Reviewed: March 8, 2004
Released: February 17, 2004
Winning Eleven 7 is a milestone review for me. I am two days away from my one-year anniversary as sports writer for GCM and my very first review for GCM was Winning Eleven 6. A lot has happened in the past year in the way of sports titles, and Konami has been busy perfecting their already close-to-perfection soccer franchise. Just when you thought it couldnít get any better it does.
When it comes to soccer games Iíve pretty much played them all starting with the original FIFA game released for the 3DO console back in the mid 90ís. There was a time when I was strangely addicted to Midwayís RedCard 2003 but once I got my hands on Winning Eleven 6 everything else just paled in comparison. And while EAís FIFA titles might be selling more copies, itís certainly not because itís the better game. It only proves that EA has a bigger media engine and there are plenty of EA drones ready to hop on the train.
Winning Eleven 7 builds upon the success of last years critically acclaimed soccer title and brings several new improvements, upgrades, and subtle refinements to the series. Since their original game was as close to perfection as a mint-condition Harley the only thing left for them to do was slap on some chrome and wax the paint.
Unless you are a true fan of the sport of soccer most of the technical achievements in gameplay and spot-on accuracy for the rules of the sport will go unappreciated. Winning Eleven 7 is a game for hardcore soccer fans. It doesnít pretend to cater to the masses, as the steep learning curve, cryptic menus, and strict adherence to the rules will quickly show. But if you are looking for the best damn soccer game available to date, look no further.
Winning Eleven 7 has it all starting with an all-new game engine that delivers the most realistic representation of soccer ever seen. You now have 100 national and club teams. While last yearís title had no licensing this year you have 50 authentic national teams and 60 fictitious club teams. There is a powerful and very easy-to-use editor and with a little dedication you can turn those fake teams into real players with authentic jerseys.
Six new stadiums make their debut brining the total to 21. The Master League has been expanded to include nearly half as many new features as last year, and the new franchise options make this the ultimate title for career-minded team owners. The gameplay is flawlessly accurate and perfectly executed, a perfect reproduction of the sport with fully customizable teams, formations, and strategies.
You can enjoy several familiar modes of play including, Match, Cup, League, Master League, Training and Edit modes. These are probably self-explanatory for most of you but just to clarify, League allows for 16 teams in a tournament structure, Cup mode allows for custom leagues and tournaments, Match mode is a single exhibition game, and Master League is the career or franchise mode. All of these modes feature a plethora of options to customize each game or tournament to your exact liking.
New to the series is the ďShopĒ feature, a system where you earn points through training and exhibition gameplay then spend those points on new teams, players, stadiums, strategies, and even crowd effects. So basically, the more you play the more you unlock and the more expansive the game becomes.
Game controls are just as intuitive as last year and you will master them in just a few minutes. The one thing that has changed is that these already-excellent controls have now become much more responsive. Players react in real-time to your input with almost no trace of that millisecond delay from last yearís game. It creates a very fluid gameplay experience that really jacks you into the players and the action.
Defensive and offensive controls share a lot of common buttons for movement and player switching while the face buttons are used for the more specific commands. Shooting and passing are broken into forcefulness or range and assigned a unique button while applying various levels of pressure, tackling, and goalkeeping functions are given their own buttons. Even more inventive is the ability to move your player with the left stick and pass with the right. This method might not be for everyone but if you can master it you will become an unstoppable force.
Not only has the player control improved but the ball control and physics are unparalleled in real world accuracy. You can now put spin on the ball and see that spin affect the curvature of the shot and any deflection when it hits the ground or another player.
The Training mode offers gamers an easy way to adapt themselves to the game mechanics or familiarize newcomers to the rules of the sport. Training is broken down into basic game controls and Pro Training where you can learn advanced team strategies used by the pros and earn valuable Shop points for bonus goodies. WE7 also comes with an informative 50-page manual that explains everything from gameplay to all of the powerful editing features of this game.
Knowing the capabilities of your team and each player on it will take you far in winning these matches. The game encourages and rewards your efforts to play soccer like it was meant to be played, with lots of precise ball handling, passing, strategic setups, and lightning attacks on the goal. Working the ball down the field has never been better. In most other soccer games if any one man keeps possession of the ball for more than ten seconds he will likely lose it to a defender. WE7 slows things down enough that you can actually work the ball and setup quick passes or lobs to other teammates down the field. Even though you are one player, you have a full team at your disposal and using them all is justly rewarded.
The menu and in-game interface is flawless. You can manage your team; make substitutions, change strategies and formations with the tap of a few buttons. Team management is essential, as players will realistically become fatigued during extended gameplay. The more you play the better ďchemistryĒ you build up amongst the players and the better they perform as a team. These subtle RPG-like elements to the gameplay make this one of the most realistic soccer sims available.
