It's hard not to get excited about the World Cup. While qualification has been a long and drawn out process, if your national team has made it to the finals you'll have some belief that the lads can go all the way. Players who you've despised all season while playing for rival club teams can suddenly become heroes and the work rate of entire nations falters as big games kick-off during work hours. With excitement reaching fever pitch, surely an officially licensed 2006 FIFA World Cup video game will go down very nicely indeed.
EA Sports is no stranger to the licensed World Cup video game and a new FIFA title is released each and every year, so if anyone was to create the ultimate video game to mark the occasion, EA would probably be top of the list. The FIFA games have had their critics, but even die-hard Pro Evolution Soccer fans can't argue that the series has made good strides in recent years, even surpassing the great PES in many ways. FIFA games now even come with an alternative PES-like control scheme for anyone who doesn't want to learn a new set of controls.
With that being said, if you're determined to hate the FIFA series it's highly unlikely that you'll enjoy FIFA World Cup. While increased control over players' movements, a first touch system and player run commands make for a game that has more ideas up its sleeve than Pro Evo, the game still doesn't feel quite right. The new shooting system that uses a power meter for height, judging strength on the player's skill and position when striking the ball, is a step in the right direction, but prolonged play reveals a game that simply isn't as in-depth or as rewarding as Konami's series.
Compared to last year's FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup for the Xbox 360, 2006 FIFA World Cup is crammed full with game modes. You don't get any club teams or the lengthy single-player modes that the yearly FIFA games include, but as a celebration of the World Cup there's plenty to enjoy. The World Cup mode is the obvious first choice, which lets you start from the beginning and guide your team through qualification, or lets you jump straight in to the finals. This is all presented with the typical EA flair, with well designed menus and a feeling that you're not simply playing in a run of the mill organised tournament.
Aside from the World Cup mode and numerous quick play options, the other major game mode is the Global Challenge. The idea here is to take part in famous matches and achieve a certain result, perhaps rewriting history along the way. It certainly adds some value to the package, but it's not presented that well. The major negative is the lack of real era players from the matches played in the past. Beckham, Owen, Gerrard and co certainly weren't playing for England in the 1990 World Cup, and it ruins the authenticity.
In an attempt to reward you for almost everything you do in the game, you are given points for certain achievements in games. Whether it's simply winning a game by a single goal or going a whole match without being given a yellow card, points are added to your total which can then be used to buy items from the store. These include classic players, new boots, new footballs, classic team kits and new game settings. Each objective achieved is also added to your objectives in your profile, and creates something to continue playing for, long after you've won the World Cup.
Online play is available, but sadly seems to suffer from some pretty severe lag problems. Even when playing against an opponent who had the same strong green connection bars next to their name, in-game performance was extremely poor, with juddering every few seconds. Games were still playable, but it's a far cry from the online experience that I'd hoped for. The GameCube version is obviously lacking the online game modes, but seeing as its implementation is so poor, it's not a big loss.
Speaking of differences between the current-gen versions and the PC game, it really comes down to control. The PlayStation 2 game simply plays better as you have easy access to all the buttons on the controller. The GameCube controller has one less button than the Dual Shock 2 which causes some problems, and the Xbox controller comes in second, with the lack of a second set of shoulder buttons making advanced moves a little tricky to pull off. The PC version really needs to be played with a joypad of some sort to get the most out of it, but tests with our Xbox 360 PC pad proved to be rather disappointing. It seems that it's impossible to set the PC game up to play the same as its console counterparts.
Still, EA Sports are kings when it comes to presentation, and they certainly haven't disappointed in this area. The menus show a level of polish that's sorely missing from the Pro Evo series, and the on-pitch action looks great. The official World Cup stadiums look superb and the big name players look about as good as you can expect from a current-gen title. There's some slowdown when the penalty box is full of players, but nothing that Pro Evo doesn't also suffer from. The PC game should be the leader of the pack visually, but it actually looks worse than the current-gen games. It lacks a widescreen display option and the higher resolutions available make the low polygon players and poorly textured pitches look rather dated.
The expected EA Trax are of course here, but there's a decent mix of tunes, with a few being very catchy. Crowds go bananas at times, and your nation's national anthem is played in the traditional manner, bringing a real sense of life to proceedings. Commentary once again fails to match the presentation levels exhibited in other areas of the game, with the duo's comments often having little to do with what's happening on the pitch.
2006 FIFA World Cup is a perfectly playable football title that happens to include a fair amount of content for a game based on a single tournament. Gameplay still lags behind the mighty Pro Evolution Soccer in a few areas, but the 'first touch' and 'off the ball' systems continue to impress. Presentation is great as expected, making this the perfect title to celebrate the World Cup with, even if it's not the perfect footy game.