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Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007
(Konami for PSP)

By Michael Palisano

Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 brings Konami's ever-improving soccer franchise to the PSP. This installment includes several licensed teams, including Manchester United, thousands of real players, plus improved visuals and improved gameplay Players react and move more realistically than they have before and the improved AI makes them more aggressive. PES 2007's controls are superb and make playing intuitive and fun. There are also practice, extensive management and multiplayer modes that add plenty of depth. While it isn't as deep or polished as its console counterparts in some areas, Winning Eleven 2007 is still one of the best handheld soccer titles published to date on the system.

Konami's Winning Eleven Soccer series has developed a stellar reputation amongst gamers and is probably the most highly-regarded soccer title on consoles and this version brings all the excitement of the series onto the PSP in an excellent package. Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 features more than a hundred unique teams, thousands of players and an extensive customization section. You can change the players' look, skills and teams and also edit your teams' uniforms and kits to your liking. However, if you do follow the sport closely, it's obviously frustrating that such an excellent playable title lacks the full licensing of leagues, teams and players as its competition. The good news is that once you get beyond this, Winning Eleven 2007's solid gameplay remains as fluid and enjoyable as ever. A key reason for this lies in the game's interface and play mechanics which remain the best on console. WE 2007's basic approach to its controls and play mechanics haven't changed much from last year's edition, but there have been some key refinements made this time around that make for a smoother and more playable soccer experience. The PSP's controls are well-utilzed, and you can control your players using either the analog or digital nub for excellent control. Passing, shooting and keeping are assigned to the face buttons and you can make the player sprint by pressing down on the right shift button while the left lets you shift which player you control. This interface is fairly straightforward and players are quite maneuverable as well, making turning and shooting fairly easy to perform. You can also make some set pieces quite easily thanks to the radar and player selection mechanics. When you reach the net, setting up your kick and shooting for the net is a bit harder than in previous WE titles, but this adds to the game's realism.

The game also offers a number of impressive under the hood options that you can change and adjust. At the start of each match, you select which formations you want to use and what players will play in which position. You can set up their level of aggressiveness and tactics to help you during the match. You can also manage your roster and substitute players on the fly as well. Winning Eleven also lets you choose between a player controlled or auto goalie and gives you additional options such as match length, ending with extra time or penalty kicks plus the aggression of refs. Players can also change the time of day, weather and adjust the level of fan support at the stadium, too. You can also play in a single match or practice their moves as well. In addition to these standard modes, you can also choose to play either a single match, a tournament and in the Master League mode. In the Master League, you go through several seasons with your team and can make changes to the roster via transfers and trades, which adds a level of depth to the game that extends its longevity. Players can also play against others using the wi-fi connections in either infrastructure or ad-hoc modes, which adds another compelling reason to get this on the PSP.

For a handheld title, it's nice to know that Konami hasn't compromised the gameplay too much. Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 definitely has the feel and pacing of a real soccer match down pat. The ball physics are significantly better, with a more unpredictable and fluid motion to the balls which make them react and move even more realistically. This makes passing and shooting a more difficult task but adds to the overall sensation of controlling the soccer ball. From a gameplay standpoint, players will find that the opposing teams are smarter than in previous installments and react quicker to your moves. They are certainly more aggressive this time around than in previous titles. This makes the matches much harder to win and players will find themselves on the defense more than they are used to. Another key change this time around is the referees who are much stricter, tackles are much more likely to result in a yellow or even a red card. This makes for a more challenging title that requires greater skill and concentration. Aside from this, Winning Eleven does an excellent job in recreating the flow and pacing of an actual soccer match, with its excellent simulation of the momentum and strategies that occur on the field making it feel authentic and realistic. You can set your team's formations either before or during each match, to help your strategic play - and knowing which of these will be the most effective is a key difference between winning and losing. The Master League mode goes even deeper and allows you to trade, buy and train players on your roster which allows you to create and use your dream team. This depth is what separates Winning Eleven from games like FIFA which seem to be content offering a somewhat superficial style of gameplay.

Konami has done an excellent job in bringing the look and feel of their soccer series to the PSP. While the handheld version isn't quite as stunning as the other versions, it still offers quite a robust presentation. The character models look sharp and move through the fields fluidly with a natural look. The authentic crowd chants and cheering adds to its atmospherics while Winning Eleven's excellent commentary brings players right into the action, though this can be turned off if it becomes distracting. The game's play is smooth and fluid, and the action on the pitch flows smoothly and quickly, matching the intensity and drama of professional soccer. It's intuitive controls make passing, shooting and dribbling fairly easy, with an array of special moves and more sophisticated attacks that add plenty of depth and nuance on the field. Winning Eleven PES has an extensive selection of international and club teams to choose from and this makes playing the game even more enjoyable. The game includes an excellent array of modes which should appeal to the casual soccer fan to the hardcore, making for a well-rounded and comprehensive simulation of the sport. What's most surprising about this soccer title is how much Konami has been able to bring to the handheld without compromising its essential appeal. In the end, there's more than enough in Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 to recommend it. This is a solid, entertaining and challenging sports title, making it a solid purchase for any PSP-owning soccer fan.

- Michael Palisano


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