Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2007
Headed to the big green? Enjoy some time on the pitch? British colloquialisms are fun, but still don't come close to Winning Eleven.
Several years ago, when the sports game market was still healthily competitive and free of the exclusive license nonsense that plagues it now, EA and Sega both released baseball games (MVP Baseball 2004 and ESPN Major League Baseball, respectively). I loved the slick ESPN presentation and graphic overlays of the latter, but preferred the gameplay of the former. It was a difficult choice and I ended up buying both, but eventually, the gameplay of MVP kept it in my system long after ESPN MLB ended up on the used-game shelf at Gamestop.
For those of you trying to decide whether to buy Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 or FIFA 07, you face a similar dilemma; there's no question that Winning Eleven plays a fantastic game of soccer, but the presentation falls slightly short of what you'd find on EA's offering.
However, gameplay is paramount, and Winning Eleven has it in droves. The number of moves you can pull off is simply staggering, and while they're all listed in the manual, you will be thankful for the training mode to give you a little hands-on practice. Once you get a handle on the controls, you are treated to the deepest portable soccer experience available. Every time you elude a defender, execute a couple of crisp passes and catch the keeper out of position to rip one into the net, you will definitely feel like you earned the goal. I rarely save replays from any game, but I already have about a dozen from this one. One minor issue deals with shooting -- even from about twenty feet away, world class players like Ronaldo are surprisingly inaccurate when shooting towards the goal, and on many plays where you think you've set up a beautiful score, your player will sail the ball harmlessly out of play.
The biggest draw in this year's iteration is undoubtedly the Master League mode. This mode is analogous to a franchise mode, except with the added wrinkle that you start out at the very bottom rung in terms of competition and personnel and are charged with leading your team from the depths of the cellar to international glory. This mode is extremely satisfying and makes the single-player game a more robust experience.
There is no denying, though, that this game is somewhat...drab. From the graphics in the stadium to the menus, the game is decidedly lacking in dazzle. The player animation is very fluid, however, and the players are surprisingly expressive (watch their reactions when they get red-carded or miss a shot on goal). The one strange quirk is that there is a pretty severe and consistent clipping issue involving your players' hair. An intermittent clipping problem is one thing, but it's actually a little distracting watching your player when he looks like his head is on fire as his hair clips in and out of existence. Also, if having authentic licensed teams is very important to you, you may want to steer clear of this title; apart from biggies like Arsenal, a lot of the teams are generically represented.
The controls are responsive and laid-out well given the limitations of the PSP's interface. Initially they seem daunting, and some appear downright impossible (to execute the Marseilles Turn, the manual instructs me to "Rotate the right analog stick while dribbling." Oops.) Regardless of a few quality control issues, the game plays just fine and is a ton of fun. Frequent load times are slightly annoying, but nothing near as bad as you'd find on WWE Smackdown.
The sound in this game straddles the line between mediocre and horrible, and the only "commentary" you will hear is a short FM radio-quality "It's in, it's a goal!" or something. The crowd sounds acceptable most of the time, until they get really excited, and then they sound like really bad television static.
Winning Eleven stumbles in the sub-standard presentation, but its depth and realism make it a blast to play. It is not only the best overall soccer game on the PSP, but one of the system's better sports games as well. No matter where your preference falls in regard to flash vs. fundamentals, if you like soccer, you will like this game.
What's Hot: Deepest soccer gameplay on the PSP; Master League mode
What's Not: Uninspired presentation; mediocre sound; some hairy spontaneous combustion