Reviewed: April 15, 2003
Released: March 10, 2003
I must admit that with this being my first game review I am a bit nervous. As a part time comedy writer I know that writing is often only as good as the subject you are writing about and thankfully for my “trial by fire” I was given an amazing game to play and review.
Since this is my first review I feel I must validate my unusually high score of Winning Eleven 6 before I even start breaking down this excellent title. I’ve been involved with sports, both in real life and in electronic form for nearly 20 years. Whether it was little league, peewee soccer, high school football, or my futile attempts at recreational golf, sports are a huge part of my life and I tend to consider myself an expert or at least an aficionado of the genre. If I haven’t played it in real-life I’ve certainly abused the sport on the PC or one of the half-dozen game consoles I’ve owned in the past decade.
While soccer continues to establish a devout following in the world of professional “American” sports, the gaming industry continues to struggle to make and sell games for a sport that is still traditionally regarded as “foreign”, despite the increased sales of mini-vans and a new breed of “soccer moms”.
When it comes to soccer games I’ve pretty much played them all starting with the original FIFA game released for the 3DO console back in the mid 90’s. More recently I have become extremely addicted to the RedCard 2003 game from Midway even though that game is admittedly an exaggeration of the sport.
Winning Eleven 6 marks the arrival of the long awaited Konami soccer franchise to US shores. Previously released in Japan and European markets, now Yankees can finally enjoy a non-import version of this amazing title. As a reward for our patience (like we had a choice) this new version marks several improvements and enhancements that were not available in the initial releases.
Unless you are a true fan of the sport of soccer most of the technical achievements in gameplay and spot-on accuracy for the rules of the sport will go unappreciated. But no matter if you are Pelé or just addicted to Foosball you are going to love this game.
And what’s not to love. You have 54 national squads and 40 club sides. Unfortunately there is no official licensing so while your roster is quite comprehensive it is also rather generic. You can enjoy five modes of playing including; practice, cup, exhibition, and league modes. If you are ready for a committed relationship you can tackle the Master League franchise mode where you are free to create your dream team. The gameplay is flawlessly accurate and perfectly executed, a perfect reproduction of the sport with fully customizable teams, formations, and strategies.
After coming off the accelerated and adrenaline charged RedCard game it was refreshing to sit back and play a more leisurely game of soccer – not that soccer isn’t one of, if not the most strenuous sport going. There is much more strategy involved in this title and the designers have taken great care to balance the gameplay and the teams to create a very realistic simulation.
Game controls are intuitive and you will master them in just a few minutes. Defense and offensive controls share a lot of common buttons for movement and player switching while the face buttons are used for the more specific commands. Shooting and passing are broken into forcefulness or range and assigned a unique button while applying various levels of pressure, tackling, and goalkeeping functions are given their own buttons. Even more inventive is the ability to move your player with the left stick and pass with the right. This method might not be for everyone but if you can master it you will become an unstoppable force.
The Training mode offers gamers an easy way to adapt themselves to the game mechanics or familiarize soccer newbies to the rules of the sport. Training is broken down into basic game controls and Pro Training where you can learn advanced team strategies used by the pros and earn valuable points to build-up your players for the main game. WE6 also comes with an informative 50-page manual that explains everything from gameplay to all of the powerful editing features of this game.
Knowing the capabilities of your team and each player on it will take you far in winning these matches. The game encourages and rewards your efforts to play soccer like it was meant to be played, with lots of precise ball handling, passing, strategic setups, and lightning attacks on the goal. Working the ball down the field has never been better. In most other soccer games if any one man keeps possession of the ball for more than ten seconds he will likely lose it to a defender. WE6 slows things down enough that you can actually work the ball and setup quick passes or lobs to other teammates down the field. Even though you are one player, you have a full team at your disposal and using them all is justly rewarded.
The menu and in-game interface is flawless. You can manage your team; make substitutions, change strategies and formations with the tap of a few buttons. Team management is essential, as players will realistically become fatigued during extended gameplay. The more you play the better “chemistry” you build up amongst the players and the better they perform as a team. These subtle RPG-like elements to the gameplay make this one of the most realistic soccer sims I’ve ever played.
