Winning Eleven is back for another season on the Xbox and, as impossible as it may seem after last years amazing game, the best soccer game in the world actually got better. The action down on the pitch is as sharp as ever and the addition of online play makes Winning Eleven 9 an absolutely fantastic game of soccer that no sports fan should be without.
The biggest area of improvement in Winning Eleven 9 is the gameplay. You dont really have any new moves or any extra fancy stuff, but everything you can do is a lot more precise and the AI is fantastically good this year. Defenders will attack the ball much more quickly than in years past so the focus of the game has shifted from individual fakes and moves to more precision passing where you get the whole team involved. Using the right moves, making the right passes, and executing set pieces in the right situations is just undeniably satisfying and scoring a goal or two in a Winning Eleven match is something you can be proud of. You have to really work to score or even advance the ball up the field with any consistency and having some real world knowledge of the sport either as an avid fan or as a player makes a pretty big difference. That is one aspect I really enjoy about Winning Eleven. It isnt afraid to alienate a few people by ramping up the difficulty and making a more realistic experience that real soccer fans can appreciate.
One tweak to the gameplay that was readily apparent to me this year is that while the defense is still tough as nails and you have to earn every inch you run up the field, it seems to actually have been loosened up a bit. Midfield defense is still incredibly tight, but once you get into the fullbacks it seems like the game is more forgiving than last year. You can move a bit easier in front of the goal it seems, which is nice. Another thing I have noticed is that long forward passes and long crosses from the wings tend to connect a lot more than ever before. This is due, undoubtedly, thanks to the smarter AI that works a lot harder to actually get into position and receive your passes. They make smarter and more realistic runs at the goal now. It wasnt bad before, but being able to cross successfully ¾ of the time makes the game a whole lot more fun. Goals are still few and far between, but you have a lot more scoring chances.
Changes for the Better
There are a couple of other changes to the gameplay. First of all, the referee is incredibly trigger happy this year and will call fouls on pretty much anything. You cant just hold the pressure buttons until your opponent coughs up the ball anymore. Now you have to actually defend where the pass is going rather than just attacking the ball directly. This gives playing defense a different feel but it is far more satisfying now to intercept a pass or put your head on a ball that would have otherwise ended up in the back of the net.
All of these changes and improvements make Winning Eleven 9 the best soccer game ever. The improved AI makes the solid defense and amazing offense all the more enjoyable because it is that perfect blend of being smart enough to help you out but not so smart the game is easy. The improvements may seem small and not as big of a deal as it would have been if we had fancy on the ball moves like FIFA or something, but they still manage to completely change the feel of the game for the better. I have been playing these games since they were called International Superstar Soccer and I can easily say that Winning Eleven 9 is the best of the bunch.
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