"The level of customization is 10 times what I could ever want and there are tournaments and calendars aplenty. There also are more teams than you can shake a stick at (complete with multiple uniform color schemes) and the characters are credibly animated. Any number of things you can imagine, the game does right. Thereís really only the one big flaw: it isnít fun for beginners."
There are two types of people who might buy and play a soccer game on the Xbox 360 or any other system. The first has been playing soccer video games for years. He appreciates the intricacies of the game, the ability to perform complex moves by pressing complicated strings of buttons faster and with more precision than the human eye can reasonably track. He is the Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 player. The second type is not. Heís more like me.
Let me be perfectly clear: I donít like playing Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007, even though I donít believe it to be a bad product. I start playing the game in a good mood and a half-hour or an hour later, Iím hating life and wishing Konami had never made it. Sure, I can recognize that itís an interactive accomplishment on one level, with technical merit oozing from its figurative pores. The graphics are nice, with textures that are both detailed and sharp. The level of customization is 10 times what I could ever want and there are tournaments and calendars aplenty. There also are more teams than you can shake a stick at (complete with multiple uniform color schemes) and the characters are credibly animated. Any number of things you can imagine, the game does right. Thereís really only the one big flaw: it isnít fun for beginners.
There are a few reasons thatís true. The most overwhelming one is the control scheme. Picture the Xbox 360 controller and its four face buttons: A, B, X and Y. Now, the ĎXí button is the one you press when you want to make shots. The other three are for various passes. You have a long pass and a short pass, plus a through pass. Since this is soccer, it makes sense that you have control over such things. However, that same logic should extend to actual shots, shouldnít it? After all, you can get the ball near the net a million times, and itís not going to do any good if you canít score a point.
In Winning Eleven, scoring points is difficult because the one shot button you have at your disposal must be modified. By default, pressing it is the equivalent of telling the game ďHey, I want to kick the ball across the stadium.Ē The instruction manual suggests that holding the button down longer will increase the power and arc behind your kick (implying that a simple tap would result in a reasonable shot), but I didnít find that to be necessary at all. I would tap the button as lightly as possible and my player would launch the ball into the stratosphere. Thatís not an even remotely useful default, since the typical player is going to attempt shots from close to the net.
If you branch out past the default, then things get more tolerable. You can hold the ĎRí button while you send off a shot and the ball will remain closer to the ground. Then, while you are moving your player with the analogue stick and holding down the ĎRí button and pressing the ĎXí button to shoot, you can aim your shot by growing a third hand and pressing the d-pad. If you manage all that, the ball will flawlessly sail toward its goal (where it will be neatly deflected by the opposing team, but thatís another story entirely). So, if youíre willing to do all sorts of insane things, you can accomplish what in other games is handled by one button. Why did the people at Konami decide to make such a rudimentary move so difficult? There can only be one answer: they hate me.
The artificial intelligence leads me to the same conclusion. Thereís no nice way to say this, so Iíll just say it plainly: your teammates are moving bricks. They have no intellect whatsoever. You wonít see them manage great plays. For the most part, you have to direct the ball every moment you have it in your teamís possession. You have to kick it to the guy just down the field, you practically have to move him there in the first place (except that you canít switch players on the offense like you can when defending), and you have to hope that someone else is running alongside you and ready to take the ball when you pass it. More often than not, your team clumps together in the least valuable position the arena has to offer. At almost any point, you can think to yourself ďHmm, where would I least want my teammates to be?Ē and thatís where youíll find them.
Your rivals, however, have no such problem. While your teammates prance around like ninnies--or inexplicably stand still, staring at their shoes--the opposition is mounting a beautiful assault. Youíll find them sliding their way around your feeble teamís assistance, snagging the ball from you almost the minute you get it. When you try to pass because theyíre about to swarm you, itís too late and theyíll intercept. When you try to run the ball by holding the ĎRí button, theyíll run faster than you and swipe it right out of your grasp. Theyíre good. Damn good.
So, letís say youíre on the defense. Since your teammates are mostly useless, it falls to you to steal the ball. So you go after someone and you slide into them. They go falling and you get a yellow card for playing too aggressively. The ball is restored to your opponent and the commentators--who actually arenít all that irritating compared to those in other sports games--will note that the referees donít look pleased. Clearly, they donít like offensive defense. Yet the minute you get the ball back, the computer-controlled opponents will snatch it from your grasp. Rather frequently, theyíll do it with a perfectly executed slide, the same move that moments ago gained you a yellow card. For therapy, you might play a round or two where your only goal is to knock the other team around and have your revenge. It works for me!
Now, itís worth noting that some people arenít going to have the same experience I did. If youíre used to playing a lot of sports games, youíve probably become accustomed to having to press all sorts of buttons to get things done. That wonít bother you and youíll appreciate the level of control you have over everything. Youíll probably find the AI more reasonable because you can manipulate the ball so extensively.
Even when youíre a sports gaming dunce like me, there are moments where Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 rises above the irritation and becomes enjoyable. When you dominate the field, itís fun. When youíre passing the ball from one teammate to another and they all somehow have fallen into place exactly where you need them--an admittedly uncommon occurrence--and you kick the ball to the final guy and he slams it into the net just ahead of the goalie. . . thatís a great soccer game. Just donít expect such moments to happen frequently until youíve put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears. If youíre ready for that investment and that payoff, you mightíve just found the best soccer game around. Everyone else, just stick to something more accessible.
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 21, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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