"There were several occasions where I would shoot the ball, it would smack the goalie right in the head, launch into the air for several seconds, then—finally—he would stick his hands up, in some feeble attempt to block my shot, which he already did with his face"
I don’t know much about Soccer. My knowledge extends as far as: Beckham is a pretty boy, England and France will always hate each other on the soccer field and “ball goes in the goal.” The sheer enjoyment of Winning Eleven consists of not having to be a master, of not having technical jargon crammed down my throat or staring at plays with x’s and o’s and wondering what the hell to do with it. Winning Eleven is a straight-forward, no-gimmick sports game that I surprisingly enjoyed more than I thought I would. Sometimes--yes--even I like to get right to the point.
There were days where I just wanted to go out on the field and play a quick game, other days where I wanted to build somewhat of a rivalry with another team and meet them in the finals. Winning Eleven has several options depending on your mood, from quick exhibition games to season mode, where you start from scratch, build and mold your team as you work your way up three divisions. If you don’t have the patience for Season mode, but you want something a little more involved than an Exhibition, Eleven also has the Cup mode. Several tournaments are available, from the Puma Cup to the Konami cup, and they can last anywhere from four to eight matches. At the end, providing that you win, you get a neat little celebration video and some much needed cash. It didn’t keep me as involved and busy as Season mode did, but Brazil and me definitely had a “what for”.
Eleven’s controls make use of every button, but it doesn’t take a masterful combination or perfect timing to pull off a good play. You don’t need to highlight players, wiggle the analog stick in just the right direction or spend countless minutes setting something up. Eleven is fast paced, and the AI is wonderful. All you really need to worry about is moving the ball downfield and making sure the goalie’s not in the way when you kick it, or a defender is not in the way when you pass it. I didn’t wear out the buttons on my (borrowed) PSP trying to get it to respond, but I did get my fair share of blisters from the d-pad while I was trying to work my way around defenders. The controls are responsive; it’s those damn defenders that ruined my thumb.
That leads me to one little quibble about Eleven, though. Sometimes the controls are too responsive, and they also have a little bit of memory. If, in a panic, you press the X button more than once to pass the ball, no matter how long it takes to get down the field, the next person it gets to will automatically pass it again, and sometimes not in the direction you want him to. If you try to set up a “pass-shot” by pressing X and then Square, it’s an awesome way to juke the goalie. However if your teammate ends up missing the ball and you’ve already pressed square, he may chase it down but the command to shoot was already entered so he’ll take it, usually out of range and you can only watch as the ball soars high above the goal. It definitely takes a little getting used to, but it’s certainly not a huge flaw.
The one huge flaw with Eleven: The sound. Most sports games (or any for that matter) have at least a few soundtracks while you’re in the menus or during halftime. Eleven is lacking any. It’s all just digitized, boring elevator music. Eleven--surprisingly--is lacking commentary as well. You get crowds cheering and someone screaming “Goooooal!” when you score but that was it. I’m not dying for full on play-by-play action, but a little might make the game seem more real.
And graphically, I expected a little more too. Yes, the arenas are wonderful and the players are well defined, but I’ve come to expect at least a few highlights in a sports game. The only FMV I was able to find is in the beginning. The rest of the game is digitized, which--don’t get me wrong--looks good but I wouldn’t mind seeing a few videos once and a while.
Although Winning Eleven is lacking any highlights, it more than makes up for it in the games solid animation. There were many times I found myself racing down the field, one defender to beat, charging at him full steam, only to put my foot a little too far forward and blindly pass the ball behind myself to a waiting teammate, all without even slowing down. I would race up to the corner of the field to catch a misplaced pass, sneak up on the goalie’s blind spot and shove the ball in with the outside of my foot before he even knew what happened. If I found myself in trouble, I could kick the ball across the entire field and watch as my waiting forward leapt into the air to either head butt or “Pele” the ball into the goal. It’s definitely cool to watch.
The problem is, the game can be so fast paced sometimes you often miss wonderful little animations like this. Granted, Eleven has an abundance of replays, some of which allow you to lock onto the most pivotal players, letting you break down the play in a wide variety of camera angles. These only happen when a goal is attempted or scored, though, so most of those cool passes or leaping blocks disappear forever.
The mechanics could also use a little tightening. There were several occasions where I would shoot the ball, it would smack the goalie right in the head, launch into the air for several seconds, then--finally--he would stick his hands up, in some feeble attempt to block my shot, which he already did with his face. Other times, or rare times as it may be, I would kick the ball and it would launch long before my foot even reached it. The animations of the game are great, but it just lacks the minor details, much like Smackdown! did when it first came out.
There are a lot of sports games out there, and I’ve seen a good many that detour from the actual construction and formula of the sport. Some use zany antics and colorful characters, others use pointless stories and useless gimmicks. Sometimes it works, other times… not. But every now and then you find a game that doesn’t over do it, a game that reminds you not everything has to be dazzling to be fun, it doesn’t have to be an epic to be worthy of playing. Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer is one of those games. It’s simple--but sometimes simple is enough.
Pro Evolution isn’t mind blowing by any means. It’s solid, plain and simple. It doesn’t gamble with gimmicks that may or may not work, it doesn’t add a whole lot of fluff to try and distract you. Pro Evolution is a pull no punches, straight to the point soccer game; and while it may not be the next era of sports gaming, I can certainly name a few sports games that aren’t half as good as this one--or nearly as defined.
Freelance review by Greg Knoll (March 09, 2007)
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