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Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 hands-on

The next gauntlet to be thrown in the international conflagration known as the Videogame Soccer Wars is Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 (also termed Longest-Titled Sports Game Ever). Fans of the series can expect more of the sublime control and strategic options that they know and love, with some new additions sure to please the most demanding Beautiful Game enthusiasts.

Many longtime Winning Eleven gamers will wonder what could be done to make a great footy game somehow better. A few things were noticeable as soon as we got our hands on an unfinished PS2 version of the game. This year's edition takes on a bit more of a worldly flavor thanks to the addition of an International Challenge (but don't call it the World Cup, thank you very much) that will allow national sides to vie for global supremacy. The vaunted Master League returns as well, which is sure to provide countless hours of obsessive joy managing your career over an extended number of years and clubs. Standard League, Cup, Online and Training modes round out the selections. Training is always highly recommended for Winning Eleven newbies, although frankly you’ve got some 'splainin' to do if you’re a soccer gamer with no experience getting down with this sparkling franchise.

From a pure gameplay standpoint, it appears that the player animations and actions are as silky-smooth as ever while the in-game audio commentary is integrated perfectly into the game.

Maybe we've gotten better over the years (not bloody likely, mate), but it seems like it may be just a little easier to actually score goals this time around. For example, in a heated match between England and Italy on the default difficulty level, we were able to put a couple behind the world-class Azzuri keeper. We'd like to think that this was because we're just that skilled, but in reality this was attributable to the computer-controlled offensive players' smarts away from the ball. One can imagine the opportunities that await for those of us who dive deep and master the ins and outs of attack and defend strategies. Lamentably, there appears to be no "headbutt" mechanic, so you won't be able to go all Zidane on someone (which is likely for the better but would still be fun).

The player models are looking tremendous, and the team-specific crowd signs and flags on display in the huge stadium immerse you into a chanting, revved-up environment. Off the heels of the real World Cup, it was immediately evident that bunches of licensed players were in the game representing their countries - and in many cases that they look strikingly like their real-world counterparts. Footballers like Beckham, Rooney, Crespo, and Totti were easy to spot at the start of the matches, with Rooney even sporting his trademark scowl. We hope that this points to even more true-to-life leagues, clubs, and players showing up in the final game, since editing bunches of pretend names is not our idea of a good time.

Pro Evolution is the follow-up to the superb World Soccer Winning Eleven 9. We're pretty sure the name change has come about at least in part because anyone would trip over trying to make sense of something called Winning Eleven 10, much less Winning Eleven 11. Name changes aside, footy fans have a lot to look forward to when it launches this holiday season.

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