Even though Konami's Winning Eleven franchise has quite literally been around for many years now, it was only two years ago that the series took Europe by storm (albeit under the moniker of Pro Evolution Soccer). Surprisingly, it's only been a single year since Winning Eleven came to the United States. Following its debuts on both continents, Winning Eleven became an instant success and was widely heralded as the most realistic and entertaining soccer simulation ever created--even without the benefit of real club team licenses. Pro Evolution Soccer 3 was released in Europe just a scant few months ago, and Winning Eleven 7, the US iteration of that same game, is due for release in only a few short weeks. We recently had the opportunity to spend some time with a build of Winning Eleven 7, and we're happy to report that fans of last year's Winning Eleven 6 should have plenty to cheer about in this year's installment.
Upon picking up Winning Eleven 7, you'll likely notice that the controls have been largely untouched from last year's game. Basic controls allow you to put pressure on opposing players by pressing the X and square buttons; you can change attack and defensive strategies on the fly; and you can build up shots and long passes by using a type of strength meter that shoots up based on how hard you press the corresponding button. Player control feels very tight, and players are also easy to manage. The opposing AI is extremely challenging, even from the default difficulty setting. All in all, anyone who played last year's game should feel right at home playing Winning Eleven 7. However, the gameplay is really just about the only aspect of Winning Eleven 7 that has remained the same as its predecessor. As a result, you'll find all sorts of new features and upgrades throughout the remaining portions of the game.
For starters, everything about Winning Eleven 7's interface looks like a huge improvement over Winning Eleven 6. This is most notable in the master league mode, which is infinitely easier to navigate despite being a much deeper mode overall. Team management and, more specifically, player negotiations are much easier this time around, thanks to an in-game search engine that lets you search by player name, position, height, age, overall ability, special abilities, required salary points, and current remaining contract period. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of available players in the game, so this feature is most welcome, for sure. The master league mode also gives you a much wider range for customizing your chosen club and allows you to alter your uniforms, your colors, your team's flag design, and your stadium. Points earned in the game also let you purchase unlockable items in the Winning Eleven shop mode, which includes special ball effects, teams, players, double speed matches, and special appearance edit features for players.
All of the same modes from Winning Eleven 6 make appearances in 7, including such modes as quick match, league, cup, training, and the aforementioned master league. In the training mode, you can take part in a simple free training mode; a beginner's lesson mode, where you can learn some basic techniques for improving your game; and a challenge mode, where your goal is to earn points while perfecting your technique. The game, once again, features an edit mode that lets you customize both players and teams. Also like last year's game, there are no licensed club teams in Winning Eleven 7, but despite this fact, the game features more than 50 national teams and more than 60 fake club teams, which can all easily be edited to represent your favorite clubs. Players' names, positions, numbers, and abilities can all be edited as well, and new players can even be created, though considering how many players there are in the game already, it almost seems ridiculous to want more of them. Ridiculousness aside, the option to create additional players is available, complete with plenty of appearance and statistic options.
The wide array of players in Winning Eleven 7 is doubly impressive when you take into account how much detail has gone into the new player models for the game. The players in this year's game represent a big upgrade over last year's, in terms of up-close features, and they provide much more realistic faces and body builds. During the game, the players also look quite excellent and animate incredibly fluidly, thanks in no small part to the huge number of added animations for this year's title. Everything from the basic running movements of players to the incredibly realistic ball physics all help to create an incredibly lifelike experience. There are six new stadiums in Winning Eleven 7, and all of the ones from the previous game have been given extra coats of polish. Every old and new stadium looks fantastic so far, and each features all the little details you'd expect, including flags that are waved by the home team fans and excellent rain effects.
Winning Eleven 7's audio is coming together equally well. This year, five different commentary languages are available, including English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. All five commentary tracks sound great so far, and they flow together very well with the action. During the game, the crowd noise is quite electric and is filled with gasps, cheers, chants, and even the occasional horn. Most of the music in our build consisted of some European-sounding techno tracks, which weren't too bad to listen to.
From what we've sampled of Winning Eleven 7 thus far, we are quite impressed. Everything that was great about Winning Eleven 6 is still front and center in this year's game, and the host of graphical and interface upgrades, along with the incredibly deep master league mode, should help make Winning Eleven 7 one of the most--if not the most--definitive soccer games ever released. Winning Eleven 7 is currently scheduled for release in early February. Expect a full review of the game as the release draws near.