Review: The FIFA series makes its way onto the Xbox 360? sort of.
Two types of games populated the launch of Microsoft's Xbox 360 in particular: sports games and titles from Electronic Arts. FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup
manages to fit both of those categories, as this EA Canada-developed soccer title was available for purchase on November 22 along with the 360 itself. What is noteworthy about this title is that it is not a yearly ?FIFA
? title, but rather a game based on the World Cup qualifying process. It's a pretty safe assumption that the main reason this direction was chosen by EA Canada is because of limited time available to make the 360's launch. The end result of going this route is a game that loses many potential features in the online space, as well as some basic modes like season/franchise (only international teams). This being said, a great deal of sports games are purchased by those who just want to play the sport in question, and if FIFA 06: RTFWC
is judged with this in mind, it can provide a decent experience.
The general format for the game involves picking an international team ? 72 of them in total ? and going about the qualifying tournament that leads into the FIFA World Cup. A standard tournament mode that takes place in non-World Cup style is also available, but the most interesting (and the only ?meat? of the game) is the World Cup qualifying. Other than the tournament modes, the only other game types available are a friendly match and a practice session ? both of which are pretty self-explanatory in how they work. One little cool addition to FIFA
on the Xbox 360 is the loading screen at the start of the game. As you're waiting for a game to load (or just thinking about what you want to play), you can play around in a futuristic stadium with your preferred team. It's honestly kind of a throwaway feature, but still cool to mess around while you wait, nonetheless. As said before, the lack of modes ? especially a franchise mode ? does hurt, but it is logical considering that FIFA 06: RTFWC
is really about international play. True soccer purists will probably want to hold out until FIFA 07
, but those looking for a straight-up soccer game might be able to look past the omissions.
With these preliminaries out of the way, the gameplay of FIFA 06: RTFWC
can be examined. Overall, the game plays better than previous versions, for the most part, and provides a fairly enjoyable match of soccer. The first aspect of the gameplay to catch your eye will probably be the pace, as the team at EA Canada was able to get the game running at 60fps. This not only looks great, but also allows for a whole new level of appreciation for the animations on the players. This pace translates to every aspect of a game, whether it's a frantic situation in front of the net or a dramatic corner kick. With many modes being dropped, it is good to see that EA spent time optimizing one aspect of the game.
You'll have access to the usual assortment of FIFA
moves including through passes, headers, lobs, chip shots, crosses, and volleys. On defense, you can execute slide tackles or conservative tackles, and this year there is a ?mark? feature that lets you hold down the B button and pursue your defender quite vigorously; this is quite useful for not letting someone breakaway towards the net. That being said, it can be a bit cheap to have one of your players pulled back by a charging defender who tugs on your shirt and hauls you down after using this move. Either way, the move is a different addition to the series and helps change the dynamic of defense a bit.
Scoring goals isn't terribly difficult, but does require the usual amount of patience and skill (especially against tough AI or human opponents). The standard practice in the last few FIFA
games has been to fly in on the net and blast the ball in the top corner ? not so much the case in this version. You can still chip it past the goalie, but the shot must be much softer, since going higher on the shot meter will now send the ball sailing wide or high. Another positive aspect to the gameplay is the improved AI of goalkeepers when dealing with volleys and headers. Not only are those moves not as effective as in previous years (off of corner kicks or crosses), but the goalies now stand in better position to deal with these types of attacks and will, usually, only get beaten by a truly well-placed header or volley.
FIFA 06: RTFWC
still features the advanced moves from previous years, and as before they are performed with the right thumbstick (plus the left and right bumpers). Players will be able to execute fake dribbles, dummy passes, stutter steps, spins, and several transition moves to field the ball cleanly. These moves can't be exploited too heavily this year, and you will likely only be able to shake off one or two players before someone checks you. The advanced moves do benefit the game overall, as those players who are truly skilled at chaining moves together should be rewarded with ball possession.
