Microsoft should be thankful that EA are supporting their new console (when Sega released the Dreamcast ahead of the PlayStation 2, EA were having none of it), simply because EA games sell, but when they churn out uninspired games such as FIFA 06 Road to FIFA World Cup, you wonder where their true efforts are going. Looking at the game on its own merits, FIFA 06 RTFWC isn't a terrible game, but when so many other better footy games are available on other systems (Pro Evo 5 works pretty well on the 360 too) it's hard to see why anyone would enjoy this 360 debut for FIFA.
Before dissecting everything that's not too good about it, it's worth noting that FIFA 06 RTFWC can look stunning. During replays (which admittedly do run at a less than acceptable frame rate) you can see that, visually at least, the game is approaching what is expected from a next-gen sports game. Player models are a little plasticy, but it's hard not to be impressed by their solidity and detail found in them. Faces also approach realism, but fall just short in most cases, with many players coming off a little worse for wear, with overly elastic facial expressions being the worst culprit. All of the players also sport a strange glow that surrounds them, which looks pretty ridiculous when you're zoomed in.
The stadiums themselves look superb and during the intro to a match they're impressive sites, even when next-gen expectations are so high. The pitch looks stunning too, albeit in need of better ground staff - preferably someone with a lawnmower. Zoom in close during a replay and the grass looks rather stunning, but as with almost every other graphical feature, it's lost when playing from a standard gameplay camera angle. You can still make out the improved player models, but the pitch turns into a blurry green mess and awkward player animations become all too noticeable. The crowd doesn't look too hot either, with some kind of weird distortion making them all look incredibly odd.
Gameplay sadly seems like a step back from where the franchise is currently at with the PC and current-gen console versions of FIFA 06. In terms of game modes you've got the qualification for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, custom leagues and tournaments, friendly matches, practice mode and that's about it. As with all of EA's 360 sports games, you can't say it's packed with content. The World Cup qualifying mode offers 72 teams to choose from and then tasks you with getting through your qualifying group, with the odd friendly and fictional tournament scattered throughout. It's pretty dull in all honesty, and the fact that you can't play in the World Cup sours the taste even more.
Ball physics seem to have gone out the window, with the ball now almost like a magnet to players' feet, and your team-mate AI is woefully inadequate. Your players simply don't know when they should be attacking or defending, and if you suddenly change from attack to defence, or vice versa, many players simply stand there, looking clueless. You have some manual control over team tactics, but you don't want to be forced to change this each time you lose or gain possession of the ball.
Commentary from Andy Gray and Martin Tyler is decent enough, with both of them offering some nice pass by pass comments and the odd piece of football trivia, but as with the main gameplay modes, it all becomes a little dull after a while, with the same nuggets of information being heard all the time. It would have been a nice touch to get other commentators from rival broadcast stations to commentate on certain games, just to offer a more realistic experience, but if you're used to Sky Sports, Andy and Martin to a good job. Crowd sound effects are what you'd expect and EA's EA Trax once again make an appearance, for those that like that kind of thing.
With almost every extra feature of FIFA 06 missing from RTFWC, much has been made of EA's new loading system. While you're waiting for your teams to take the filed you can kick a ball about on an indoor pitch. When you're ready (or, more likely when the game has loaded) you can get into the actual match. I'm sure someone out there will appreciate this pre-match kick-about, but getting instantly into the proper match would have been a more impressive achievement for a next-gen game. Online play sadly seems a little behind the times, too, with plenty of lag in most matches and a rather outdated lobby system.
FIFA 06 Road to FIFA World CUP isn't the worst game ever made - it's not even close to that really - but it's just not a very good football game, and in a genre that FIFA itself is trying to play catch-up in, it's simply not good enough. Occasionally impressive visuals? Yes. Severely lacking in features? Yes. Worth buying for your Xbox 360? Definitely not. EA had been moving in the right direction with the FIFA franchise; let's hope this isn't a sign of where they're going on next-gen consoles.