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Xbox 360 Review: Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007

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The New Year brings forth a new wave of annually updated sports titles and among the first to see the light of day on the calendar year is the world’s beloved football – or for us United States oddballs, soccer. Stepping up for another go at the goal, Konami’s lone U.S. sports simulator makes the jump to the Xbox 360 and provides some great foot action although it lacks in presentation for the hex-checkered fanatics.

Dropping the series number and adopting the European title, Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 entered new territory this year by not only appearing on the Playstation 2 and PSP but also the 360 and Nintendo DS. With Winning Eleven playing on the Playstation 2 so long, it’s unfortunate the long-running series doesn’t carry over its full potential as it fails to support some of the features it’s well-known for on the 360.

Thankfully, the most important element of the title, it’s game play, carries over in its full tightly controlled, intricate glory. While the game is unlicensed and features a host of imaginary teams and players, the meat and potatoes of the game play is what allows the series to truly compete with EA’s fully-featured FIFA series – and, debatably, it often outshines that said series.

Unfortunately, that potential nips WE 2007’s Xbox 360 debut as the title fails to utilize the hardware. Given the presentation and appearance of the game, it seems the newest entry appears to be another long-running franchise developed with the Playstation 2 in mind and granted a quick port-over to the 360.

This is most evident graphically as the players and environments fail to feature a true “next-gen” look, especially if the game is not played in high definition. While the action takes place with a wide-panned camera perspective, the character models look and move quite well, but the zoomed-in views of instant replays and cut scenes show the aged look and occasionally jerky animations of the players. The crowd does little to add to the plain playing fields and stadiums, which also don’t seem to have any punch graphically.

While the close-ups show a little luster, they are still deliciously appealing and do sport some attention to detail. I can’t tell you how many times I re-watched the time I beat the goalkeeper to the ball, kicked the ball between his legs as he bent over to pick it up and swished the top corner of the goal.

Players can zoom in, center the camera on any player or the ball and watch as the ball takes flight and spins past the goalie, sending the net into a frenzy. Sadly, 360 owners get the short end of the stick, not being able to save and export their greatest moments.

The sounds of Winning Eleven take a back seat in the presentation, featuring the common sounds you’d hear watching soccer on television and minimal commentary during the action. While the announcers hardly chime in aside from prompting who has possession of the ball, it doesn’t becoming annoying or grating due to the fact the commentary is always delivered on time and doesn’t get behind the action.

The crowds hardly get into the action and the chanting doesn’t seem to differ from nation to nation, which puts most of the stadium ambience on the constant roaring and cheering that could be found in any sports game. The game’s music is contained to menu navigation and features a score of hit or miss indie tunes.

Fans of the sport will notice a sore lack of licenses and some outdated player rosters. With such a hit to the presentation of the title, Winning Eleven once again relies on its trademark realistic game play mechanics and challenging A.I. to keep players coming back for more.

Winning Eleven 2007 doesn’t control much differently than any other soccer game that has been released recently. With a choice of three pass types and shoot button, the control scheme is simple, yet deceptively deep. Punts clear the ball away from play and out of trouble, short passes places the ball safely behind another player and the leading pass puts an open player into an even better position on the field. Knowing when to use which pass is crucial to success in the title and makes for the fundamental mechanics of the game.

In other words, Winning Eleven a title that is easy to pick up and play but takes time and practice and master. The computer A.I. reacts appropriately on harder difficulty levels and really challenges players to do more than just dribble and shoot. Only by sticking to the team’s strengths, taking advantage of formations and playing smart will players be able to tackle the better players and teams.

As great as the game play is, however, an uninspired Master League Mode and reduced options really hold the title back from its true potential. The edit modes featured in the PS2 and PSP versions to alter player and team names is missing from the 360 version – a real bummer for those who follow the sport and want to re-create the game they love. The total number of players supported offline and online are also halved from the PS2 version.

While nothing earth-shattering, Master League allows players to take a team from the ground up in Konami’s take on a franchise mode. Players have to manage the salaries of players on the team while earning money and raising team stats through the course of league play. Teams strengthen even more through acquiring new players when they are affordable and gamers can keep tabs on their team’s performance through a score of stat and information tables.

The tournament and Master League modes offer potentially infinite replay value for players who really get tied up in franchises, but the game’s true moments come in multiplayer. With online modes and four-player offline game play, games become quite heated and goals become living room celebration material.

The bottom line is Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 isn’t a bad title; it just fails to live up to the “next-gen” moniker. With graphics that hardly seem fitting to the 360 and a huge slice into the game’s feature set, the title’s laurels are set purely on the superb representation of football action.

Players with both a Playstation 2 and an Xbox 360 will be at a toss-up as questionably, it could be said more could be purchased at $10 less. While the version is a disappointment feature-wise, when it comes to game play, those looking for a quality sports outing on the 360 will find few titles more satisfying than WE 2007.

Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB. This game can also be found on: Playstation 2, Sony PSP and Nintendo DS.

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