Winning Eleven 6: Final Evolution GameCube Review

I must apologise for those who already know this, but I feel that it is worth explaining the background to this game for the sake of those who will ask the same inevitable questions. This game has nothing to do with the disappointing ISS2 that appeared on the GameCube around the launch in May. A separate department within Konami produces the ISS series which is a poor follow on from the great N64 series. On the other hand, the Winning Eleven series is the Japanese counterpart to the acclaimed PAL Pro Evolution Soccer series. Normally a game is released in Japan, then released over here under the PES name, containing various gameplay tweaks. WE6FE is highly similar to the great PES2 but slightly enhances the graphical and gameplay elements. As with PES2 many of the player names are correct with the exception of some teams that the license does not cover. This is not all that important however as you’ll end up editing them all anyway.

To play this game on a PAL machine you are required to purchase a Freeloader (£16.99 Play.com) and I strongly recommend a new Official 251 memory card (£14.99 Play.com) as trying to save on your current card will wipe all existing data. Be warned that WE6FE takes up a stupid amount of space and the default 59 card will be insufficient. Note that you do not need to import a 251 memory card as the game will work fine as the game will format it for NTSC games only. The two sites I recommend for importing this game (£40-£50) are Goblindirect.co.uk and Liksang.com.

Graphics

The series has not been known for flashy graphics and presentation, and for the main part WE6FE is no different. However over recent years the in game graphics have evolved into a realistic representation of the beautiful game. The colours are more vibrant than those seen in PES2, however it would have been nicer to see more saturated blue and red kits as they still look washed out. The pitch textures are nicely varied and some look very realistic indeed, and are complemented by the standard weather effects such as rain and drizzle. Apparently 30% more animation frames have been included for this latest version and I get the impression that the game is running at a smooth 60fps. Some players such as Figo and Zidane are instantly recognisable and the likeness in terms of body language should also be commended.

I have noticed a few minor graphical issues that I will briefly talk about. Firstly, about every 5 minutes there seems to be a slight blip in animation for a split second. The best example I can think of is during the Resident Evil cutscenes that are streamed via the CD. I have no idea what is causing this but I would guess that this is due to the different data streaming system that the GameCube has when compared to the PS2 (assuming the PS2 version does not suffer from this issue). Perhaps this higher levels of compression when used with an essentially ported game is to blame. Even so, it is not a major issue and barely noticeable once you are into the game. It would have been nice to see fully 3D crowds and security staff instead of 2D sprites, but clearly this is still a few years off.

The presentation is certainly improving for the series, perhaps because I am now more accustomed to the menu design that has been in use for years. It is worth mentioning that the language of this game is totally Japanese and that there is no English option. However this really does not prove a problem as the player names can be edited into English language versions and long time fans will know what all the menu options do. If you need a menu translation then head on over to GameFAQs.com and go to the WE6FE section.

If I were to compare the graphics of WE6FE to Fifa 2003 I would have to favour WE6FE. This is due to the camera angles, a feature that Konami has implemented superbly as there are a staggering range of angles, many of which are very playable. This is stark contrast to Fifa 2003 that has many camera angles, none of which allow the user to view the game from that perfect view that only Komami and Sensible Software were able to find. WE6FE also has sharper graphics and less noticeably repeated animations.

You will find many nice graphical touches in WE6FE, varying from water splashing up off the wet turf underfoot to the name on the back of a player’s shirt.

Gameplay

This is the section where football games either succeed or fail. If a football game does not have good gameplay then it is not worth playing. Fifa 2003 is a good example of a football game not worth playing, not just because it has bad gameplay but because it is a game produced by a company who rely on financial muscle and marketing alone. Sorry Fifa fans, but you must have never played a decent Konami football game.

To sum it up WE6FE has great gameplay; it is realistic, exciting, deep, balanced and requires a lot of skill to win consistently. What makes it such a great all round game is the shooting system; there is so much freedom in what you can do with the ball. In lesser games like Fifa you are limited to blatantly scripted occurrences but in WE6FE things feel like they are actually happening now and you are in a real situation to influence the proceedings on the pitch. You will see everything from woeful crossing attempts, top corner scorchers, individual brilliance, wasted opportunities, goal mouth scrambles, deflections and Zola-esque free kicks that dip over the wall and curl away from the diving keeper. Konami have captured the essence of football superbly and completely blow the competition away. This is the best football game since Sensible World of Soccer 96/97 on the Amiga.

