Genre : Sports
Developer : EA Sports
Publisher : EA
Release Date : November 16, 2005
EA Earns Yet Another Yellow Card for its X-Box 360 Franchise…
FIFA is widely accepted as being the most popular soccer game for consoles. There is Winning Eleven which is slowly growing in popularity, but FIFA boasts EA’s common design traits that make the game look and feel more like a television presentation and FIFA still also holds exclusivity rights over the major leagues from around the world. This year’s FIFA 06 for X-Box is perhaps the best iteration of the series in many years, so I was excited to see the game transposed into the 360’s environs.
I fired up FIFA 06: RTWC and waited for the opening movie and was impressed with the visual styling and graphics along with the sights and sounds of the pitch, it is all very daunting and dazzling to begin with. It was then that I realized something was up. All of the teams were national teams, not club teams. I looked at the game’s box cover, it’s Ronaldinho all right, busted teeth and all, but he’s wearing a Brazil jersey, not a Barca one. The game asks you to set up your favorite team and searched the list of teams, disappointed to find out that the list of World Cup “Qualifiers” was inaccurate (where’s Trinidad and Tobago?).
So I picked South Korea and was treated to a little line-up of Korea’s midfield looking somewhat tough at the fifty yard line. Here is the first time you get a good chance to really get a good look at the player models and for the most part they are impressive. The bump mapping used on the fabrics and textures looks very realistic in making the jerseys look porous and the socks have a very fuzzy feel to them which I thought was really cool. The only problem is that the players are normal mapped and the results are a little weird looking. There seems to be a sheen or haziness around the players that is difficult to explain but it ends up looking as if there is a slight halo off to the side of the players and it is especially noticeable when they are lit up. Even so, the textures and modeling are very impressive and the players are animated to such a degree that there is some really cool subtlety to their movements. The ball’s physics interacts with the foot dynamically and realistically so the ball actually collides with the foot, chest and head rather than the model’s collision box.
Before I get too in depth about the game’s graphics and gameplay, you need to know something up front: FIFA 06 on X-Box and X-Box 360 are completely different games. EA has gone to great lengths to get you to think otherwise, but like Madden 2006, EA has built an entirely new game from the ground up. FIFA 06 for X-Box is a game with a full suite of customizable features and licensed club teams as well as national teams. Stadiums are licensed and recreated for respective clubs and the various major tournaments, derbies and leagues. Road to the World Cup has the Regional Qualifiers and the World Cup Tournament and that’s it. Another major difference about this game is the utter lack of customizing features. You cannot make your own player, your own team, your own pitch or stadium; in fact you only have about six stadiums to choose from. This was the most disturbing aspect of the game. To me, an integral part of enjoying any sports title is the ability to make myself into something I never was and never will be: Starting Center Midfielder/Center/Linebacker/Short Stop. RTWC snuffs that dream without even so much as a try-out.
The more important aspect of the game seems more or less in tact. FIFA is not known as the best soccer game in terms of its control and finesse, but it is intuitive and easy to pick up for most people. The game has matured from the tapping “sprint” over and over again with the odd spin-move (which works well in football, but when was the last time anyone did it in soccer?) and capped off with a laser beam finish to the top corner and beyond the keeper’s reach.
While FIFA 06: RTWC doesn’t feature icon passing (you merely tap the pass button or hold it for a chip, lob or through ball and hope for the best) and the in-game tactics are somewhat esoteric and awkward to use; the gameplay is still logical and solid enough to be enjoyable. You can call for the ball to be doubled, which works well, or you can call for an Offside Trap, which doesn’t work so well. There are a myriad of maneuvers and moves you can pull off with a series of buttons, triggers and stick movements, but none of them really made much sense to me and they felt more appropriate for a fighting game. Through-balls are easy enough to do and will serve as crucial tools in the game and forget about using one or two moves to deke out the whole side, FIFA’s computer is up to the challenge and adapts well.
Shooting is also more of an art than science. Whereas you could pretty much guarantee a goal in older FIFA games, you’d better pray this time around because FIFA 06 really tries hard to capture the notion that getting a good touch on the ball while on the run and being marked by some rabid Swedish defender makes scoring a goal really something worth ripping your shirt off and twirling it around your head. It works and makes getting a goal something to really celebrate because you feel as though you’ve earned something, which will be doubly true at higher difficulty levels because even at Rookie the computer can be ruthless with you. Be careful of those slide tackles too, the referees are liberal with their cards and in a World Cup Qualifier, getting sent off the pitch for this match means you sit the next one too.
FIFA 06 looks quite good. On a high definition TV you can make out individual blades of grass and some players need to really work on their acne too. The uniforms fold and ruffle with movement and wind unlike anything you’ve seen anywhere else. Perhaps EA went a little overboard with the uniforms, but it’s impressive nonetheless. The only problem with the graphics, aside from the above mentioned fuzzy halo effect, is the fact that to really play the game effectively you need to be pulled out and away from the action which means the players are too small to really appreciate.During the goal replays, you can stop, rewind, pause and slow-mo the action and switch the camera to just about every angle which means you can really enjoy the game’s visuals, but during the game to get a good view of the players inaction means sacrificing gameplay ability.
Even pulled back, the game still looks good. The stadiums are modeled with dynamic lighting and weather which changes as the game progresses. The fans aren’t flat textures either so the stands look alive and roaring. EA goes to great lengths to capture the look and feel of a television presentation with the pre-game line-ups, commentators and stoppage clips. Players interact with each other more realistically and show some emotion during the game’s little stoppages for fouls and goals. You’ll get a look at the coach on the sidelines keeping tabs on things and subs warming up to go in late in the game. The game’s commentators, while no one I recognize, are really good. Their voices are professional and they sound somewhat knowledgeable which is good because if you’ve ever watched game commentated by Fox Sports’ Max Bretos then you’ll understand how the Beautiful Game can be rendered downright ugly. The voice segments segue together very well and there are no discernable hitches in the dialogue and they don’t repeat themselves so often that it gets annoying. If anything it’s nice to have an Englishman make fun of your lack of playing skills in a sideways and backhanded way.
FIFA 06: Road to the World Cup is a decent game. It plays well enough and looks pretty good. There isn’t anything new here, certainly nothing “Next Gen” as EA follows up one after another 360 sports titles with nothing special. While FIFA 06 will satisfy your average gamer who wants a soccer game for playing his friends, a soccer fan who really looks forward to tweaking his squad, making transfers or creating new players and going into a year-to-year franchise mode will be disappointed.
My biggest complaint about FIFA is its name. It simply isn’t a FIFA game, it should simply be called World Cup 06 or something that accurately describes it and distinguishes it from the game that EA wants you to believe it is when you’re buying it. To my mind this is a very underhanded way to great consumers. If the game’s sixty dollars then give gamers sixty dollars worth of game. Older Road to the World Cup games retailed initially at $29.99 USD and this amount of content would be fine for thirty dollars, but for what gamers pay for a 360 game FIFA 06: Road to the World Cup is difficult to justify. I mean, yeah it looks good, but not that good. In the end, FIFA falls victim to EA’s mad rush to get as many games on shelves for 360’s launch, much to everyone’s detriment.
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