I got the privilege of reviewing FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, which shall be referred to as just FIFA 06 for the rest of the review. Let me preface this by letting the readers know that I have about as much knowledge on the sport of soccer as I do Black Hole Theory. If this were American football, I could tell you all about how the Cover Two worked and why it is a great defensive set, or different passing routes like Stop and Go and the Slant. All this Box Overload and Offside Trap is “Greek” to me.
FIFA 06 is a truly authentic representation of the players and teams from around the world including up to date stats on every player. The Xbox 360 version is an exclusive license for the FIFA World Cup in Germany 2006. 1700 players spanning 72 teams are at your fingertips, and they can be played in any of the 9 stadiums from around the globe.
A newly designed gameplay engine is the driving force behind FIFA 06, and creates a new level of responsiveness, ball handling, and control never before seen in a soccer game. All this sounds pretty good, but does FIFA 06 deliver a next-gen game for the Xbox 360, or is it just a more polished version of the other platforms with the “Road to World Cup” added in.
The new engine delivers some great animations and graphics in some areas while other areas are deeply in need of attention. FIFA 06 added many ball handling animations to help make the game a richer and more authentic experience. Whether you see these on the field during all the action or during the cutscenes the animations bring you deeper into the soccer experience.
The fans and the stadiums also immerse you into the grandeur experience that is World Cup Soccer. Just like PGR3, you will feel like a rock star with all the light bulbs flashing off. You will see fans jumping up and down rooting you on to victory, but if you pull a close up or zoom in the fans become horribly disfigured so to speak. From a distance the graphics look pretty good, but the close-ups really show off the detail in the uniforms and faces of the players. However, the faces of each player, or just the entire heads for that matter are what need a great deal of work if you want to call this next-gen.
Each player’s facial expressions look as if someone just dumped a bottle of glue over him with some shellac for that extra shine. I have to tell you it was almost creepy looking. It reminded me of the movie, The Serpent and the Rainbow, where Bill Pullman is sprayed in the face with zombie powder, he is paralyzed and only his eyes can move. Add to that the LEGO hair each player had, and you quickly feel that you have been cheated of what could have been a higher level in character design. This dramatically affects the overall immersion because you see these faces almost after every play during the cutscenes. No pun intended, but they really dropped the ball with the facial and head design.
The developers did do a great job of recreating all the uniforms and player builds. There was a large amount of work to be done in this area with 72 teams and 1700 different players, and they did it well.
EA’s Sports Trax brings the music to you. FIFA 06 offers a robust and worldly list of about 40 songs. Most of the bands are from Europe, South America, or the Slavic areas, and include such songs as Lyla by Oasis and La Discoteca by Gipsys. There was supposed to be a way to get custom soundtracks to work, but either the feature got dumped, or I just couldn’t find it.
Commentators, Andy Gray and Martin Tyler from Sky Sports, added the color work but it was often drowned out by fan noise. In fact the overly loud fans overshadowed most of the sound effects. The two “Brits” actually get annoying after awhile, but initially they can add to the immersion. I guess with the excitement that this sport draws around the world it is probably realistic to hear that level of fan chatter, but it took away from all the other effects.
It would have been nice to hear some grunts and groans. One player from the opposing side tripped me after I was able to successfully steal the ball from him. He was promptly yellow carded, and the crowd responded in their disgust, but I did not hear even a peep out of my player. I guess I would have felt more attached to my players if he grimaced or made a “thud” noise as he hit the ground. It ended up being more like a feather just dropped out of the sky. I guess they saved all those effects for Madden NFL 06.
The control set is FIFA 06’s only area of greatness. The developers definitely went to great lengths to provide all the finesse and flair that is witnessed in professional soccer. You can use the right thumb stick to pull off some of what they call “First Touch” or Skill moves. You use these to deke and fake out your opponents as an effective way to dodge their steal attempts. Highly skilled players will use these to dazzle their opposition.
You can also fake all the different types of shots and passes by using the left button, or even stop the ball completely by using the right button to slow up the pace, and wait for your players to get into position. You can set up all different kinds of passes and crosses including lob or ground One-two passes to move the ball quickly up and down the pitch. Using a combination of trigger and button combos completes most of these.
If you click down the right stick you can call for all out attacks and defends, or just use the left trigger to call in a secondary defender. You only have limited control over the goalkeeper. You use the left stick to aim and then a button to either throw, drop kick, or drop the ball on the ground. A keeper charge is also available.
One of the great things about the control set is the ability to change tactics, formations, or request a substitute on the fly using the thumb pad. You can also use the thumb pad to make these types of changes during stoppages in play.
The thing that bothers me with this game is the level of difficulty in scoring goals. I don’t know about you, but scoring is where the fun is. Granted I admit I suck at this game because I don’t know a great deal about soccer tactics, but even on the amateur difficulty setting I struggled scoring a goal. The funny thing about that is so did the computer!
Most of the games I played provided a seesaw back and forth kind of defensive play. I would steal the ball and pass it up or over a few times then the computer would do the same. A shot on goal would sky rocket over the goalkeeper and the goal itself every once and awhile, and that was the only real excitement.
They wanted to put an emphasis on passing skills, and moving the ball strategically up and down the field. Okay, that makes sense. Get everyone back to the basics of ball control. However, the game is plagued by random erratic ball behavior, and teammates not driving into their lanes. You would be moving the ball down the left side, and you would have a computer-controlled teammate down the middle, but the player on the right side would be 20 to 30 yards behind you. This would occur even if I set the strategy to all out attack.
Sometimes the ball would not go to where you thought it should have, and typically ends up in the hands of the opposition. The same thing would happen to the computer, and this created the back and forth play that took place mostly in the middle section of the pitch. Stealing the ball from another player was almost effortless even with the number of ball handling moves at your disposal.
The game has great potential, especially with being able to make changes on the fly, but the lack of scoring and erratic passing and ball behavior made this game a struggle to be any fun.
From what I understand they removed a few features to get this out the door for the 360 launch window, and I am not going to beat the game up for what it should have had. Many times in software development they prioritize feature sets as musts, like to haves, and “ooh, wouldn’t that be nice.” Many times features get chopped because they ran out of time, money, or the features wouldn’t work to QA standards. Well if “ifs and buts” were “candy and nuts” we would all be having a Merry Christmas. Should we still complain about it? Possibly, but I just wanted to focus on what they did deliver.
They delivered an official game based on the road to Germany next year. Well that took an enormous amount of work I would imagine. They created highly detailed players with authentic uniforms and real life look-alikes. They gave us on demand control of tactics and subs. The graphics are pretty cool in most areas, but that’s about it. If the gameplay isn’t there then what good is all the other stuff?
The multi-player tournaments are almost non-existent, and are driven by the players. Sure there is a scoreboard, but what about a player tournament. Multi-player was pretty decent, but without official tournaments it leaves you wanting for more.
The single player delivers a nice simulation of the tournament, but what then? Do you try all over again with a different team? It just didn’t seem as robust as the NHL or Madden titles. Even the instruction booklet is a let down. Many of the features are not even listed or explained. The book is all of 9 pages including the warranty page! I don’t mind if the booklet is short as long as you were able to touch base on all the features.
One thing that they did add that I thought was a really great idea was allowing you to practice with a few players while the games loaded. If it is going to take a minute or so to load a game, it is nice to be able to kick the ball around a bit, or even try some shots on goal.