Review by Scottie theNerd

Reviewed: 09/11/06

He hits the post, and somehow it's a GOOOAALLL!

Every year, we get a mediocre FIFA game; and every four years we get a World Cup that has a random chance of getting a mediocre game. The 2006 FIFA World Cup is one such event that produces a game, one that might not be so mediocre. It doesn’t take a football fanatic to realise that the main appeal to 2006 FIFA World Cup is the spectacle that is the greatest event in international football. Players can pick from 127 national teams from six confederations, featuring the big names in the teams of 2006.

The main feature of 2006 FIFA World Cup is, rather obviously, the World Cup mode. What gives this game much of its replay value is the ability to not only play the World Cup with the actual 2006 World Cup teams, but also select any team from any of the confederations and participate in the whole qualifying campaign. Players can select Greece and go through the rigorous qualifying rounds against the other European teams in an attempt to pull off another Euro 2004. Or, you can pick Australia and have them kick the Oceania teams around before matching up against the fifth-placed South American team to replicate their journey to Germany. Fixtures and results are all simulated throughout the qualifying rounds, resulting in a highly competitive single player experience. Apart from the World Cup mode, the game also features online play and Global Challenge mode, giving players the chance to recreate or alter historical scenarios with current teams.

All teams have their rosters intact from prior to the Cup. Granted, as the game was developed before the World Cup itself, many of the rosters are not exactly the same as the teams we have seen in the great event. Certain star players, such as France’s Franck Ribery, have been omitted from the game entirely, while other teams have different starting line-ups. However, the game gives access to plenty of substitute and reserve players, so Argentinean fans can still have Lionel Messi in the national squad, even if he’s on the bottom of the game’s reserve list.

The gameplay should be familiar to FIFA veterans, with some notable differences. Ball control has become a huge issue in 2006 FIFA World Cup, as it is now far easier to lose control of the ball. The basic technique of trapping and dribbling are challenged heavily as even weak players can exploit openings between player and ball, giving players more room to be aggressive with their tackling and man-marking. Sprinting is now a risky tactic, presenting more of an opportunity for defenders to steal the ball and no longer being the turbo run of previous games. Passes are more or less the same, with the usual short passes, lobs and through balls.

A significant inclusion to the game is an on-the-fly system of management. By using the D-pad, players can change team formations, alter between different offensive and defensive tactics, change who takes free kicks and make substitutions. All of this can be done without navigating through series of menus. To stop fast-paced games from preventing strategic changes, the game offers ‘breaks’ in the play which provide some time for players to make necessary adjustments. For example, when the ball is played out on the sideline, the passage of time will pause while the screen will show close-ups of players and coaches running around, providing a short break for players to twiddle through the tactics and substitutions. Of course, these little cutscenes can be skipped with the press of a button to immediately resume play.

On the customisation side of the game, players can permanently change a team’s line-up and save their squads onto the hard drive. Each player has their own set of stats, and the concept of ‘Star’ players returns again. Certain players who are recognised to be the best in their areas are designated with stars, showing that they have superior abilities to other players. 2006 FIFA World Cup goes further and features star specialties, such as dribbling, shooting, passing and speed. This adds a significant element of uniqueness to the players on the field. A player selecting France will know that Zinedine Zidane has outstanding dribbling skills and ball control (even featuring his trademark footwork), while Thierry Henry can relied on for his soaring runs and receiving ability. Other stars such as Eto’o, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Klose, and Totti likewise have their abilities categorised into one of the star specialties, giving each team a unique identity, and providing players with a framework for developing team strategies.

Team-wise, apart from adjusting line-ups, players can also decide who takes free kicks and penalty kicks; and view the individual stats of players. However, most of the information is insignificant, and the default selections offer optimal performance. This is perhaps a weak point to the game: the default line-ups are so effective that players can easily go through games without substituting or adjusting the roster. The disparity between the starting elevens and the subs is generally quite large, so almost every player on the bench is of inferior quality to the starters. This is understandable to a degree, but fails to recognise the reliance on key substitutions and fatigue.

The AI is respectable in some areas, but annoying at its worst. While the default difficulty is fairly easy to take advantage of with cookie-cutter through balls and chip shots, World Class and Perfect difficulties offer some ridiculously tenacious intelligence. Individual AI players will react appropriately to threats from players, avoiding defenders, controlling the ball and making logical passes. At higher difficulties, the AI will make calculated risks such as switching play from one side of the field to the other with very long lobs, and mistakes by the player are often punished harshly by the AI. Opening up the defence line will usually result in an attacking playing charging through the gap for a scoring opportunity. At times, however, some of the preset tactics of the AI are frustrating. For example, the AI has a tendency to perform long back-pass combos, often going through five or six passes between each other in their own half with no point other than to waste time.

Visually, the game delivers a mixed bag. The player models are intricately detailed, and the animation is as realistic as it can get without hindering gameplay. On the other hand, it is clear that the game does not do much to test the hardware of the Xbox 360. The stadiums contain rather generic crowds, flags and confetti; while the grass is disappointingly bland. The immersion factor is, however, commendable; especially with unique crowd effects such as English fans chanting their football anthems, the Tartan Army playing their bagpipes, the Red Devils with their incessant drumming and the overall noise level of the crowd increasing as the match becomes more and more intense.

Sadly, a fair number of glitches have been left in the game. While referee decisions are generally quite accurate, the detection system is questionable. Often a player with the ball is fouled by another player, but the foul is given to the other team for no explainable reason. Calls to play the advantage are strangely executed under the premise that if the ball is moving forward after a foul, the attacking team assumes the advantage by default, but the match is halted the moment an opposing player comes near the ball. Either the foul is called or it isn’t, and the game has trouble distinguishing between the two.

More serious glitches are uncommon, but make themselves known in the most awkward moments. The offside rule needs some polishing in the game, as when a shot is touched by the goalkeeper and then touched by another attacking player, the game declares it offside as if the keeper had never made contact. Player animation results in situations where the ball appears to get sucked into the goalkeeper’s animation, and when the animation involves the goalkeeper rolling over the goal line, the goal is not awarded. Penalty kicks tend to be awarded after the player has shot, giving some serious unfair advantages. One of the more puzzling glitches is the random chance of a shot slamming into one of the goalposts being declared a goal despite rebounding straight off it and back into play.

As far as FIFA games go, 2006 FIFA World Cup isn’t particular impressive. While the game features great replay through long qualifiers, insanely difficult Global Challenges and the ability to purchase new items such as historical players, uniforms and balls, the core gameplay lacks the depth of football games such as Pro Evolution Soccer. Where 2006 FIFA World Cup lacks in depth, however, it makes up for with accessible, arcade fun and the thrill of recreating the World Cup of 2006.

Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 8/10
Gameplay: 6/10
Replay: 10/10
Overall: 7/10

Rating: 7

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