Winning Eleven 7 International Review (PS2)
When I was asked to write a review for Operation Sports on “World Soccer Winning Eleven 7 International” for the Playstation 2, I was very hesitant. I am not a soccer fan by any stretch of the imagination. The most I have been involved with soccer is when my son, then five, was playing pee-wee soccer, and it still didn’t interest me much at all. The more I thought about it, though the more I was intrigued – after all, who better to write a review of this game than someone who really doesn’t give a hoot about soccer, but enjoys trying different types of games.
Now this isn’t to say I’m a complete stranger of the game. I did get slight World Cup fever quite a few years back when it was in the United States. This is not my first soccer game that I’ve played either. I have been dabbling with numerous soccer games on the PC and consoles for quite some time and one of my old favorites was FIFA Soccer ’95 for the Sega Genesis. With this exposure though, I still really don’t know much about setting my lines up and who to attack or who to leave in a certain area while I am attacking or defending. I know the basics, however, and it was enough to have fun while playing.
The first thing I noticed upon getting to the main menu of “Winning Eleven 7” was a Training League, which was a tutorial of sorts. This isn’t a typical tutorial, but a tutorial that has two different ways to train. One has you just doing free-form training and the second is a ‘challenge’ type that has you achieving certain goals which then gives you points for unlocking items for future use in the WE Shop.
“Winning Eleven 7” looks to be the ultimate team game, as you can have up to eight people sitting in your living room playing at the same time. Two Multi-taps are required; as well as eight controllers, but the ability to do this is a definite highlight. You can also use up to this many people in the different modes of play “Winning Eleven 7” offers or just play solo. The modes of play include the following: Match Mode, which includes an exhibition and a penalty kick type match. You also have League Mode that has you choosing sixteen teams and then have them take part in a round robin type tournament, which can include fifteen or thirty games depending on the length you choose. There also is a Cup Mode, which is similar to soccer’s World Cup. There are different types of these Cup’s to choose from as well. The last mode - which is the deepest mode in the game - is Master League Mode, where the object is to create and run your own team and build it into a soccer powerhouse. This mode is very similar to the dynasty modes that have been seen in some of the very recent football games. Your success in Master League Mode is entirely dependant on your ability to build a strong team by acquiring new players through different types of negotiations while releasing your has-beens on your current team. There is no advantage to what team you start out with either, so you are free to pick any team of your choosing as every team you start with has the exact same players. There really isn’t any way to ‘win’ Master League Mode, but you can lose in various ways. Play like an idiot on the field and have less then 16 players available for your next match is one of the quickest ways to lose this mode. The other two ways would be to have a negative point (technically dollars) total or fall below –9,999 during your ongoing season. The choices for your matches are numerous in that you have over 50 different ‘national’ teams and approximately 60 ‘fake’ club teams to choose from as well as the ability to play in one of 21 different stadiums.
A bevy of features provides a great deal of entertainment. They are numerous and time consuming. Master League Mode can keep you busy for hours by just acquiring players. I normally find the lesser modes in other sport games like single season or tournament a bore as they don’t offer much in fun factor, but in “Winning Eleven 7” the smaller modes offer a lot of fun, and are even loads more fun with a multitude of human players around. Playing against other humans online is not an option, though. This is the only mode of play missing here. Otherwise, there is something to cover just about anyone; whether you want to play for a short period of time or dig really deep and occupy months of your time and energy into this game.
The ability to configure each different mode of play also is fairly deep. From the basics, such as length of the half; all the way up to how many substitutions are allowed per match are configurable. As I said earlier, my knowledge of soccer is limited, so I may be overwhelmed by something that is a typical rule of soccer, so the last statement is something that may not mean anything to someone quite familiar with the sport. One mode I did not really mess around with too much is the Edit Mode, but I did see enough of it. Here you can create players and ‘register’ them onto teams and also edit the club teams by changing everything from the name to the flag (create from scratch if you so desire) that they are represented by. The edit teams option can be as minor as just changing the name of the national teams to giving one of the club teams an entirely different look. The create a player option is extremely deep, and you can create just about any face you want. It is just as deep - if not deeper - than the deep create-a-player in “Tiger Woods 2004”. I mentioned the WE Shop earlier and the points that can be used here. The points you are obtaining are acquired by playing a match in the Match Mode, performing well in Master League, League, or Cup Modes, and also by clearing levels in the Training ‘Challenge’ Mode. The unlockables include adding players that can be acquired in Master League Mode and a training stadium, to something as minor as effects on the ball during replays. While there aren’t a lot of unlockables, there is enough there that will cause you to check it out every now and then just to see what you can do.
The sounds of “Winning Eleven 7” are handled very well. The commentary during the matches flows well and describes the matches in a way that really cannot be considered repetitive due to the direct nature of it. Occasionally there are mistakes, but they are so few and far between that by the time you heard a new mistake you will pretty much have forgotten about the last one. The crowds are excellent; when their team starts making a run towards the opponents’ side of the field, the crowd starts increasing their volume. They react on steals, good and bad shots, and player fouls, and you’ll hear distinct changes in the volume of the crowd.
