IGN Review of World Soccer Winning Eleven 9
For soccer fans, there is still no play in videogames more satisfying than a goal in Winning Eleven. No touchdown in Madden, no dunk in NBA 2K6, no one-timer in a hockey game will cause you to jump out of your seat and scream like a crafty goal in Konami's outstanding soccer franchise. That same -- and I mean, exact same -- outstanding gameplay returns in Winning Eleven 9, and Konami scores again with the best playing soccer title on the market.
Still, that doesn't mean that WE9 can't be better. Online play is the key new addition this year, but aside from a few new licensed teams and some reordered menus, WE9 looks, feels and plays just like WE8. It's almost as if Konami is resting on the laurels of WE8 instead of using current technology to brush up the sights and sounds of WE9. As this current generation winds down, we hope to see some serious improvement from Winning Eleven. The competition from EA is closing the gap each season and Winning Eleven is in danger of losing the crown of best-soccer game if the graphics and sound don't show more improvement.
On the pitch, WE9 is vintage Winning Eleven. The sublime control is simple to pick up and play and the very definition of intuitive. As you improve in the game and open the instruction manual, you will be pleasantly surprised with the incredible depth of the moves list. From set pieces to dribbling to crosses to shots, there is a tremendous variety of different ways to move the ball and put it in the net, utilizing a number of different button combinations.
Each year as the series evolves, Konami keeps the core gameplay intact because, if it aint broke
Just as in WE8, gameplay changes in WE9 are very subtle. There's a bit more jostling and physical play off the ball. There are a lot more dinky fouls this year. It's more difficult to score from the wings and you can't rely on headers from a corner cross. That's not to say you can't score on a cross, but you'll need to utilize different attack methods, like through balls, chip shots and shots from distance, in order to score consistently. Again, these are subtle changes that further refine the best-playing soccer game out there. Of course, subtle refining is really where the series has always shined through the years.
A great way to learn the long list of dribbles, passes, shots and traps is to go through the different training modes offered, which are set up very well. The moves are explained in depth and you are taught the best situations in which to use them. As always with Winning Eleven, it will take you a while to learn all the moves in the game and be able to use them intuitively. Soon, many moves will become invaluable to your attack, like taking control of a player on a through pass that is about to be intercepted and cutting in front to receive the pass.
Unfortunately, Winning Eleven makes very small steps forward in terms of presentation, sound and graphics. Presentation has traditionally been the weak spot of the franchise, and that holds true with WE9. The menu system has been cleaned up a bit from WE8 -- especially the very clunky team select menu -- but overall the menus are a bit confusing and aren't intuitive at all -- the exact opposite of the gameplay. Of course, you can't talk about a Winning Eleven title without mentioning the lack of licenses, which hurts on a few levels. First, kudos to Konami for landing a few more licenses, notably Italy's Serie A and English Premiere teams Arsenal and Chelsea. This is only the second game that has featured licensed teams in the series, but we can't stress how lame it feels to play Arsenal against Man Red instead of Manchester United.
OK, so your favorite team isn't licensed. Fine. You're a soccer fan and your favorite group of players is in the game, at least, and you can use the team editor to change the team names. That's good enough. But not having these licenses also hurts the game modes. There's no 2006 World Cup in Germany, but a generic approximation. In Master League, you guide your assembled team through a generic "Division Two." With the proper licenses, though, you could guide your favorite Italian squad through Serie C and B to Serie A and eventually make the Champions League. Konami is headed in the right direction; it's just doing so very, very slowly.
Master League remains pretty much intact, and is a strangely addicting franchise mode in spite of its relative lack-of-depth. The only notable difference is in the week-to-week conditioning mode. This year, training is simulated and a handful of players on your team will randomly reap the benefits of conditioning. Compared to other franchise modes in sports titles, Master League is a bit shallow. It can be broken into a pretty basic formula: win game; use points to negotiate for better player; condition players; win game and so on. Thankfully, negotiations are as fun and addictive as ever. The thrill of Master League really lies in building your team from crap to an absolute powerhouse. Replacing your scrubs with a Beckham and a Ronaldo is exhilarating, almost as much as bicycle-kick goal.
Visually, there is not much improvement at all over WE8. The different field types and player models look almost identical. The animations remain the best in soccer videogames and sports titles, in general. The Xbox version looks a bit smoother and cleaner than the PS2 version, but that's to be expected. (The PS2 controller, conversely, is much better-suited for Winning Eleven because of the constant use of all four-shoulder buttons. It's definitely more difficult on the Xbox controller when you need to reach for the white or black buttons.)
There are some nice facial textures at work, and during cutscenes the players really resemble their real-life counterparts. With such good-looking faces, it's sad that there is not more emotion on their faces, and even after big goals some players look stiff and plastic, like they just came from a botox party. The crowd looks awesome during cutscenes, waving their terrible towels around, but it suffers in the background. One editor went so far as to say the blurry, blockheaded fans look as if they were "painted by a French Impressionist."
Peter Brackley and Trevor Brooking return in the press box, offering superficial narrative and comments for each match. The play-by-play isn't bad; in fact, it closely represents the commentary we are used to in televised soccer matches in which broadcasters simply say the last names of the player with the ball. "Beckham, Ronaldo, Beckham again, Zidane, Cassano
" You get the picture. But the color commentary needs some serious work as Brooking has only the vaguest insights to offer, and he tends to repeat them. It's almost as if soccer game developers choose a duo from the UK out of a hat, use the words "football" and "pitch" excessively, and expect the suave accents to win us over. Next year, if only to change up the game a bit, we hope to see a new duo in the booth.
The crowd offers perfect ambient noise -- when the ball is in the middle of the field, that is. The chants and cheers add a lot to the atmosphere, and it's impossible not to get a little extra excited when you turn the volume up. However, the crowd has a problem when the action is heated and in the box. In a stadium, as a team builds up an attack, you can feel the tension. If the ball is turned over, then the crowd groans in pure disgust. Not so in WE9. Instead, the crowd will groan only after an errant shot flies over the cross bar. It cheers when a goal is scored, but not so much in anticipation of a shot or on a breakaway.
The biggest improvement to the franchise, one that is a necessity in this day and age, is the addition of online play. For its first foray into the online world, WE9 fares well. In our online playtests, we only hit a touch of slowdown in one game, and then only for a second. The modes are simple: Quick Match, Optimatch and Create Match, each with different levels of customization. There is no league play supported, but the interface is simple and easy to use. You can set up a player profile with your favorite players and teams. Diehard fans of the franchise are going to absolutely eat up the online rankings and the ability to take a Master League team online.
After years of smack talk, we will finally discover just who is the best of the best. The plaque for the alternates is down in the ladies' room.
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