For the last few years, football gamers who wanted an authentic football experience on their consoles had only one name to turn to, and that was Winning Eleven. There was hardly any debate in the matter. Winning Eleven have been widely regarded by critics and gamers alike to be the superior of the two.
Gamers loyal to the FIFA series might disagree. And to be fair, FIFA have been making significant improvements to their series, but still, they have always fell short.
The problem with FIFA is that despite being aesthetically more pleasing, they have always been let down by poor gameplay. The laws of physics doesn’t seem to apply in FIFA. EA completely ignored Newton’s Law and scripted the movement of the ball as they saw fit. The result was a ball that bounced as if it had a mind of its own.
The players also seemed to be clueless as to how football is supposed to be played. The goalkeepers, especially, were terrible. They were worse than David James on corners and seemed completely incapable of judging the flight of the ball. It was as if EA made them play blindfolded.
Winning Eleven, on the other hand, had no such issues. Gameplay was fluid and tactile, the ball moved realistically and most of all, the goalkeepers could see and react to a ball coming at them.
So now, what about this year then? FIFA 08 and Winning Eleven 2008. Which is the better of the two? Have FIFA finally caught up? Well, this review serves to answer those questions. And to do it, the games will be judged on their visual and aural presentation and most importantly, gameplay.
No surprises here. FIFA trumps Winning Eleven here by a huge margin.
FIFA’s game menus look more polished and its in-game graphics are superior. The stadiums in FIFA are a joy to behold and the player models, though awkward looking, are still done well enough that stars like Ronaldinho, Beckham and Rooney are instantly recognizable. What is most amazing, however, are the pitches. You can almost see the individual blades of grass and there is a real sense of texture to them.
On the other hand, Winning Eleven looks dull. The menus look uninspired and its stadiums are no where near the standards set by FIFA. And although the player models look somewhat better, it is not perfect. The way they sprint, with the ball at their feet, is unnatural, cartoonish and nothing short of being comical. It makes you wonder if they really used motion capture technology for these things and if so, who on Earth runs like that?!
Aurally, the story is the same. While FIFA’s in-game music is hip and trippy and consists of artistes like Travis and Junkie XL, Winning Eleven’s is mostly made up relative unknowns and is mostly not pleasing to the ear. Of course, music is a matter of taste and I’ll leave it to readers to decide.
What is undisputable however, is the commentary. For FIFA, I can only think of words like ‘amazing’, ‘excellent’, ‘superb’ and ‘delicious’. Once again, EA have got Martin Tyler and Andy Gray to do the commentary and the end result is nothing short of spectacular. They exchange banter casually and would occasionally even offer interesting trivial about the teams and stadiums the match is played in. The commentary is ridiculously good and almost comparable to that of a live broadcast. This is what next-generation gaming is all about.
Commentary in Winning Eleven, however, can be described with words such as ‘woeful’, ‘awful’, ‘terrible’ and ‘appalling’. Winning Eleven’s duo of Jon Champion and Mark Lawrenson does a really horrible job here and offers commentary that not only feels detached, but also often inaccurate. An appallingly poor effort from Konami, they might as well not bother at all.
So no surprises as FIFA keeps up with tradition and trounces Winning Eleven in the presentation department.
Traditionally, this is where Winning Eleven fights back. In the past, FIFA games were no match for Winning Eleven when gameplay is concerned, but they have been making significant improvements, so how does this year’s offering measure against the competition?
First, let’s talk about Winning Eleven. Winning Eleven have opted to heed the old saying that ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’. As such, fans of the series like myself will be glad to see they have not tamper much with the winning formula. However, Konami have strangely decided to make this year’s Winning Eleven faster than previous years’ and the end result is a little bit on the arcade-ish side. Don’t be alarmed though, it is still the same Winning Eleven that fans have come to love only that it is quicker than previous editions. Think of it as a turbo-boosted Winning Eleven.
EA have taken great pains to tweak, adjust and ultimately improve FIFA’s gameplay and they have done admirably. FIFA 08 is by far the best playing games in the series. In fact, FIFA 08 is the closest and perhaps one of the best representation of the beautiful game I have ever seen. I dare say it is on par and maybe even better than Winning Eleven!
Have I gone mad? No. I really do. I prefer FIFA because the pace of game is a better representative of real football. It is slower and hence forces player to be more tactical. Unlike Winning Eleven, where it is possible to slalom through the entire opposition defence using a player with good ball control like Cristiano Ronaldo, doing the same in FIFA is simply close to impossible, especially on higher difficulty levels.
Despite that, FIFA is still plagued by goalkeeping problems. The goalkeepers are still erratic and are still prone to conceding goals from long range, though not to the same extent of past FIFA games.
Both games are equally competent, although FIFA nudges slightly ahead because of its superior presentation. But in the end, it is really a matter of taste. I disliked the quick pace of game in Winning Eleven and I find FIFA’s interpretation to be better because of its slow pace, which makes it more tactical and realistic. Also, it doesn’t hurt to have pretty graphics and excellent commentary.
But before I end, it must be said that the signs are looking ominous for Konami and Winning Eleven. FIFA have made huge strides in recent years and have improved their gameplay so significantly then both titles are now almost on par. Winning Eleven on the other hand, have somewhat stagnated. They have done little to improve on gameplay and their presentation is still as bad as ever, if not worse.
And if this continues, it would be long until the day FIFA is the undisputable numero uno of football games.
The author Kenny maintains a personal blog called ‘The Meditation Chamber’.