- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 29, 2004

Konami’s World Soccer International Winning Eleven 7 has an air about it, a European smugness that might turn off American consumers.

Which would be a shame because Winning Eleven, despite a lack of any American touches, helps soccer live up to its nickname as the world’s most beautiful game.

You don’t get the next big thing, Freddy Adu. You don’t get Major League Soccer. In fact, you don’t get much of an American presence at all.

Look past the Eurocentric focus, however, and you will realize that Winning Eleven might have the best presentation of any sports game for the PlayStation 2 this side of Madden. From the players entering the stadium to the replays of the game’s highlights to the postgame fires in the crowd, you know you are watching a graphical masterpiece. There’s nothing in any other sports game like the despair on the face of the player whose missed penalty kick just cost his team the game.

The game won’t come down to that if you score enough during regulation, which isn’t the easiest thing to do. A shot meter controls how high the ball will fly, and anything more than a tap likely will send the ball over the net. (Of course, scoring is at a premium in soccer, anyway.)

Still, the basic controls in Winning Eleven are fairly easy to pick up; passes sent in a general direction, for instance, will find a teammate in the area, and each of the main buttons on the controller corresponds to a different pass or shot. And once you have that down, you can add the more complex commands to your repertoire, using combinations to perform high-speed dribbles, heel passes and feints. The physics when you bend a ball off a set play feel real. On the field, there’s no soccer game that plays or looks better.

In other areas, Winning Eleven doesn’t quite match up. The menu screens can be hard to decipher, making things like substitutions and formation changes more difficult than they need to be.

The game features 120 teams, including 56 national teams. The national teams have updated, actual rosters; U.S. players like Landon Donovan and Brian McBride can suit up for you against England and David Beckham. Most disappointing, however, are the 64 club teams, which have fake names for teams or players and fake uniforms because Konami didn’t get the necessary licenses. However, the game includes an editor that allows you to change the names and colors for your favorite club teams.

With those teams as options, you have three choices for league modes. League mode involves national teams, allowing you to put them through a round-robin season, while Cup mode mimics the World Cup (but again, no rights) or a continental championship with any of the teams available.

The third option, Master League, allows you to create a team and try to turn it into a champion. There are four leagues in the mode, each with two divisions (think English Premier League vs. First Division), and the Master League appears to be equivalent to the European Champions League. The mode allows you to negotiate transfers or develop young players, much like a franchise mode. Of course, this implies you can figure it out from all the strange menus.

But if you can get past the interface problems, this is the best soccer game on the market in terms of both look and game play. It’s too bad most Americans won’t get a chance to realize it.

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