Winning Eleven 8 International REVIEW

Winning Eleven 8 International Review (Xbox)

Konami is back with the latest installment of their award winning soccer series with “Winning Eleven 8 International”. This series has always been at the top of its game, but recently the "FIFA" series has started to close the gap. On top of that, the "FIFA" series has a lot of official licensing in its corner, which does a little damage in name recognition for soccer aficionados. “Winning Eleven 8 International” does have some real-world players, however. Using licenses from three of the top European Leagues (Spain, Italy, and Holland), Konami is able to help deliver some authentic players for those who feel that such things are a necessity. If you are a fan of the "Winning Eleven" series, you definitely will not be disappointed in “Winning Eleven 8 International”, but will you get your money’s worth by buying the latest version? Let's find out if the newest installment is for you.

There are a lot of different ways to jump into this title - except one - online play, as that did not make it into to either of the console versions of “Winning Eleven 8 International”. This could have been the one feature that put this series over the top on fun and value. However, the offline modes; from the obligatory Exhibition, all the way up to the impressive Master League provide plenty of options for players.

The specialized modes that are available to the player include the following:
The aforementioned Exhibition mode is an entirely configurable quick play option. Choice of teams, options, locales and players is entirely up to you. This is something that can be a mighty task to set up or can be a cinch; it simply depends on how you want to play.
League Mode allows you to play one of the various leagues available in the game. Each league has eighteen to twenty teams available with a schedule of over thirty games in each. Each of these leagues has special rules, mainly regarding fouls, which can change the complexion of the game when a player gets a yellow or red card.
Cup Mode has you playing a tournament similar to the World Cup. Choose the number of teams, the number of games that will be played, and rules that will be followed. Depending on the type of ‘Cup’ you are playing for will determine the teams and the scheduling options that can be tweaked for the said tournament. This is one of the quicker modes available and can be a good party mode for times when you have multiple friends around to play.
Master League Mode is the one that most of the hardcore soccer gamers are after. “Winning Eleven 8 International's” Master League Mode has grown over the years into the extremely engaging experience found here. Your goal in Master League Mode is to become the strongest team in the league you choose to start with. The Master League Mode can end under a couple of conditions; if you can’t pay your players by running out of points (points are used instead of dollars), or if the number of players on your team falls below the minimum of fifteen. If you can avoid either of these situations, then you can attempt to become one of the top teams in the world. It is completely up to you as the player as to how long you want to play. The game lasts just as long as your ambition does, and once you start playing; that ambition could become very high. In Master League Mode, no matter what team you choose; you'll have the same players and their stats available to you - and these guys aren't superstars. You'll definitely have your work cut out for you in the Master League Mode. If you make it out of the initial stages of the Master League Mode, you will then be able to bid on new players and get rid of some of the lesser players you have on your roster.

Training Mode is one of the most important modes - not only for the newest of “Winning Eleven” players, but also for some of the veterans as well. The training will help show you how the different attacks, defenses, and passes can be made or performed. Once you have the beginner training down, you can showcase these newfound skills in harder challenges that you will be graded on. These results are compared to the stock scores (or another player if more than one is using your system). Generally, the higher the score, the more you can be sure that you will be able to repeat some of these performances on the field.

Soccer is one of the loudest sports I have witnessed. The fans at a soccer game are extremely active and rowdy. This is duplicated in “Winning Eleven 8 International” very well indeed. Your fans raise their level of excitement with your positive moves, as well as echo their displeasure when something bad is happening to their favorite team. Before starting a game or when setting up one of the longer play modes, you can change how the crowd will react by having them favor a particular team or have the crowd split their loyalties between the teams evenly.

The presentation of "Winning Eleven 8 International" is top notch. From the opening cinemas setting up the match to the natural effects during the game you will feel like you are in the middle of a soccer game, or immersed into one like you were watching on television. The reproduction of the soccer atmosphere is flat-out awesome.

Unfortunately, while the crowd and the presentation are very good, I have to say that I'm disappointed in the announcers. There are hardly any changes at all to the announcing crew. The repetition is even more prevalent this year then in any other version I have played before. This was the first version in the "Winning Eleven" series that I actually shut the announcers off. Some may enjoy listening to them, but after the number of matches I have played, I don't think I could handle hearing the announcers groan anymore.

