It's that time again. The hype and expectation has been building to near hysteria, as we wait to see whether the potential is fulfilled and the promises are kept. Whatever the outcome, one set of fans will be bitterly disappointed, and when all the hullabaloo has died down they'll look forward instead to the next one - when they'll hope that whatever problems arose this time around are fixed.
Right. That's the preposterous Clive Tyldesley-style intro out of the way. We are of course talking about Winning Eleven 10, although we could have been talking about the World Cup. And let's cut straight to the most important thing to remember before we go any further - this is not Pro Evolution Soccer 6. Winning Eleven 10 is the game PES6 will be based on. Make no mistake, the two games are subtly different. So it's like we're giving you a two-in-one here: a review of the imported Winning Eleven 10, and a look forward to what we can expect from PES6 when it's released later this year.
Going on past form, Winning Eleven games, and the subsequent PES releases, have always see-sawed between the two extremes of patient, cautious play and allout, freewheeling attack. So one year you get all the attributes of the painstaking Italian Serie A, while the next it's the ballsout style of our very own Premiership. Each style has its disciples, but what both groups yearn for is an edition of the game which successfully melds both forms of play. Get this right and surely there can be no more argument about which company makes the best football game.
THE REFEREE'S A ...TOP BLOKE
So what of Winning Eleven 10? Its creator, Shingo 'Seabass' Takatsuka, was known to have been mindful of the fact that Winning Eleven 9/PES5 favoured those with a more defensive mindset a little too much. Matches tended to be stop-start affairs with the referee's whistle going every few seconds for niggly fouls, and the linesmen were equally trigger-happy. The first impression of Winning Eleven 10 is that it's swung firmly towards the net-bulging end of the spectrum. But more on that in a bit.
The superficial differences include more licensed team strips and names. Most importantly, England get their proper kit, although you might want to ditch Alan Smith and Phil 'Frankenstein' Neville from the squad. Additionally, updated player stats see Gerrard given even more power to his mighty right boot, and Rooney's overall skill level has increased even further.
Most of the big European sides also play in accurate colours, with Italy, Spain and Holland licensed along with Argentina. The series is slowly encroaching on EA's dominance of accurately portrayed footy, but it's still a little strange seeing a properly kitted-out Argentina playing against a Brazil in generic yellow, blue and green. Having said that, what would a Winning Eleven game be without hours spent in its fantastic Edit mode (now with even more kit options so you can nail your club's colours)? But it's the gameplay which determines how successful each update is. Visually this game is similar to its predecessor, although it's littered with bright new player animations. Sprinting players can tumble under heavy challenges, but their momentum will make them roll head-over-heels and back to their feet; 'keepers flail at the ball more realistically, and strikers look even more lifelike unleashing shots.
The way the ball moves along the ground and through the air has been tweaked too, so now it rolls, bounces and floats more realistically, with curled shots arcing beautifully across the face of goal.