For those of you that dropped 60 smackers of your hard earned money on FIFA 06: Road to the World Cup only to be terribly disappointed, redemption is here. Just half a year later, EA Sports has released the German World Cup sequel. The good news is that EA has (almost) made up for the terrible launch game with a quality footballer that truly captures the feel and intensity of the FIFA World Cup.
In fact, this is the first aspect of the game you’ll notice when you kick off for the first time. The presentation draws you into the experience. Anyone who knows anything about the World Cup knows that it involves the most committed, crazy, loud, and adoring fans of any sporting spectacle in the world. You can tell that EA Canada put a lot of time into developing this idea. Once your game loads, you will see special events happening on the field. You’ll see your team’s flag being waved across the crowd. You’ll see streamers and confetti fly above the field. And best of all, you’ll hear realistic crowd noise, and even team specific chants and songs throughout the contest. You’ll find yourself immersed in the World Cup experience from the get-go.
This game looks great. The player models are clean, neat, and crisp. Obviously, the camera is so far back in soccer games (necessarily so), that it is nearly impossible to show much detail during gameplay, but the movements are all very smooth, moves are strung together seamlessly, and the player animations are brilliant. During cut-scenes and replays, you’ll get a chance to really see the excellent modeling and graphics engine at work. The crowd is also very convincing, with the flags, streamers, and confetti making it more realistic than ever. Overall, this is the best looking footballer to date.
The first time you hear the crowd yelling and screaming, even before the match starts, you’ll appreciate the sound of this game. The gameplay sounds are standard FIFA, which is a good thing. The commentating is good, and generally manages to keep up with the action pretty well. It can, however, become a bit repetitive while grinding out a long match. The crowd noise is where the sound contributes most to World Cup. When you hear your crowd screaming team-specific chants for your favorite team, you’ll be absolutely sucked in, and you won’t be able to help it.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a FIFA game without excellent gameplay, and it doesn’t disappoint. Any soccer game fan knows that Konami’s Winning Eleven series has long since been the standard for gameplay. But EA is getting closer. How? Simple: Copy Winning Eleven’s gameplay and controls. OK, it’s not exactly the same, but it is moving in that direction. The gameplay of World Cup feels tight, responsive, and comfortable. Dribbling and passing feel very natural, and more importantly, familiar to FIFA fans.
The controls handle very well, and are a basic import of the FIFA 06 Xbox game, save a few differences. There is a new control scheme option that, though EA would probably never admit it, basically tries to copy Winning Eleven’s controls. So if you’re a fan of either series, you should be content. The essentials are all there: through balls, short crosses, analog stick moves, the whole kit n’ caboodle. The key differences are in the new star player addition, the shooting mechanic, and the penalty kick mechanic. The star player element adds a great deal of excitement, and rewards you for having stars like Owen, Henry, or Ronaldinho on your team. Their skills are exaggerated, and they have the potential to take over a game with a brilliant run on the dribble, and scorching 25-yard shot, or masterful cross into the box. The biggest difference in the controls is the shooting mechanic. Instead of the power of the shot being determined by how long you hold the shoot button, it now determines the height. The power is determined by the position your player is in. For example, if you are sprinting, your shot won’t be as powerful or accurate as if you are set. This context sensitive shooting is much more realistic, and is indeed a change for the better. Penalty kicks are redone as well, with shooting being executed by a power and aim meter this time. The goalies are able to jump and dance to distract the shooter, and the longer the shooter takes, the more the controller will rumble to symbolize getting rattled. It’s a very nice touch, and adds a jolt of excitement to a shootout.
Despite its usual excellent gameplay, the fact remains the World Cup games still have the reputation of lacking depth. Is this game different? Well, sort of. EA does an OK job here of filling up space. Instead of including only the 32 team draw, they have thrown in close to 100 teams you can toss in to your tournament. There are also a bunch of classic players to unlock and use. The newest addition is the Global Challenge game mode, in which you will take control of dozens of classic situations and try to complete the assigned objectives. It’s not a very deep mode, but it’s a nice break from World Cup qualifying. Other modes include of course the World Cup, a practice mode, and a penalty shootout mode. The extras are there, and for the most part, they succeed in filling in the cracks around the World Cup mode.
2006 FIFA World Cup is an excellent presentation of the World Cup. The feeling, emotion, and intensity of the event are all there. The World Cup mode is deep enough to satisfy, and there is a passable variety of modes, making this the deepest and best World Cup title to date. The $60 USD retail price is a bit steep for what you get, but if you’re a 360 owner and need a good footballer, I definitely recommend it.