Review by Ryan Gillam

Reviewed: 05/30/06

40 Years of hurt...And England are back.

In less than 4 weeks the greatest football tournament on the planet will kick off. England fans sing "Three Lions" while the Germans sing the same. Old friends will be reunited and enemies created for South Africa 2010. Surprises will happen (who knew Greece would win the European Championship) and hearts will be broken (poor Gazza)

EA have now released their Official Game to accompany the World Cup and lead your team to glory in a variety of game modes, but the question does it live up to the drama of the World Cup and keep you hooked from beginning to end or is it the World Wide equivalent of the Conference Cup. Well that's what I am here to tell you.

EA's first attempt at a Football game on the Xbox 360 came in the form of FIFA: Road to World Cup and despite being OK received major critiscm from people due to not having enough options to use. As soon as you qualified for the World Cup, that was that. There was nothing to play for. However with FIFA World Cup I am glad to say that has been rectified. You can opt to start out as a team that isn't the greatest in the world. Let us say Pakistan (EA do class that as the worst International Team) and take them through right the way to lifting the World Cup in Germany, the feeling is so good of course not half as good as seeing England lift it, but that's a different kettle of Fish.

As mentioned above you can play both the qualifiers and the World Cup but where the game really shines I feel is the inclusion of challenges. They have kept me playing for hours on end. The basic premise of this is that you are put in a classic situation (e.g. England 2-1 down against Germany) with a set time on the clock, for example 15 minutes and you have to reach a target, again I must say for example and that is to win by set amount of goals. However it is not a case of typical FIFA easiness, to complete these challenges requires a bit of skill and a couple of broken controllers (not really, although you probably guessed that) Its not something you can breeze through and they are addictive enough to keep you playing right through the World Cup long after your team have been knocked out just grabbing that last gold medal you need to make you feel happy.

Of course the whole game is based around the World Cup, so at the start that will most probably be your main focus point. Which is taking your team to the World Cup final and either losing miserably or lifting the World Cup. The emotion is captured so well here. I almost cried when I saw Wayne Rooney (I don't know why he lifted it first) lift the World Cup. You will be able to instantly recognise any player on your team, except probably David Beckham because by the time to game will arrive with you his hair style will probably be out of date. Although of course not the fault of the developers.

The graphics are incredibly smooth. Perhaps too smooth in some situations, however as previously mentioned everyone is a great reincarnation of who they are supposed to be, which has always been one of the strengths of the FIFA series. The crowd now even look realistic when the camera pans out to view the celebrations for that cracking goal you (or the other team) have just scored. Although they are only silhouettes at this point. Flags will be waving with the wind in support of your country and the opposing team. However from my quick glances into the spectator stand I realise that this is all there is to it. You will see a glow of white (if you are playing as England) and some flags. This does in a way contradict what I said before about the crowd being realistic. It is when you are playing the game, but as you look closer it becomes more and more like cardboard cut-outs.

Of course you can't expect too much effort to be put into the crowd. It is the graphics of the players we are looking at. Which are excellent although on first play they seemed a little "Waxy" however this was probably due to me being out of Football games for so long. It has always marvelled me how much the graphics improve with each instalment. I remember playing Road to World Cup 98 on my PS2 and I was thinking "This looks so much like a real football match" these will be your thoughts while staring at the screen.

The animation of the players is extremely realistic. However during these animations it is impossible to perform some options, such as tackling the goalkeeper as he dives for the ball. It becomes extremely deterministic and you cannot change the way these situations pan out. It is like the ball is substituted quickly to be built into the player animation. This can get annoying at times.

In the 4th Paragraph I mentioned briefly the challenges and gave a quick overview on it. Which leads me onto the gameplay of the game. Built around the World Cup (Which is what you were guessing) there are also the challenges and Road to World Cup modes, which has the Continent Qualifiers and you take your team right through to the World Cup in Germany. However when discussing Gameplay I am going to tie in the difficulty levels, the AI of the Referee (I will save the Commentators until later) and the AI of your opponents.

The difficulty levels can either be frustratingly difficult or extremely easy. I didn't really find a middleman. On the easier difficulty levels your opponents will always try and leave a space for you to score and more often than not you will be the one on attack. However it is a lot more difficult than previous FIFA helpings where you could win 10-0 in around 4 minutes. You will still struggle in the more difficult modes unless you are a seasoned player, the opposing will defend and Attack (yes surprise) very quickly and it requires your full attention. So no talking on MSN while you are playing, as I made the stupid mistake of doing and ended up losing 4-0.

Tying in to the difficulty levels comes the AI of the gameplay. The further you go down the scale the "dumber" they get. Which is fairly obvious. However it seems that the mistakes they make are extremely stupid. I will kick a ball. They will pass it back. At times they do not even attempt to tackle you and let you just glide past and hammer the ball into the back of the net like it is a practice session. However the further up the scale you go the more it appears to even out and seems like you are playing against a real person so if you want a decent game then try out the harder difficulty modes. Otherwise you are just kidding yourself.

Like all Football Matches you have good referees and bad referees. However they are normally only bad when the decisions go against you team. They are funny like that. In FIFA football it is the same, however I don't know whether this is for realism purposes or small glitches in the AI. At times I can make a perfectly good tackle to win the ball fairly (ok he did fly over my head, but he dived) and other times I can perform a quick tackle without touching the player and I will receive a Red Card. It can lead to you becoming pretty agitated. However it is something that again will even itself out and you will learn what to and what not to do.

The main sound you will hear in this game is that of the commentators. This can be slightly annoying at times. However it will grow on you and becoming barely noticeable. The cheesy comments are defiantly a thing of the past ("This guy couldn't hit a cows backside with a banjo") and have become substituted for comments that you would normally hear in a football match. However I do have 1 minor gripe with the commentary. That is no matter what situation you are in, whether a challenge, world cup qualifier or a friendly the commentators will always refer to the match as if it is part of the World Cup. Also they keep on rubbing in that England hasn't won the World Cup in 40 years. We know, we are working on it.

Finally the discussion brings me onto Online Play. It is something I have played least of in this game. However there is a good reason for this. The match set-up has improved from previous Online FIFA games. However I have a decent connection and at times there is serious lag online which makes the game totally unplayable. However if this was improved it could be a great game online. However there will probably be a short lifespan. Once the world cup is over less and less people will play online. So if you are going to buy this game then buy it for the challenges and the enjoyment rather than because it is online.

I have tried to ignore mentioning the achievements in this game, I don't think it needs doing. There is no need to buy a game for the achievements. However the majority are extremely simple to achieve. More thought has been placed in them however than with FIFA: RTWC. Once they are achieved you will want to continue playing.

In conclusion I have one suggestion for you, Go out to Game or some other place that does trade-ins and ditch FIFA: RTFWC and grab this game. It has all the elements of RTWC and more, including actually going to the World Cup this time. EA is now stepping into the realms of Pro Evolution greatness and it can only get better from here. Great job and go win the World Cup for England so I don't need to be told that we haven't won the World Cup for 40 years (and Baddiel and Skinner release a new song)

Rating: 9

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