I mentioned in the sound category about the excellent opening cinemas, but the sounds are not the only things that shine - the graphics of the cinemas are just as impressive. Replays have a lot of control over them. You can watch a replay over and over from numerous camera angles that you have the ability to configure while the replay is happening. All in all, the presentation of the game - from the opening sequences to the replays at the end of the game - is handled at a high standards, but are excellent in execution. The amount of replays that are stored for the halftime and end-of-game highlights are impressive.

The graphics excellence does not stop there as the game itself is also very fluid. There are no slowdowns whatsoever, even in a crowded field. The players move in the realistic manners they should. Collision detection is handled very well as well. I have seen numerous sports titles with some very questionable collision detection, but here it is almost flawless. There really isn't much else that needs to be said about the graphics; you'll likely be hard pressed to find a fault in them.

Gameplay is the one thing in “Winning Eleven 8 International” that could initially turn off some players. The gameplay is not arcade-like in any aspect. This game replicates soccer almost to a science. There are so very few questionable circumstances in this game that sometimes you wonder if it is too perfect.

The game's controls are many and varied, and while you can play with a rudimentary knowledge of them you'll be much better served by taking the time in training to master them. On offense, the face buttons will perform different types of passes and shots, while the triggers change players and perform modifiers to the types of passes or shots performed. The right analog stick can be used to control direct passes, and can increase your level of effectiveness on the field as well. Different combinations of button presses and movements of the analog stick can perform varieties of different moves on offense. Some of these combinations rival that of fighting games, so be prepared for a steep learning curve at first. On defense, the controls are a lot more simplistic, as there are only a couple of buttons to master.
The AI in the game is as good as you ask it to be. If you set the difficulty low, you will be able to school the opposing team with ease. Setting the difficulty higher, however, really challenges not only your skills; but your patience as well. The higher difficulty levels can become extremely frustrating - but when you score on this level, you'll definitely want to stand up and scream "GOOOOOAL!"
The opponent AI is also much smarter on all levels this year, as well. They will set up much more effectively, and the differences between the teams you play against are much more varied then I have seen in years past. Some teams will play a conservative game while others are extremely aggressive. The differences in the teams and their play styles are simply astounding.
New this year is the presence of the referee on the field of play. Now while this doesn't sound like a big deal, it can be. There are seemingly far more calls made with the referee on the field. Sure, this is just something they did behind the scenes, but it's impressive that the ref is far away from you, you are more likely to get away with that cheap steal. That's a game-changer.

For those who are torn as to which console you should buy the game for, choose by your preference of controller. The games are almost identical, with a slight edge to the PS2 for fluidity. If the Xbox controller is your controller of choice, you'll want to go that way. The lack of two trigger buttons makes things a little more cumbersome compared to the PS2, however. Since online play is not an issue, I personally recommend the PS2 version.

I could go on and on about the numerous high points of this game, but it's very simple to summarize: "Winning Eleven 8 International" is, hands-down, one of the best soccer games ever made, if not one of the top sports games, period. From the presentation to the gameplay, there are very few bad moments to be found in this game. There are enough improvements that warrant a purchase from a current "Winning Eleven" player, but alas - if you were hoping for online play, then you'll then be extremely disappointed.

Scoring this game is difficult. Should a game be punished for simply making improvements - like so many Electronic Arts titles? When you have a title that is already excellent, it is extremely hard to make it excel even more. Taking that into consideration, this game is almost perfect in nearly every way. The biggest and inexcusable disappointment is that we Americans and Canadians are being short-changed in comparison to our European counterparts with regard online play on the Xbox and PS2 consoles. Is it because soccer is more of a popular sport overseas? Could be, but that's still no excuse for shortchanging American and Canadian fans of the sport, especially those who have stuck with this series through the years. There are many fans of this series here in America, Konami - please don't forget that they like to play online, too! For now, however, enjoy this exhilarating game, try to forget what's missing and try to remember to sleep once in a while.

Winning Eleven 8 International Score
out of 10