The Winning Eleven soccer series has long been known as one of the best-playing sports simulations around and, now that the game is branching out a bit into different gaming platforms, there's no reason to think that trend won't continue. At today's Konami press event, we got to check out an updated build of the Xbox 360 version of the game (for a detailed look at the game, check out our hands-on report from the Leipzig Games Convention). We also got a chance to play the Nintendo DS, which has made a good deal of progress since we last saw it at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo.
One of the biggest changes to the entire Winning Eleven series is in the name. The game has traditionally been known as Pro Evolution Soccer overseas, and as Winning Eleven here in the States. Because Konami realized that "Winning Eleven 10" and "Winning Eleven 11" might sound a bit awkward, the publisher decided to pull the trigger on the name change and refer to it as Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2007. No, it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but for soccer fans it probably gets the job done.
For the DS version of the game, Konami producers told us they had another well-regarded soccer game in mind when designing the gameplay here--the fast-paced and fun International Superstar Soccer (ISS) series. Like ISS, the gameplay in Winning Eleven 2007 is quick and approachable, with just enough depth to give longtime WE fans something to really sink their teeth into. Controls are actually very similar to the PS2 game--the left trigger is used to feint, the right trigger is used to dash, and the directional pad will move your player. The X, Y, and A buttons perform various passes and to shoot, you press the Y button. More advanced maneuvers, such as double dribbles and double feints, are also possible using various combinations of buttons and the triggers.
Before you enter a match, you'll have a host of options for positioning your players on the pitch. Of course, you'll have a number of different formations to choose from, including a default setting, three preset formations (such as 3-4-3, 4-4-2, and 5-4-1), and a "favorite" slot, presumably for a unique formation that you've designed yourself. After you've chosen a basic formation, you can even position individual players on the field within that formation by entering a second screen, choosing the player you wish to reposition, and then using the D-pad to position him exactly where you wish. Want your defensive center to start a bit closer to the midline? You can make it happen using these controls. Furthermore, you can set individual attack and defensive schemes for every player on the pitch. On offense, for example, you can set how aggressive or passive each player should be, and on defense, you can assign zone or man-to-man coverage for each position on your roster.
Winning Eleven 2007 seems to be playing at a quicker pace than when we last saw the game at E3. The player models, while certainly not as detailed as what longtime players have come to expect on the PS2 version, animate well and also seem to be demonstrating a respectable amount of animation variety and collision detection. In the interest of getting a few easy goals, we checked out the game on easy difficulty and, to our pleasant surprise, were met with a stout defense that really forced some smart passing and good shot selection to get some goals scored. At the higher difficulty levels, it will probably take some serious soccer smarts to get things moving in your direction. The action on the soccer pitch takes place on the upper screen, while the lower screen is used primarily to show your current formation. You can also adjust your team defensive and offensive pressure on the lower screen by touching one side of the screen or the other.
Though only single-player matches were running in the build of the game we played, we backed out to the main menu to get a look at the different modes, which included world tour, network, Konami Cup, original team, training, and something called "overall performance," which sounds like it might be something like a stat tracker for your game progression. We're curious to see what all these different game modes entail, and we'll be bringing you more information on the game in the coming months. Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 is scheduled for release in early 2007.