First, the bad news. Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007's licensing has got worse. Chelsea (now London FC) have been replaced by Manchester United (formerly Man Red), the Welsh team is captained by Gils and, most incomprehensibly, the Bundesliga has been completely erased - with Bayern Munich the only survivors.
Yet despite losing Germany, WEPES2007 retains the country's key attributes - from the mathematic efficiency of the gameplay, to the surging, unpredictable, passing movements reminiscent of Jurgen Klinsmann's gung-ho World Cup team to - sadly - the almost depressingly functional presentation, with the minimalist 'charm' of a Bauhaus industrial estate.
No matter, though - WEPES2007 triumphs emphatically, and predictably, over FIFA 07 in this season's next-gen footy showdown. EA may own the license, but Konami dominates on the pitch - where it counts the most.
Put simply, WEPES2007 feels better. Passing movements are simultaneously crisper and messier than FIFA 07 - read: more realistic - since they're a direct result of the clarity of your thinking and the abilities of your players. Off-the-ball movements are more fluid, intelligent and, once again, aggravating, depending on your fellow players' ability. Shooting feels more responsive to the point of being too exacting, once again, relative to the ability of your players (and punishing to the uninitiated). Do we need to go on?
WEPES2007 feels like masterminding a team of 11 unique individuals, where each attack, agility, balance, shooting point, or playmaker ability star makes a difference - or, more importantly, feels like it makes a difference - and requires unique handling to maximise their worth. While initially intimidating, it's this scientific precision that makes it a more demanding, skillful and ultimately rewarding game.
Games often descend into gritty midfield battles, defenders sometimes inexplicably screw balls into touch, stumble or get pulled out of position, and shots mysteriously float 30 yards over from decent positions. The dependence on middle shooting, resulting in myriad goals from 25-30 yards, has been scaled back so once again it's all about working the ball into the box. You can still score from range, but the defense closes you down quicker. Now, perhaps more than ever, there's no more chance of exploiting a 'certain goal' technique than there is in real-life.
On the flip side, defending is more fun. Defence leaders with great reactions, like Spain's Puyol, always seem to be in the right place, mopping up loose balls and smashing weaker players out of the tackle. That said, it's also easier to accidentally pull a defender out of position - there's less computer assistance - so by blindly running forward with a center back, you can leave gaping holes for wily OMF's to play cutting through balls.
Above: You can perform cheeky new 'quick' free kicks before the other team settles down
Goalkeepers are more athletic, making some unbelievable diving saves, even though the 'force field' effect when they come to claim high balls proves maddening when you're attacking. Even so, they're less automatic than the inhuman supermen guarding FIFA 07 's nets.
It touches on a higher, almost unprovable, point - that WEPES2007 "bends" the game to create exciting stories: be it a star striker wildly screwing the ball wide, a chunky defender being brushed aside like a baby or a keeper making an incredibly unlikely save.
Master League fans will feel this pain more than most - qualifying from the Second Division, with crummy default players like Huylens, is maddening. The game AI closes you down like, well, like an artificial intelligence and your shots almost always loop wide or trickle away.
Otherwise, the Master League is as addictive as ever, largely due to the pride of nurturing young talent, wheeler-dealing to buy aging stars or unknown gems, and forging your motley crew into a winning unit - oddly, the worst bit is when you've got a side with Ronaldinho, Adriano and Henry on the bench and knowing you can't lose. It's as consuming as ever although the lack of new features (no team editing?) makes this year's ML slightly soured with familiarity.
Above: The stats aren't just there for show - they actually make a difference on the pitch
Online fare allows just 2 players (in stark contrast to the PS2 version, sporting up to 8), and is limited to ranked matches. Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 feels less like a next-gen debut than a dressed-up port, yet ironically, it's immediately the best soccer game available on the console. An added bonus are the readily attainable Achievements that'll allow newbies and long-timers to build up their Gamerscores in reasonable chunks of time.
Winning Eleven Pro Evolution Soccer 2007 is the least evolved Evolution yet, and ironically, in literal comparison, probably the best. In that respect, there's an argument it should score 100/10 as a reason to own a 360 in itself.
With great love comes great expectations, and WEPES2007 doesn't disappoint on the pitch. A lack of licensed teams, missing players (where are the Americans?), and super-shiny graphics doesn't take too much away from the sublime execution. However, we won't be quite as pleased next year unless there's more emphasis on the extras. If not, there's a threat that FIFA 08 will be the one regarding Konami's star player with schadenfreude.