. Making a goal isn't as easy as it seems, just because of the system used in WE. In the FIFA Soccer series, when you press down on the shoot button, you can almost ensure that you make the goal. In the WE series, this is probably the hardest thing to change over, but this also creates a new sense of control that was not apparent in the FIFA series when I last played it. I find it to be a truly magnificent system: a simple hit of the "shoot" button might cause you to overkick the goal, while a light tap might be too weak, and the goalie can grab it with ease. These kicks also take into account how far away you are from the ball as well as your body position. If you are trying to shoot a goal when facing away from the net, it is definitely going to be a whole lot weaker, and WE portrays that well. Other items you may learn in training is how to pass, dribble, attack, defend, almost everything possible other than how to time a bicycle kick (which is just so impressive when one is pulled off).

Once you've run through training at least once, you are then ready to start playing, and the best place to start is either cup or league mode. Cup is, as you have guessed, the original mode where you fight for a cup, European, or world title. It's more like a tournament match where you try and go for the gold. League is where probably a quarter of the game can be found, since this is essentially season play, where you go through a set amount of games in the Germany, Serie A, Eredivisie, Espanola, International, England, and/or France leagues.

The real heart of the game has been, and still is, master league, where you take one of your club leagues through a season and manage the team in every possible aspect, from trading and recruiting to making "money" during these matches. The money can be used to unlock some really nice features such as: the original dribble challenge, training grounds, an exhibition stadium, new stadiums, ball type, ball effects, level six difficulty, camera views, background music, teams, players, and more. When you unlock these items, that's when the true fun begins. I am personally still trying to unlock the camera player view because this is a new camera view that was not in the previous installment, but it costs 1500 WEN.

Aside from the camera angle, the graphics have improved, especially noticeable in the opening sequence and for in-game, the grass looks a lot nicer, although the fields aren't always green (you will notice dirt patches on certain fields). Since I have never actually been to these soccer games, I cannot tell if the stadiums are accurately portrayed, but I do know that all of the venues look better than they did in earlier versions. Character models seem to be the same for in-game, but it may also be because of the view that I play, which emphasizes the game more than the graphics.

The sound in WE8 is kind of weak compared to other sports games. While it's a nice mix of background music, it would have been nice if there had been more variety (but I may have just been spoiled by EA with their amazing sports tunes). You really don't notice the sound that much during a game, but the repetitive nature of the soundtrack is quite apparent when scrolling through the menu screen.

Winning Eleven 8 may not be a huge innovation from the last chapter, but it does fix a good amount of physics and character control issues. If you're new to the WE series, you should at least rent this title and be dazzled by what the game can do; older fans of the series might want to wait for the next installment, which will finally incorporate online play.

Score: 8.9/10

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