For nearly ten years now, Konami has been releasing the Winning Eleven series of soccer (or “football” to the non-US fans) games to much fanfare, with each installation gaining more ground in terms of new converts. While the main competition to WE is the FIFA series published and developed by EA, Winning Eleven has always had an edge over the FIFA series thanks to its desire to stick to the roots of the game, and not sway to the “easy to play” side. Yes, this game is deep when directly compared to FIFA, and once the learning curve is overcome a much more in-depth and complete game surfaces.
With the ninth game in the series making its way to Xbox, there obviously is a lot of history to the title with innovations along the way that force and help a game to evolve. While people very familiar with the series may not see the dramatic leap from previous installments, those who’ve become accustomed to the EA brand will definitely notice some tweaks and enhancements that elevate this title above the other brands.
One key topic that deserves to be covered is the enhanced AI that WE9 brings to the table. No longer will you be playing defense with your computer-controlled characters hanging back, leaving you controlling the only player adding pressure. The team plays as a real soccer team would play, moving around the pitch in an organic way that piles pressure on the ball carrier while sprinting for open spots when on offense.
Standard game modes are present in this edition, including a very nice and comprehensive training mode for players who aren’t quite up to speed with the WE control scheme. The training sessions take you through a series of drills ranging from simple dribbling with the ball to more advanced passing skills. All of which you may think you are too good for, but take my advice and master these skills prior to jumping into one of the massive leagues.
Pulling in over 130 club teams and over 55 national teams, there is no shortage of play style that you can choose in WE9. To go along with the massive number of teams are leagues that go along with these sets of teams. And if you feel like taking a club through multiple seasons of play, then the refined Master League mode will fit your needs quite nicely.
The biggest addition to the title this time around is the ability to take your game online via Xbox Live against players from around the world. Sadly, here is where as North American soccer players we tend to get trounced by international players who understand the fundamentals of the sport at its core. The games tended to be played with very little lag noticed, and generally players were very friendly, far from the hooligans that are represented on international news.
It’s safe to say here that people who play this game will take to it for its implementation of the game, not for the audio or visual prowess offered. The game looks and sounds merely adequate for the current systems. Player models are squeezed quite small with the default camera (which is the best to play with), yet the animations are quite solid and players move very fluidly when feigning moves down the field. Commentary of the game is remarkable well done considering the scale of the game, with nearly 200 teams each featuring 20+ players. However with such a large game that can sometimes move quite quickly the play by play can lag behind, causing the action and the dialog to be mismatched. Crowd noise is one excellent feature as it dynamically changes based on the action taking place on the pitch; this really helps draw the player into the action. To help immerse you in the game, simply turn off the commentary and crank up the crowd noise and prepare to be heavily involved in a well-paced game.
After WE9 was released there was a new list of backwards compatible games released on the Xbox 360, and much to the surprise of a lot of people Winning Eleven 9 was included on the list. This is a great thing for players of the series who in order to get their soccer fix had to rely on one of the FIFA titles until recently. The game does translate well on the 360, with no major flaws noticed when played on the system. The biggest plus coming from the wireless controller, but also a flaw with the controller. Seeing as the game is quite complex, controls that were mapped to the white and black buttons were moved to the shoulder buttons, so transitioning back and forth between systems takes some getting used to.
When placed in direct comparison with the titles from EA, Winning Eleven clearly stands out as a champion thanks to its in-depth gameplay and intricacies of the sport. When considering a title to pick up on either Xbox console, you’d find very few reasons outside of easier pick up and play to go with the FIFA title. If you want a truer feel of the sport then there really should be no reason why this game isn’t in your collection, there has to be a reason why the WE series is consistently highly rated.
The addition of this title to the backwards compatibility list makes it stand out that much more, as it is better than both of the offerings that are currently out on the Xbox 360, including the much stronger second release after the painful Road to the World Cup that launched with the system.
- Gameplay: 8.5
- Initially daunting, but ultimately very powerful controls make this one of the most playable soccer titles available
- Graphics: 7.5
- Not the prettiest up close, but strong animations save the title from the depths of muddy graphics hell
- Sound: 5
- Euro-techno and a spotty commentary are saved by dynamic crowd noise
- Replay: 8.5
- A bevy of teams to play, Master Leagues, and online play? This title has tons of replay
- Overall: 8.0
- Skip over sound and visuals and you have a series that consistently brings the goods, with the latest revision upping the ante online.
— Jeff Paramchuk