What can one say about the sport of soccer? Personally, Ive never been too crazy about it. Like most kids, I played throughout most of grade school (goalie for most of those years) and went to the occasional professional league game. Once in high school and the world of football opened up, soccer quickly became a cloudy, elementary school memory. Years later while working in sports radio, the world of soccer reentered my life in the form of World Cup coverage. It was my first exposure to real soccer, which made our NFL coverage look like high school game night. Youd be hard pressed to find more hardcore fans then that of the English Premiere League. An event like Arsenal taking on Manchester United would not only close down most of the UK, but would fill stadiums and pubs to the breaking point with rowdy soccer hooligan fans, the scariest of all. After discovering all of this, I became a fan of EAs Fifa series, which was about the only real soccer game out there. After losing most interest in soccer again, friends of mine began talking about an import soccer game called Winning Eleven that had finally ported over to PS2. At this point, I was a hardcore Xbox player and really could care less about some soccer game that was being called many times better then EAs Fifa. About three months ago, while toying with the notion of picking up the 2005 Fifa game, I read about Winning Eleven finally making its way over to the Xbox in early February this year. Based off of everything I had heard about the series over the years, I decided to see if I could get into soccer once again and decided that you should be along for the ride. Join me as I take a look at Konamis World Soccer Winning Eleven 8 International.
If your only experience with soccer has been either playing in elementary school or seeing a game played by American teams, then you have no concept of what soccer really is. A crowd at an exhibition game involving any European team is similar in size and energy as that of the Super Bowl. Local businesses shut down and fans will travel for days by bus to see the local team play in an away game. Were used to mediocre match-ups played in arenas that are filled to maybe one one-hundredth of their total capacity. And why is that? Perhaps its because of the lack of television time. Can you name one American soccer player (minus the womens Olympic team members)? Or maybe its because there is so little appeal in kids growing up to be pro players these days. Would you rather be the lowest paid player in the MLB, NFL or NBA, or would you rather be a highly paid soccer player? Personally, Id rather warm the Detroit Tigers bench then be a superstar in the MLS. But over in Europe, as well as pretty much the rest of the planet except in America, players are practically worshiped when theyre at the top of their game, and hated when they blow the winning goal. Finally, you can experience that same feeling in Winning Eleven 8.
While this is the first entry in the Winning Eleven series on Xbox, this is the eighth entry into the franchise. One of the more talked about features is the use of real players representing over one hundred and twenty different teams (or clubs depending on your origin). Granted you wont be able to recreate any good old fashioned West Hampton versus Liverpool rallies, you can still use national teams to settle some pent up rivalries between friends (Italy versus Germany is quickly becoming a favorite amongst my crew of gamers). You can also find authentic uniforms and stadiums to play in, although I have my doubts that McDonalds, Adidas and Konami are the only companies advertising on along the play boards. In addition to the environments, you also have control over the weather conditions and the effects they have on playing conditions for each stadium (rain makes things fun, especially when dealing with speed players). Konami has gone out of their way to create the most realistic feel and look to the game.
The gameplay modes presented in Winning Eleven 8 are similar to all other sports games. If youre looking for a quick fix, take a whack at exhibition mode. This is the perfect place to get a feel for the game before stepping into career mode, which follows a club from start to the championship (if you make it that far). Another of the unique features of Winning Eleven is how in depth the team management system is. In addition to dealing with the players themselves (concerning their skill levels, moods and contract situations), youll have to deal with aspects such as field conditions, stadium attendance, attitude of the fans, etc. Konami wanted to go for a combination management simulator and sports action game, and came up with Winning Eleven 8. You can also do various trials (practice rounds) with particular aspects of the game in order to improve your skills as a player. These include shoot-out (penalty shots), goal keeping, passing drills and team scrimmages. About every element of the game can be experienced here, accept for a good old fashioned soccer riot. The only downside to the gameplay is that the difficulty level may make novice players turn away without giving Winning Eleven 8 a real chance. It wasnt until my fourth exhibition match that I finally scored my first goal. Some will say that the level of difficulty is appropriate because of the lack of goal scoring that occurs in a normal match-up, but others will just give up and not look back because of the low scoring games. Lets face it. Most Americans are used to high scoring games, not exciting match-ups that end with a score of 1-0 in overtime.