For those of you who are ‘ISS Veterans’ (I know there is a lot of you guys out there!) I’m sure you’ll want to know what are the latest tweaks and additions to influence the gameplay. First of all is what I’d call the random element. PES2, although being a great game, did include a few sure ways of scoring.. mainly dead centre from the edge of the box shooting across the keeper into the bottom corner. WE6FE, whilst there is easier ways to score than others, makes it harder to do the same old routine over and over to score; thus refining the realism of the game. The same can be said for the free kicks, which are now in my opinion harder to score. Players frequently don’t hit the ball with such consistency as before, meaning a free kick in a good position does not guarantee a goal for a good player.

The passing system is very effective too, however it would be nice to see a greater freedom when using the long pass as it is hard to direct into an exact area. It is annoying when you want to pass to a player but the ball goes to one nearby; there is a manual pass facility available by using the c-stick but I do not rate this element that highly. Then again it is one of the few areas of the game that I have not experimented heavily with.

Tackling is probably the best in any football game to date as it is quite ‘loose’ meaning it is possible to run round defenders if a player times his run correctly. However the sliding tackles are slightly unreliable at times as the referee gives free kicks when the ball is won and then the player is hit too. The referee can cause problems frequently if players try to foul endlessly as he is unreliable when it comes to dishing out the right card for the appropriate challenges. The inconsistent referee programming is the only real problem with WE6FE and I urge Konami to sort it out as this is long overdue and is now more apparent than in any Konami game to date, which is a pity. I feel that players who continually foul excessively on purpose should be heavily punished in a consistent manner.

It is worth noting how impressive the goalkeeping is in WE6FE as it is easily the best example of realistic keeping I’ve seen in a football game. Sometimes a keeper spills the ball when under pressure, other times makes remarkable saves and everything feels like it is balanced so that whatever happens is fair.

If anyone is worried about the transition from PS2 to GameCube then do no be worried as the Cube’s great analogue is used to perfection and easily outshines the PS2 analogue and even the PS2’s d-pad. People who are new to the GameCube may take a few matches to adjust, but that’s the only issue.

Sound

The commentary in Komani’s football games has always been a longstanding joke. I have to admit that in previous games I have set the commentary to German as not understanding the shallow speech is a bonus. Japanese commentary is no different and provides a much more humorous aspect to the game, with some really funny goal celebration phrases which I cannot put into words. I can assure you that you are not losing out by having a Japanese version.

As with all football games sound is hardly an important factor, especially when it comes to background music. The only exception I can recollect is the classic Sensible World of Soccer 96/97 tune that remains one of the most clever background themes of all time. Usually developers with more money than sense (EA Sports) employ the likes of the vomit inducing Robbie Williams along with other shameless pop acts that should be shot. Aside from WipeOut 2097’s Firestarter track I think all other professional songs have been detrimental to whatever game is in question. Luckily Komami have gone for a typically bland and repetitive tune that is instantly forgettable.

Crowd noises are impressive however and result in a great sense of atmosphere, enhanced by the option to set the match to have a local derby atmosphere for example.

Lifespan

Good football games can last until the format is no longer feasible (Sensible Soccer on the Amiga 500) so one could limit WE6FE to about 5 years in terms of lifespan. However by then I’m sure another 3 sequels will have been released and everyone would rather play the latest version on the latest hardware. Basically WE6FE will last until you buy a sequel or brake your GameCube, especially if there is ample multiplayer opponents to face. I am at University and there is around 6-7 good PES players I know, which means many whole evenings and afternoons spent playing WE6FE due to the exciting gameplay and competitive element. A simple Sensible Soccer style league system would have been ideal, but you’ll have to made do with pens and paper as the inbuilt competitions are designed for Vs computer matches.

There is a lot of ways in which you can customise the game too, meaning even greater lifespan. This includes editing the team and players’ names, designing team flags, editing kits, names on shirts, match settings, 100% customisable formations, team strategy (marking specific players for example) and a player creation facility.

Overall

Despite some issues which can easily be improved such as the refereeing and the lack of a language select option, WE6FE does most things very well. I may have sounded slightly harsh at times, but even the best game in a genre can have its faults. I would have liked to see a much bigger leap forward for the series, instead the developer has just improved the original formula by a few percent. However it is hard to complain when the competition is rubbish by comparison.

I can confidently say that Winning Eleven 6: Final Evolution was worth the £82 that I paid for the game, freeloader and extra memory card. This may seem a lot for one game but you will get so many months of constant play that it is well worth the investment, whether you are new to the series or a long time fan. If you like football and own a GameCube then you must own this game. An essential purchase.

9.4 out of 10

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