"Graphics upgraded, realism downgraded"

I've tried at least three or four times to write a review for this game. At first, I wanted to give it a 10. Then, after playing it for a couple of days and discovering several unrealistic elements in the gameplay, I wanted to give it a 5. Then after a couple of weeks, I found ways to get around these flaws and I was going to give it an 8. But after a month or so, I've decided that WE8 is certainly not a high point in the series, particularly when it comes to realism. So I'm settling on a 7.

Make no mistake about it: the graphics are better, the presentation is way slicker, and there is a great new "simulation training" mode where you can practice specific situations over and over again to work on your skills. WE8 now features authentic Spanish and Italian Leagues, but the rest (including the English Premiership) all have the same funny names and not-so-authentic kits like the previous Winning Eleven. Fortunately, the funny club names somewhat resemble the real names (eg Arzegum -> Arsenal) so as long as you're not listening too carefully, the announcer sort of sounds like he's reading the actual thing.

Gameplay wise, this game is fairly different from its predecessor. I'll discuss mostly the two fatal flaws: 1. the "superhuman" GK 2. the clumsy defense. The first point is the one that will stand out the most, particularly if you watch real football after a length WE8 session. In short, every goalkeeper, even mediocre ones, now seem to possess superhuman athletic powers and can jump, dive, and react beyond the limits of ordinary human beings. After playing for only a month, I've already seen 10 years worth of goalkeeper highlights. When you're through on goal and you thinking "easy goal", WE8 will slap you in the face and remind you that this is the Year of the Goalkeeper.

What this means is that you can no longer fire a good, powerful shot from inside the penalty box and expect it having a good chance of going in. Even if it's on target, the most common sight you'll be treated to is a magnificent save from literally out of nowhere. This applies equally to 1 on 1 situation. You can no longer just tap the shoot button and expect to beat the keeper - 9 out of 10, it won't go in. In WE7, it was the opposite, 9 out of 10, it WOULD go in. It's obviously a drastic change on Konami's part, and quite frankly, I don't understand why. It makes the net feel as small as the ones used in hockey, and it will drastically (and unrealistically) change the way most people try to score.

The second flaw, the clumsy defense, has to do with some minor tweakings, which I believe are for the worse. Basically, defenders trying to mark an attacker have a significant lag penalty when they change directions, even in increments as small as 45 degrees. However, attackers with the ball don't suffer the same penalty unless they turn in increments of greater than 90 degrees. Also new to WE8: they can turn instantly "mid-dribble" giving them amazing response, especially compared to WE7. You can see how this creates a huge problem - attackers, being more agile and responsive than defenders, can dribble past defenders way too easily. In semi-skilled hands, the penetration power of any decent striker is just way too exaggerated - defenders look helpless and sluggish as attackers can go right around the defense just by dribbling casually and turning themselves at the right time. It doesn't help that the timing of normal tackle seems to be even tighter this time around. I've already missed more tackles and let opposing strikers slip by my defense in one month of WE8 than a full year of WE7. I've also managed to score totally unrealistic goals where a striker casually dribbles his way past two defenders in a row, and then dribbles past the keeper for an easy goal - on 5 star difficulty.

Of course, there are ways to get around both flaws. For the goalkeeper problem, you either dribble past the keeper, or use the lob shot. Once you get the hang of this game, the lob shot will probably be used more often than a regular shot - this does not bode well for realism. The regular shot only gives good results when shooting at an fairly empty net (one timer/rebounds). You CAN blast it past the keeper on occasion, but you'll have 10 times as many goals with the lob shot.

For the defense problem, a dose of Zen meditation will be just what the doctor ordered. All kidding aside, the best way to play defense is to play super conservative and try to cover space as best as possible instead of focusing on directly dispossessing the attacker. Still, this feels like trying to patch up a hole that really shouldn't be there in the first place. It should be inherently difficult for the offense to penetrate the defense, not the other way around.

Other changes to the core gameplay seem to be in the neutral/positive category. You can no longer sprint endlessly and keep shrugging off a defender who is right beside you. If a defender catches up to you on the side, the automatic harassment is now enough to make you lose your footing resulting in a dispossession. There is also a new free kick mode offering plenty of different ways of scoring. You can now aim your crosses depending on the direction you hold down before pushing the circle button. It seems more difficult to score with a header. There are many other changes, but really none are as significant as the changes to the keeper and the defense.

If Konami patched those two mistakes up, I would not hesitate to give this game a 9 or even a 10. Until then, I will enjoy this game but it certainly isn't be the "perfect" football game - not by a long stretch.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 09/04/04

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