The AI on the default and higher settings is challenging and doesn't allow you to walk over them, by any stretch of the imagination. The goalies, as said earlier, are quite sharp and will often anticipate quite a few of your potential attacks, making for a dynamic experience around the net. The computer is quite good and handling the ball, and they also manage to vary their attacks reasonably well.
While the aforementioned gameplay elements do mesh together, it is unfortunate that some of the previous FIFA
issues do show up in this version. Undoubtedly, you will still encounter scenarios where the game feels as if it is controlling the action for you. The game of soccer requires forethought before any action and the controls in FIFA 06: RTFWC
display this, but it is annoying to not be able to cancel a move after it's been initiated. Often, you'll find yourself shooting the ball even when a situation develops to open up a better passing lane, but the shot will occur due to the initial button press. The passing still feels like somewhat of a crapshoot, as you'll hope that your through passes reach their mark or you'll be unsure as to why a pass only went three feet when the A button was held down for a good few seconds. The FIFA
series has always had these somewhat ?AI? moments ? akin to assisted fielding in baseball games ? and the trend continues in this title. None of this ruins the gameplay by any means, but it is bothersome seeing as the rest of the gameplay is strong.
An element that hasn't been seen in previous FIFA
games is the in-game action menu that lets you change options on the fly. By pressing the d-pad after play stoppages, you can execute quick substitutions, alter game strategies, and rearrange your player formations. This feature is quite a handy addition, one that benefits online matches a great deal seeing as there is no need to pause the game anymore.
Speaking of said online play, it is once again enabled over Xbox Live. Unfortunately, EA has opted to go for the same ?server? mode from previous years, which makes for a redundant sign-in process and dramatically elongates the time necessary to join an online match (as you get thrown back to the starting logos of the game). The same ?lobby? system is available to cruise for a game, but you'll also be able to set up quick matches or private matches to get directly into the action. No tournaments are supported for the game, which is a shame, and the absence of any multiplayer support (say, four players?) hurts, as well. FIFA 06: RTFWC
plays well online and I experienced very little lag while playing with various opponents across North America.
Visually, the game looks quite strong on the Xbox 360, but not completely next-gen, yet. The framerate, as said before, is silky smooth and really brings the animations to life ? especially on an HD television. There are all sorts of new goalie animations that showcase a keeper smothering the ball or floundering around on the ground, and these help add a layer of realism to the frenzied attacking situations. The ?mark? defensive feature also creates some well-animated battles along the pitch, and the animations for players being checked and pushed down look great. The player models themselves are quite good, albeit a tad on the shiny side. Hair is a feature that is particularly well done, and this is important considering soccer's flamboyant hairstyles and facial hair. Not all of the faces for these international squads are accurate (as some use generic models), but most of the bigger teams are represented fairly well. Stadiums are somewhat of a mixed bag; on the one hand, the scope, lighting and grass look amazing, yet the crowd does not look very good. The crowd does manage to fill the stadium and create lot of movement, but I suspect it will look better in future versions.
Sound is such a key in soccer games and this FIFA
installment understands that principle well. There is the standard array of ball thump and player slide sound effects on the pitch, as well as a great deal of player and coach chatter being yelled out at any given time. The crowds get involved ? as is the norm in FIFA
games ? and isn't afraid to yell out a chant or a song to motivate its home nation. Sky Sports stalwarts Andy Gray and Martin Tyler provide commentary, and each of them add a decent amount of material to the matches. For the most part, they keep up with the play and only repeat themselves every once in a while. The duo may sound familiar to some novice players as well, seeing as they are the usual pair doing official World Cup commentary.
With FIFA 06: RTFWC
, you have a game that drops a lot of its expected features and just focuses on decent gameplay. The few additions to the gameplay (quick menu, new moves, tweaked AI) add a slightly different feel than previous FIFA
games, and the smooth framerate makes the game seem all the more real. Everything is presented decently well, and online play is present, albeit lacking some features. The $60 price tag may scare off a good deal of potential buyers, but if you just want a decent game of soccer to occupy you for the next few months, FIFA 06: RTFWC
is your only choice. Luckily, it is a reasonably decent choice.