marino's World Soccer Winning Eleven 8 International (Xbox) review

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The #1 Soccer Game in Any Country Where Soccer Matters

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In America, Winning Eleven goes mostly unseen thanks to the massive FIFA train engineered by EA.  But the fact is that Winning Eleven is the preferred soccer game in every country where soccer is the #1 sport.  This year's offering is no different as Konami has delivered the most complete, most rewarding soccer gaming experience ever.  You don't have to be a fan of soccer to enjoy this game.  Any sports fan will find something to love in Winning Eleven 8. 
If you looked at just any random gameplay screenshot from WE8, it would be hard for me to argue how great the graphics are since the players usually appear small on screen, but trust me.  The graphics are superb in this game.  The player models, and especially the faces, are very distinguishable and unique.  The character creation tool rivals that in Tiger Woods PGA Tour, which is a massive compliment.  When the camera zooms in, on replays or by player's choice, you can truly appreciate how detailed the players are.  But even when the camera is away, the fluidity of the animations and ball physics is stunning.  WE won't wow you with lavish special effects, but it's a complete package nonetheless.  
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This game's controls run from one end of the spectrum to the other.  The layout is simple enough for anyone to pick it up and kick the ball around, but if you want to truly master the game, you're going to spend alot of time.  The great thing about this is that WE8 offers an excellent Training mode.  This mode starts out with things as simple as possible by actually explaining what soccer is and then leads you through some quick exercises by first showing you a diagram or CPU-controlled example.  After completing these simple tasks, you can move on to Challenge Training where the game trains you in 8 different categories (Attacking, Defending, Dribbling, Short Passing, Manual Passing, Free Kick Long Passing, Free Kick Shooting, Ball Possession), each with 5 increasingly harder trials.  These trials not only serve as teaching tools, but the satisfaction you get out of completing the fifth level trial is great.  Winning Eleven 8 is a game that rewards you for improving your skills.  The amount of things you can do with the ball, and even away from the ball, is a bit daunting at first, but the Training mode is so impressive that after completing it, you'll feel like a soccer veteran.     
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If the game has a weak point, then this is most definitely it.  Also, if you want to compare it to FIFA, which is inevitable in this region of the world, EA's production values simply outclass Konami in this area.  WE8's menus feature the same basic background music looped over and over, maybe with a couple variations in certain areas, but hardly noticable.  The commentary is pretty good, but not exactly exciting.  I don't consider myself a soccer fan, but I did watch the majority of the World Cup in 2002, and all the announcers in those matches were crazy.  The announcers keep you awake during those 45 minute spans of no goals, and WE8's guys don't convey that.  They get the job done, but they don't really go the extra mile to be up to par with the rest of the incredible game.     
Replay Value 
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Let's get the bad news out of the way first.  The game isn't on Xbox Live.  It is on Live in Europe but it was buggy so they cut it from the NA release.  But don't let that be the deciding factor, because this game is immensely deep.  The Master League mode rivals that of any sports game's Dynasty/Season mode.  You'll be wheeling and dealing as you manage your club and try to move them up through the ranks.  Each player is ranked using 31 different attributes as well as 23 other special factors.  Age also plays a role in this years game, as rookies generally don't perform as well as players in their prime, and aging veterans begin to decline, which encourages you to sell/trade your old stars while they still have value.  The game offers a great search tool that will search through the nearly 5000 players to find those who are willing to join your team at a given time.  You can refine these searches for certain types of players you need too.  Your players also accumulate fatigue from match to match, so you need a complete team to be able to compete consistantly since your stars can't start every single game.  Online play would've put this game over the top, but as it is, it's a game that can keep you busy for a long time even in single player and great fun if you have 1 to 3 other people in the same room with you.     
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I'm by no means a huge fan of soccer.  I watch it during the World Cup and maybe during the Olympics, and that's about it.  But this game is incredible.  Much in the same way that I loved NHL 2K5 while not knowing shit about hockey, I love Winning Eleven.  With 57 National Teams, 80 European Clubs, 4500+ real players, and the best gameplay ever seen in a soccer game, what else do you really need?  If you're a soccer fan, you should already own this.  If you're a sports fan in general, give it a shot.  You won't be disappointed.     
*** This review was written for shortly after the release of the game. ***

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