Those of you playing solo will enjoy some of the best opponent AI ever seen in a soccer game and perhaps some of the best in any sports title to date. Itís not unrealistically brutal, but very authentic. If you know the all-stars of soccer in real life then you will be amazed at how well their skills are reproduced in this game. Of special note is the improved AI of the goalkeepers. Itís extremely hard to score sloppy or unplanned shots. Lobbing a ball at the net from midfield is foolhardy and even a speedy charge at the net will often be blocked. Crossover combo plays work nicely and look great in the replays.
The Master League franchise mode is fairly involved and should keep you busy for many weeks or even months. There are many new features including a new player search engine where you can search by position, contract length, skill, salary, etc. These new features seem to have cluttered the menus a bit and things arenít nearly as clear as they should be. Youíre going to have a steep learning curve figuring out the franchise mode but once you do there is nothing more powerful.
Winning Eleven 7 delivers a superb multiplayer experience with great two-player action out of the box and if you are lucky enough to have a Multitap and a group of soccer-loving friends you can crowd up to eight players around your TV. While I was certain Konami would include online support this year they chose once again to avoid the online element. This will certainly turn off a lot of PS2 online gamers but frankly Iíve never been a huge fan of online gaming on the PS2, so it didnít really bother me that much.
Konami has abandoned the RenderWare engine in favor of an all-new custom game engine that not only creates the best sports graphics Iíve ever seen on the PS2, they are so good it actually enhances the gameplay. Players look and move like their real-life counterparts and you can even note facial expressions that reflect the current emotions of the game.
The motion-capture is beyond words. When these guys start to move itís poetry in motion and there is so much subtle detail that you wonít even get to appreciate it until you begin to explore the wonderful replay system built into the game. Players have an expansive library of individual animations that are blended together seamlessly as they run down the field, dribble, tackle, jump, flip, or perform any other move physically possible. The keepers have some new tricks up their animated sleeve as they leap and dive around the net.
If you donít like the way something looks in WE7 you can dig into the powerful edit features of this game and tweak your existing jerseys or design entirely new ones. You can change player numbers, design team flags and tweak all sorts of cool details to make this game truly your own.
The stadiums are perfectly recreated. The details in the various types of grass, the stadium seating, the crowd, and all the ambient details you never consciously notice until they are absent are all here to create the perfect soccer experience. You can choose various weather conditions and time of day for the game or let these things happen randomly. These conditions all affect the excellent lighting and shadow effects present in WE7.
Winning Eleven 7 looks great in motion and even better in slow motion. WE7 offers an excellent replay system that lets you play back the previous play from all sorts of camera angles with full control over rotation and zooming. You can view the playback at various speeds or study it frame-by-frame. You can play the actual game from a variety of camera views. The incredible detail will tempt you to play from a closer view than I would recommend. Stick with the long camera and save the savoring for the replays.
Konami has not only improved the graphics but they have enhanced the sound effects for this new edition of their soccer franchise. Last yearís game had a fairly uninvolved crowd but now those spectators come to life with a fervor that you only hear in other countries. Their chants and cheers can even drown out the commentary.
Peter Brackley and Trevor Brookings are back for more of their polished commentary. All of their play-by-play is excellent and fits the gameplay perfectly. One nice touch is that your players are mentioned by name Ė even your custom ones Ė when they are being discussed in the press box. The ability to change the commentary language between Spanish and English is a great touch, even if you donít understand anything being said during the game. It just gives the game that added cultural flair.
One thing that unfortunately hasnít improved is the music. With so much opportunity for culturally influenced theme music we are bombarded with cheesy techno tunes that will have you scrambling for the volume controls. Fortunately, you can simply lose the music in the options menu and just enjoy the sounds of soccer. Dolby Surround is once again sorely missed leaving you with mono and stereo options.
One of the reasons I enjoy sports games so much is that they quite literally have limitless value and gameplay potential, at least until a new version or something better comes along. Winning Eleven 7 is hands down the best soccer game you can currently play on any format, even though itís only available for the PS2.
With a good selection of single, multiplayer, and franchise game modes available, this is one sports title that you will be playing until Konami releases their next installment. Hopefully, that one will have online support so the online crowd wonít have reason to look elsewhere for their soccer needs.
Winning Eleven 7 blows past its predecessor and annihilates this yearís competition. This is a new standard for soccer and for sports games in general. The new graphics engine not only enhances the details in visuals but actually improves the gameplay mechanics.
All of the new improvements in gameplay and the new features will be appreciated by soccer lovers and novices alike. This is a perfect example of a sequel actually exceeding its original and if you have any love for the sport of soccer this needs to be in your game library. Even if you are the proud owner of WE6 there is enough new material here to justify an upgrade. Don't let the EA monster fool you - Winning Eleven 7 is the best soccer game in the world.