The music in the menus of “Winning Eleven 7” is probably the only thing worth complaining about. The heavy techno beats really are annoying after a while, and feel out of place here, but considering the majority of the audience playing this is in European nations, I can see why this beat was chosen. The music that plays before matches and during highlights or ‘halftime’ is a good choice though, as it has a theme to it that screams soccer.
One of things that I have always heard about this series is that the graphics are not done very well. I have even read complaints about the graphics being poor here in “Winning Eleven 7”. What were they thinking? People are always complaining about the graphics on the PS2, but these are handled very nicely. Sure, there are items that don’t look great; the crowd, for example, but who cares what the crowd looks like? On the field itself, the graphics look really good and this is where the graphics need to look good. The pre-game ceremonies are stunning, the stadiums look excellent, and even the players look really impressive. I can’t offer comparisons to real life players, as I don’t have a clue who I am looking at, or what they really should look like, so that could be debated, but the features of the players stand out well.
The in-game animations are amazing; the players react in different ways depending on the location of the ball and even other players. When the players collide, it actually looks like they are colliding with one another, as when one player is trying to steal the ball from another. The physics of the ball are perfect. The ball bounces where it should, when it should and the manner it should. Try and find ways to debate that the physics are just that good, and I highly doubt you will be successful in your quest. Animations that are done in succession are pulled off remarkably. I never noticed even a stutter in these types of animations or even a minor hiccup. This makes playing the game fun and exciting, as the way it plays is strictly in the users hands, and not affected by missing animations or bad code when it was put together.
Replays are handled very well; from those that are shown after a goal to the highlights between halves, they look like something you would see on television. The different camera angles of the replays can be scrolled through; or you can customize your current look to see your shot from as many different angles as you can think of. Another highlight of the replays is the ability to save them for future viewing. There are roughly fifty slots available for storage of your replays to show off to your friends, or for you to admire over in the weeks to come.
All of the features I talked about earlier don’t mean squat unless the game plays well. “Winning Eleven 7” not only plays well; it sets a standard of excellence in how the action and flow of a sport game should be handled. While initially, there was a slight learning curve, once I got the hang of the controls (using the very helpful Free Training Mode), I was able to play with finesse, and move the ball up and down the field with the best of the best.
The difficulty can be made to be as easy or as hard as you want using the difficulty level settings that are available. I initially started out on the second difficulty level, and found that it just didn’t seem right having opposing players just stand in one spot and slowly trot after me when I got by them. The third difficulty level changes things immensely. Even using a better team then my opponent, I had to stay focused, or the other team would use and abuse me. It is not so hard that you’re taken out of the contest when using lesser teams; as you can still contend by playing smart and making good use of opportunities. On the fourth level, however, you’d better make sure you have skills - as I tried it a couple times and it was not for me, but I can see the advantages to using the higher level when playing with multiple players, as the AI on your team is also smarter and you can really move the ball well with another human player if you are in sync with one another. With more practice and in time, I can see myself increasing my difficulty level to the fourth level and show the same successes and frustrations I am currently seeing on the third difficulty level.
Shooting is probably the hardest overall thing to learn in “Winning Eleven 7”, as timing is the key to success. The longer you hold the button, the more powerful and longer/higher the shot will be. This can be initially frustrating when you get really close to the goal, press the shoot button - and launch the ball way over the goal. Finesse is key here - there is small meter displayed that shows you how hard your shot is going to be. The key is learning when to tap for a light shot, and when to hold for a longer, more powerful shot. You can alter the direction of the shot as well by moving in a direction while shooting to aim for the different zones of the goal. You also can hit two different types of lob shots depending on which button you are holding before you started your shot (L1 and R1 are your defaults).
All other aspects of gameplay are initially simple to learn, but take a little extra effort to master with the added techniques. You can easily pass the ball in one of three different ways to teammates by just pressing one of the three different buttons; but to be consistently successful, you’ll want to learn the added steps of doing the more difficult maneuvers. With a hold (default setting) of L1 and a press of the X button, you pass the ball; but a quick tap of the triangle button sends the ball right back to the original player, which comes in handy in a one-on-two situation when you are just about to get the ball stolen from you. Some of the moves almost get as deep as a combo move in a fighting game, but the rewards are just the same in the success when it is performed correctly. A tap of the right analog stick also will perform a special mode such as a sidestep type dribble, or you can rotate the stick in a 360 degree type motion to actually perform a 360 type move.
The AI is very good. Your teammates will find ways for you to be able to get a clear pass to them and then they help out when you are on defense and are trying to steal the ball away from the opposition. I didn’t ever get upset with the AI on my team or the oppositions team. They seemed to do what they were supposed to do - and at the right time. The goalies in the game are very good, but not too good, like in “ESPN Hockey” where very little can get by them. You won’t be able to launch a long shot and let it get by if the goalie is by the net, but you also can set up a shot very well and easily blast it by him. Goals in soccer are not a common thing, like they are in hockey so when you actually do get one you almost want to stand up and hoot and holler with the rest of your cyber teammates.
After all has been said and done, I am still amazed at how much “Winning Eleven 7” impressed me. For someone who really isn’t that big of a soccer fan, and knew so little about the sport itself, I find myself constantly enjoying this game. I am a fan of the major American sports of football, baseball, and basketball, and I enjoy playing them very much, but I have been finding myself coming back more and more to “Winning Eleven 7” more often - with shorter gaps in between the last time I played.