Release Date: February 6, 2007
Football, or "soccer" to us Americans, is the most-watched sport in the world, and it brings together several world powers every four years. The World Cup is the biggest worldwide event which allows players to break the language barrier, forget their countries' problems and just focus on winning the cup to bring home pride and prestige. Not everyone is able to attend these thrilling matches, so to reach the masses, companies have been churning out football games for what seems to be a lifetime. The most common franchises are EA's FIFA and Konami's Winning Eleven — which is heralded as the best by many.
The naming convention for the Winning Eleven series is quite intriguing. In Europe, the series is known as Pro Evolution Soccer, and for years, the version numbering has been a source of confusion. Although they were the very same game, the previous iterations were Winning Eleven 9 in North America and Pro Evolution Soccer 5 in Europe. This edition marks the melding of the two names, as well as the attachment of a year to the title, Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007. This move could mean that Konami is trying to put an end to the naming confusion, or they're planning on churning out annual releases … or both.
Graphically, the game does not feel any more superior than the last version, but Winning Eleven has always been about the gameplay, not the graphics. The series is known for making small tweaks to each prior edition, making the game feel more realistic and fun than before. This has always been Konami's strong point and the reason fans of the series keep coming back for more. However, for the infant PSP system, will Konami be able to keep its reputation for continuously improving on the game mechanics?
The previous PSP version of Winning Eleven was severely lacking game modes, but that problem has been addressed in this release. Almost all of the modes found in the PS2 iteration are available on the portable counterpart, such as: Master League, League, Cup, Training, and Edit. Naturally, the PSP-exclusive Wireless mode is also present and accounted for. Those who are familiar with the modes or Winning Eleven in general can skip the next three paragraphs altogether.
If you are new to the Winning Eleven series, I'd suggest going through the modes in this specific order: Training, Cup, and League or directly into Master League. Training will provide you with an open-ended soccer field to test out the moves mentioned in the manual. Understanding each and every move is vital; not all of them will be useful, but there will always be a time when executing one will be more helpful than another. Sadly, in this PSP version, there is no Challenge mode, which gave me many more useful tips than this training mode ever could. (Challenge mode on the PS2 consisted of set objectives, like shooting through a target from a certain distance, passing to a target from a certain distance, practicing dribbling skills, etc.)
After getting a basic understanding, I would suggest jumping into a match or Cup mode to get a better understanding of how the game mechanics play and how the A.I. reacts. Matches let you take two teams onto the playing field and play a friendly game. There are several different tournament types in which you can compete: International Cup, which is the World Cup; Puma Cup, which involves 16 teams in elimination-only rounds; European Cup, African Cup, American Cup and Asia-Oceanian Cup, which are restricted to only European, African, American, and Asian teams, respectively; and the Konami Cup, which is a customizable tournament. The International Cup is the one I play because it's one of the biggest tournaments around and occurs every four years, unlike the others. Once you have been victorious in any one of these Cups, I would suggest jumping into either League or Master League mode. League mode is a simpler version of Master League, and it's good for players who don't like to do a lot of micromanagement.
The heart of Winning Eleven lies in the Master League mode, which was sorely missed in the last PSP iteration. The player gets to manage a team from start to finish, handling the salary cap and players. It's a really intense and difficult mode, since you'll also be playing the team to ensure that it progresses to the next level. Unlike the International Cup or any of the other cups where multiple star players may be on one team, star players rarely exist in Master League. Star players are born from your management skills, and Master League's focus isn't on winning but the creation of a team. When you have that perfect team, there is no better feeling.
If you're a console gamer and have played previous versions of Winning Eleven, the aforementioned gameplay modes are nothing new. Since they're making their debut on the portable PSP system, however, the true question is, "How does the game play?"
Compared to the console versions, the PSP variant is not as refined, but if the last version you touched was last year's PSP offering, then WEPES 2007 enhances the gameplay and overall feel. One major gripe with the last version was that players had the problem of locking onto the ball. In this year's revision, that problem has been removed, and instead players almost always have the ability to move about.
A few more essential moves have been added to the game, but you can't please everyone all of the time, and there are bound to be detractors of the additions as well. One downside is that when the ball is in the air, players do not respond very well, and there is the chance that you'll hit the ball into the other team's possession, making for an easy goal. In older versions, almost all of the goalies — even the bad ones — could stop just about every shot, making it difficult to score. In WEPES 2007, goalies have suddenly become human and are a lot easier to score on, which is great if it weren't a double-edged sword. It's good news when you're playing offense, but it's horrible news when your own goalie is the victim.
In addition to some of the caveats listed above, a major problem with the title is in its loading times. With all the new modes and items, the game seems to have gotten extremely unwieldy and has to load at almost every turn of the page. Loading takes place on the Mode selection screen, when starting a new game, formation settings, half time, and at times, there will even be slowdown while playing a game. WEPES 2007 may not be completely optimized, but it seems slower when compared to the previous iteration.
There may be options to enhance load times, such as toning down graphical options or turning off audio effects, but I haven't tried it because I want to experience the game as it was originally intended. Without audio effects, the gameplay experience would be extremely stark. A new feature in WEPES 2007 is that audio commentary has been added, but on the PSP, it isn't as exciting as it sounds. In the PS2 version, commentary is occurring at every instant of play, but the PSP version only provides some low-quality audio after a goal has been scored. (Unsurprisingly, the audio clip says, "GOAL!!!")
Thankfully, other audio portions of the game are less disappointing: whistles blowing, crowd noise, and the sound of kicking the ball. The music is also very fitting for this series, implementing genres and tunes that have long been associated with soccer.
In addition, there is a wireless ability which lets you take on a fellow player, but there is still no option to play cooperative games versus the A.I. or multiple human players. You also have the ability to play your PS2 league on your PSP.
Overall, Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 is definitely what I wanted to see on the PSP. With just about every mode from the console version, it has tons of replayability and has everything that was missing from the last PSP version, but the new loading times are a pain. If you love soccer and want something for gaming on the go, Winning Eleven is definitely the best available for the PSP system.