IGN Review of 2006 FIFA World Cup
Go down the list of things you would want in a World Cup soccer game. Besides gameplay, graphics and sound, obviously, think about the aspects of the World Cup that would make a soccer videogame special. There's the atmosphere and pageantry of the Cup. There are star players that shine on soccer's grandest stage. There are qualifying rounds, the official stadiums of the host country and classic players and teams. In 2006 FIFA World, EA puts a checkmark next to almost every aspect that you would want in a World Cup title, making this year's game the most complete World Cup soccer game to date.
Of course, World Cup games have traditionally lacked depth, usually featuring only 32 national teams in the final stages of the Cup. But other than official kits and players, that was about all you would get for your $50, the same price as the annual FIFA title that featured hundreds of club teams and a variety of game modes. So EA set out to change all that.
2006 FIFA World Cup is a solid soccer game that erases the mistake EA made with the shallow and unpolished FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, released on the Xbox 360 last November. Not only does the game feature the 32 teams that made the finals in Germany, it also includes the 95 other teams that participated in qualifications but didn't make the final cut, like Turkey. Yeah, you can start right into the finals with one of the 32 teams, but now you can start from the qualifying rounds in each region: North America, South America, Asia, Europe, Africa and Oceania.
OK, so now we have a complete World Cup tournament. But what else is there? How about classic teams and players? EA gets a half check here. There are two dozen unlockable classic players that can be inserted onto the bench of their respective national teams. There's also the Global Challenge, a new mode that takes you back in time to 40 classic World Cup moments and let's you try to relive the glory or rewrite history. It's a great touch and something that's been missing in soccer games in general. The only real knock here is that you relive classic moments with current players and not classic teams. I don't know about you, but I want to play as Pele. Unfortunately, it would be near impossible to procure the license of every classic player. There is no ruling body that could legally hand out these licenses, so EA would have had to knock on the door of each of the thousands of classic players out there and have them sign a consent form, and most of them would probably ask for some money, too. Still, it would have been nice to have unnamed players that kind of looked like the old studs, like we've seen in old Madden games with classic teams. The '84 Miami Dolphins with QB#13? There's no reason why we couldn't have that here.
The FIFA Lounge, the excellent multiplayer setup for FIFA 06, makes its World Cup debut here as well. Online play includes ranked and unranked matches and four or eight player tournaments and the game held up reasonably well. There were bouts of lag here and there and the framerate would dip occasionally, but our online experience wasn't seriously affected. With all the game modes, there's a lot to do here, more than ever in a World Cup title, and it's about time.
Of course, none of this would matter if World Cup was not a fun soccer game to play and, thankfully, it is. As videogame soccer fans know, the king of the hill in terms of gameplay is Konami's Winning Eleven franchise. If you follow EA's soccer titles closely, you'll notice that the gameplay has shifted throughout the years to mimic WE, and in World Cup it comes closer than ever before. It doesn't hurt that you can choose the "New Analog" control scheme, a replica of the basic WE controls. Is that a knock on EA? Maybe. It seems like more of a "if you can't beat em, join 'em" mentality than anything and, aside from lacking originality, the gameplay of World Cup is a treat.
The first thing you'll notice is that the game speed has increased, and it's a change for the better. In the box, the quick action leads to some tense, heated exchanges, the kind of intensity soccer players intrinsically feel when an offense has pushed forward to the point of scoring a goal. Also, there are a number of nice passing and shooting animations, each fluid and smooth. WE is famous for having so many animations that it feels like you'll never see the same goal twice, and World Cup comes pretty dang close here. You'll see some wacky goals coming off deflections and bounces off the post. EA realized that a good goal is sometimes as much about luck as it is skill, and you'll jump out of your seat with your fist pumping as a result.
On the default semi-pro difficulty, you'll absolutely carve up the computer AI, unlike in Road to FIFA World Cup where it was very difficult to score a goal. Vets will enjoy the World Class mode that is a serious challenge and you will not win every game you play. There's also an unlockable Perfect difficulty level that will probably eat you alive. Whereas FIFA was once too easy, and RTFWC was too difficult, EA achieved a nice balance across the various difficulty settings in World Cup.
