Winning Eleven 8 International Review (Xbox)
Konami is back with the latest installment of their award winning soccer series with “Winning Eleven 8 International”. This series has always been at the top of its game, but recently the "FIFA" series has started to close the gap. On top of that, the "FIFA" series has a lot of official licensing in its corner, which does a little damage in name recognition for soccer aficionados. “Winning Eleven 8 International” does have some real-world players, however. Using licenses from three of the top European Leagues (Spain, Italy, and Holland), Konami is able to help deliver some authentic players for those who feel that such things are a necessity. If you are a fan of the "Winning Eleven" series, you definitely will not be disappointed in “Winning Eleven 8 International”, but will you get your money’s worth by buying the latest version? Let's find out if the newest installment is for you.
There are a lot of different ways to jump into this title - except one - online play, as that did not make it into to either of the console versions of “Winning Eleven 8 International”. This could have been the one feature that put this series over the top on fun and value. However, the offline modes; from the obligatory Exhibition, all the way up to the impressive Master League provide plenty of options for players.
Training Mode is one of the most important modes - not only for the newest of “Winning Eleven” players, but also for some of the veterans as well. The training will help show you how the different attacks, defenses, and passes can be made or performed. Once you have the beginner training down, you can showcase these newfound skills in harder challenges that you will be graded on. These results are compared to the stock scores (or another player if more than one is using your system). Generally, the higher the score, the more you can be sure that you will be able to repeat some of these performances on the field.
Soccer is one of the loudest sports I have witnessed. The fans at a soccer game are extremely active and rowdy. This is duplicated in “Winning Eleven 8 International” very well indeed. Your fans raise their level of excitement with your positive moves, as well as echo their displeasure when something bad is happening to their favorite team. Before starting a game or when setting up one of the longer play modes, you can change how the crowd will react by having them favor a particular team or have the crowd split their loyalties between the teams evenly.
Unfortunately, while the crowd and the presentation are very good, I have to say that I'm disappointed in the announcers. There are hardly any changes at all to the announcing crew. The repetition is even more prevalent this year then in any other version I have played before. This was the first version in the "Winning Eleven" series that I actually shut the announcers off. Some may enjoy listening to them, but after the number of matches I have played, I don't think I could handle hearing the announcers groan anymore.
I mentioned in the sound category about the excellent opening cinemas, but the sounds are not the only things that shine - the graphics of the cinemas are just as impressive. Replays have a lot of control over them. You can watch a replay over and over from numerous camera angles that you have the ability to configure while the replay is happening. All in all, the presentation of the game - from the opening sequences to the replays at the end of the game - is handled at a high standards, but are excellent in execution. The amount of replays that are stored for the halftime and end-of-game highlights are impressive.
The graphics excellence does not stop there as the game itself is also very fluid. There are no slowdowns whatsoever, even in a crowded field. The players move in the realistic manners they should. Collision detection is handled very well as well. I have seen numerous sports titles with some very questionable collision detection, but here it is almost flawless. There really isn't much else that needs to be said about the graphics; you'll likely be hard pressed to find a fault in them.
Gameplay is the one thing in “Winning Eleven 8 International” that could initially turn off some players. The gameplay is not arcade-like in any aspect. This game replicates soccer almost to a science. There are so very few questionable circumstances in this game that sometimes you wonder if it is too perfect.
The opponent AI is also much smarter on all levels this year, as well. They will set up much more effectively, and the differences between the teams you play against are much more varied then I have seen in years past. Some teams will play a conservative game while others are extremely aggressive. The differences in the teams and their play styles are simply astounding.
For those who are torn as to which console you should buy the game for, choose by your preference of controller. The games are almost identical, with a slight edge to the PS2 for fluidity. If the Xbox controller is your controller of choice, you'll want to go that way. The lack of two trigger buttons makes things a little more cumbersome compared to the PS2, however. Since online play is not an issue, I personally recommend the PS2 version.
I could go on and on about the numerous high points of this game, but it's very simple to summarize: "Winning Eleven 8 International" is, hands-down, one of the best soccer games ever made, if not one of the top sports games, period. From the presentation to the gameplay, there are very few bad moments to be found in this game. There are enough improvements that warrant a purchase from a current "Winning Eleven" player, but alas - if you were hoping for online play, then you'll then be extremely disappointed.