Those of you playing solo will enjoy some of the best opponent AI ever seen in a soccer game and perhaps some of the best in any sports title to date. It’s not unrealistically brutal, but very authentic. If you know the all-stars of soccer in real life then you will be amazed at how well their skills are reproduced in this game. Of special note is the improved AI of the goalkeepers. It’s extremely hard to score sloppy or unplanned shots. Lobbing a ball at the net from midfield is foolhardy and even a speedy charge at the net will often be blocked. Crossover combo plays work nicely and look great in the replays.
The Master League franchise mode is fairly involved and should keep you busy for many weeks or even months. You earn points by winning games and you can spend those points to recruit new players and build your dream team that can span a career of many years.
No sports game is worth the disc its pressed on if it doesn’t have a good multi-player component and Winning Eleven 6 delivers with great two-player action out of the box and if you are lucky enough to have a Multitap and a group of soccer-loving friends you can crowd up to eight players around your TV. I was moderately disappointed that there was no online support but we can only hope they include that in next year’s edition.
The only real shortcomings I could find with this title were the lack of MLS, English and European licensing. This pretty much means that you won’t find any soccer specific teams, players, or stadiums. Instead, you get reasonable facsimiles of those teams, their colors, and the stadium names. This might turn off the casual soccer purist, but those with the initiative, time and skill can use the powerful editing features and recreate an authentic soccer simulation right down to the last player.
The graphics in WE6 blew me away. At first glance I noticed the players were a bit chunky – not the lean athletic machines you see on TV. But once these guys start to move the pounds literally melt off in some exquisite animation that words can’t even begin to do justice. You probably won’t even get to appreciate much of the subtle detail until you begin to explore the wonderful replay system built into the game.
The players all have superb facial detail and an expansive library of individual animations that are blended together seamlessly as they run down the field, dribble, tackle, jump, flip, or perform any other move physically possible. The keepers have some new tricks up their animated sleeve as they leap and dive around the net.
If you don’t like the way something looks in WE6 you can dig into the powerful edit features of this game and tweak your existing jerseys or design entirely new ones. You can change player numbers, design team flags and tweak all sorts of cool details to make this game truly your own.
The stadiums are perfectly recreated – at least from what I can tell from seeing many of them on TV, even though they don’t use their real-world names. The details in the various types of grass, the stadium seating, the crowd, and all the ambient details you never consciously notice until they are absent are all here to create the perfect soccer experience. You can choose various weather conditions and time of day for the game or let these things happen randomly. These conditions all affect the excellent lighting and shadow effects present in WE6.
Winning Eleven 6 looks great in motion and even better in slow motion. WE6 offers an excellent replay system that lets you play back the previous play from all sorts of camera angles with full control over rotation and zooming. You can view the playback at various speeds or study it frame-by-frame.
One thing I have always loved about the sport of soccer has been the crowd involvement; not just the cheering but the chanting that goes on during these games. Unfortunately the chanting has been substantially cut back to make room for the graphics. While I will concede that graphics and animation are certainly more important than chanting, it doesn’t make me miss it any less.
The remaining cheers of the crowd are adequate but not always suited to the action taking place on the field. The commentary, on the other hand, is excellent and fits the gameplay perfectly. One nice touch is that your players are mentioned by name – even your custom ones – when they are being discussed in the press box. The ability to change the commentary language to match the country you are playing in is a great touch, even if you don’t understand anything being said during that game.
The music is merely okay. It starts off pretty cool but starts to grow tiring after several hours of gameplay and actually starts to annoy after a week or more. Fortunately, you can simply lose the music in the options menu and just enjoy the sounds of soccer.
One of the reasons I enjoy sports games so much is that they quite literally have limitless value and gameplay potential, at least until a new version or something better comes along. Winning Eleven 6 is arguably the best soccer game you can currently play on any format, even though it’s only available for the PS2. With a good selection of single, multiplayer, and franchise game modes available, this is one sports title that you will be playing for a long, long time.
Winning Eleven 6 smashes all of its competitors in the soccer genre and sets a new standard for sports games in general. The attention to detail in visuals and gameplay mechanics will be appreciated by soccer lovers and novices alike. It’s a shame that franchises like FIFA blow their budgetary wad on licensing then offer a substandard gameplay experience while great games like this barely make it into the USA.
Whether you are looking for a quick game among friends or a lengthy franchise commitment, there is something here for everyone who is remotely interested in the sport of soccer.