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Sean Pettibone


Winning Eleven 2007 (Xbox 360)

Konami's soccer franchise finally makes its next-generation console debut with the release of Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 on Xbox 360. Featuring several licensed teams, including Manchester United, refined visuals and improved gameplay, the game makes some serious strides in its authenticity and realism on the field. Players react and move more realistically than they have before and the improved AI makes them more aggressive. Shooting is a bit harder this time around and its more difficult to set up shots near the net. However, the lack of customization and somewhat behind the curve graphics is serious problems. On the upside, Winning Eleven 2007 plays solidly on the pitch, and that's where the title really shines.

Over the past few years, Konami's Winning Eleven Soccer series has developed a stellar reputation amongst gamers and have set the standard in terms of gameplay. The latest installment takes the franchise forward in some key areas. Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 features more than a hundred unique teams and players have some interesting selections this time around. While there are fewer licensed teams and players than in last year's installment, the biggest club in the world, Manchester United is now included. Since you can edit the player names and stats, the lack of real teams and leagues is somewhat mitigated. Generic teams and kits are also included, which makes for a decent tradeoff if you're not a hardcore soccer fan. 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 Xbox 360 controller is well utilized, and you can control your players using either the analog or digital pad. 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 games, 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. Players can edit the individual stats and attributes of some players but can't change their kits or appearance, which is somewhat disappointing. Players can then choose to 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 an entire season 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.

You'll find that while the game doesn't have the team names and logos, it 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. It can be frustrating to try and use these moves in practice, but the timing and nuance delivered here makes you focus on trying to grab the ball by more honest means. You can still perform tackles, but you need to be in front and at a safe distance from the attacking player to avoid a penalty, which is something that takes getting used to. 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 different match lengths ranging from 5 to 30 minutes which lets you play either for short bursts or longer more intense matches.

The biggest problem most players will have with the game are its visuals, which haven't really undergone a full next-generation makeover on Xbox 360. While the game now has a widescreen presentation and some of the textures and player models appear a bit smoother, the game's look is less polished than it should be. It's not as problematic on the field, where everything looks fine, but the engine really feels a bit dated during the close-ups, where the players look more like mechanical robots than actual soccer players. On the upside, the game still features more camera angles than FIFA which lets you get a better view of the action. Winning Eleven's commentary has also always been top notch and this installment is no exception, which lends the game an even better sound. The soundtrack also features fans chanting and music playing, which helps to add to the excitement. Its menus are still a little bit sparse and the in-game music is more annoying than anything else, but the game still offers enough to make it a decent looking title. We hope that Konami can put a bit more effort into next year's aesthetics, because they're passable now, but are in serious need of an upgrade to current HD standards. That said, Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 is still the best playing and most accessible soccer title on the market. While the Xbox 360 is a bit disappointing on the visuals, it more than compensates with solid play action and intuitive controls making for an addicting, challenging and enjoyable sports title that's definitely worth the money.


- Michael Palisano

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