Concerning the controls, Winning Eleven 8 takes a familiar formula and changes it around a bit. Using similar controls as hockey games, players may become confused with the all too reliable B button, normally used to switch which player you are controlling, is used for putting pressure on an offensive player. It took a whole bunch of concentration to use the right trigger button to switch players. Also, slide tackling (my personal favorite) is the A button, the usual home of putting pressure on a player. This can be real bad considering that unless you execute a slide tackle at the right angle, it will usually result in being booked with a yellow card (think of it as committing a foul in basketball) and too many of those will lead to the red card, which bounces the player right out of the game. On the plus side, passing control has never been better. Using the left thumbstick, you can have amazing directional accuracy, while the length you hold down the B button will control the force of the kick. Beginners, again, might be turned off because the days of simply aiming in the general direction of another player and tapping the pass button are over. It can be tricky to get a grasp of at first, but once you play around with it, youll see that you can be successful more often passing it just ahead of your teammate as opposed to directly to him.
Graphically speaking, soccer has never looked so good. The fields look amazing, complete with detail changes during changing weather conditions. Player appearances, both in game, during cut scenes and from a distance are amazingly detailed to the point where players are distinctive from halfway across the field. Each real life players face and physical features were used to make sure that the clubs were not filled with look-a-like drones. About the only thing that could have been improved on was the detail of the crowds in attendance. Konami should have done some more crowd panning and had some nice tight shots of the crowd. Perhaps there could have been sections of super hardcore hooligan fans that could get a nice close up of them getting extremely upset (big drunken rage) when the opposing team scores a goal. Besides the crowd shots, Winning Eleven 8s graphics put all previous soccer games (including all the Fifa games EA has put out over the years) to shame.
Sounds like a rowdy crowd to me. The crowd noise is constantly changing to suit whatever is happening in the game at that moment. Not to be limited to simple cheers and boos, the crowd will often begin chanting and stomping about when they want to get the team pumped. There is also random crowd yells (assumed to be drunken hooligans shouting smack) and impromptu breaking into the Ole song when playing over in Europe. Sound effect wise, there is nothing too new. Its all the standard soccer sounds of the ball being kicked about. Also, the music in the game is not worth mentioning, meanly because I dont remember any. Konamis team in the booth consists of two British soccer experts that have hundreds of different phrases to say during the game. It would be a near flawless sound formula if it wasnt for the fact that the post-play comments often come a few seconds late and usually are directed at a play that happened two possessions ago. This is a fairly common problem in sports games, one of which Im not entirely sure can be corrected without having dialogue bits overlapping one another.
While Winning Eleven 8 as some minor flaws, the one that stands out the most is the lack of online play for Xbox Live. In an age where EA has even seen the light and realized that all sports games should include online play, no matter what console its on (except Nintendo GameCube, whose president still believes gamers dont want to play games online), I cant understand why Konami did not include online play. The only rational explanation I could come up with is that Konami was locked into an exclusive online deal with Sony. That is about the only acceptable excuse Konami could have in my opinion. The difficult scoring mechanic and the advanced passing system might turn players new to the series off within the first ten minutes. If you feel yourself falling into this category, I recommend that you keep at it and you should find the game challenging and quite entertaining. Finally, some more shots of the crowd and better track of calling plays from the booth would easily make this game the greatest soccer game of all time.
Overall, Konamis World Soccer Winning Eleven 8 International is a welcome addition to the Xbox library as players will finally have an alternative to EAs Fifa series. The challenging play will not only keep players on their toes, but it finally provides a reason to run through the practice drills in order to improve your skill. Dont go looking for the sweet spot which pretty much allows you to score at any time shoot from that one area. Youll have to learn some fake out skills and catch the opposing goalie off guard if you want to stand even a remote chance of getting to the finals. While fine tuning your game, you can admire the amazing graphics of Winning Eleven 8, which Id put up there with games like Halo 2 and Ninja Gaiden. With a little patience and the cheers of the home team crowd behind your club, gamers should find a fun challenge for both fans and those who could careless about soccer. Finally, a chance to get our soccer game on without giving any money to EA, a company most Xbox players want nothing to do with (and they get a red card for trying to buy just about everything even remotely relating to video games). Ball in and game on!