The controls are not as deep as WE -- there are so many moves in WE that you have fun playing that game without utilizing half of the move list. But the basics are there, like short crosses, calling for a teammate to make a run, changing tactics on the fly with the D-pad, one-two passes, chip shots and calling over a second defender. All of this is ripped straight from the WE instruction manual, but you can't really complain about that.
Don't misunderstand. There is still plenty of innovation here, most notably in the new star players feature, the new shooting mechanism and the penalty shootout. Denoted by a star above their heads, star players take over the game in a variety of ways. There's playmaking passers like David Beckham; dribblers like Ronaldinho; speedsters like Michael Owen; shooters like Alessandro Del Piero; ball winners like Alessandro Nesta; finishers like Thierry Henry, heading masters like Jan Koller and powerhouses like Andriy Shevchenko. Playing to the strengths of the stars, as in the real game, increases your chances of winning -- using stars together can be downright lethal. Pablo C?sar Aimar with a long cross to Hern?n Crespo in the box? Watch out.
Holding down the shoot button no longer controls the power of a shot -- that's decided by ball position, skill attributes, if your player is sprinting or set, pressure from defenders. The button now controls the trajectory of the shot, so a short tap will be a ground stroke. If you have a nice open shot in a one-on-one situation, you'll blast a worm-burner into the back of the net instead of a little dinker like we've seen in years past. It's not a huge change but the new shot mechanic adds another level of realism to the game.
Penalty kicks are more fun than ever. Opposing goalies are now able to dance and jump and move left and right to get into the heads of shooters. As a shooter, your goal is to hit a small bar on a shot meter. If you hit it, you'll power the ball into the selected corner with ease. Take too long and the goalie and the crowd will get to you, making the controller shake and the bar on the shot meter dance a little bit.
Visually, World Cup looks good. It's always hard to make regular soccer gameplay look outstanding -- the camera is too far back for that. But with smooth animations and recognizable player models, World Cup suffices. The cutscenes and atmosphere is where World Cup really shines. Finally the players show real emotion after a goal and celebrate in a variety of amusing dances. Streamers and confetti rain down on the field from the crowd. The crowd goes wild with giant banners and flags. All of this makes this game more of a celebration of soccer's great spectacle than we've ever seen before. The atmosphere and presentation is outstanding and that carries over into the sound department, on the field at least.
The UK announcing duo of Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend raise the bar in terms of soccer commentary. Nary is a phrase repeated in a game and you can feel Tyldesley's excitement after a huge goal or at the beginning of a key match. The chants and roar of the crowd suck you in and all of these presentation elements add to a very immersive, emotional soccer experience, especially when playing with your favorite country in the finals.
The song list is another story and nowhere near as fun to listen to as in RTFWC or FIFA 06. There are dozens of international tracks but most of them are so annoying that you'll quickly button through the menu screens to get to the actual game and the roaring crowds. Music is, of course, a very subjective topic, so fans of annoying music may well enjoy the soundtrack.
So what's missing? Well, every decent sports title has some kind of franchise or manager mode, but World Cup does not. How awesome would it be to be able to train the youth of your favorite country into the stars of tomorrow? A perfect World Cup game would not last that one summer -- it would be worth its salt for four years. Yes, you can go through the qualifying rounds that start way back in 2004, but a lot can happen in that two years. EA did very well to include the entire World Cup roster as well as a list of real reserve players, resulting in 40-plus players on each squad. Most of those will never see the green of the pitch, but being able to take a 17-year-old stud and groom him to be the next Michael Owen would be a very satisfying Cup experience, along with national tryouts, minigames in practice and the other great elements we've seen in other franchise modes.
The Xbox 360 version obviously looks and sounds the best of all platforms, but the content in the PS2, Xbox, PC and Gamecube versions is virtually identical. The Cube doesn't feature the stadium tour video extras of the German venues or the nifty stadium fly-ins that the other platforms feature, but on the field you won't notice much of a difference in terms of gameplay. EA definitely put the most work into the 360 version and in high definition and widescreen, the game looks very sharp.
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