Creating titles to launch on a new console must be a tricky thing to do, given the track record of a certain developer of sports titles. EA, which created a new game engine rather than rehash a prior one for Madden NFL 06 on the Xbox 360 (review), continues the trend with FIFA 06. Sadly, this next-gen soccer game also follows the trend that Madden NFL 06 started: incorporating fewer features to focus on the all-new engine and enhanced graphics.
Unfortunately only a few modes of play are included in FIFA 06, but thankfully, the game includes both online play and a somewhat-extensive solo mode. The online options are actually quite limited, but they get the job done when it’s time to take your game against a real opponent instead of the computer for the hundredth time. It’s also worth noting that no problems were ever noticed connecting to a game on Xbox Live, whether for a friendly unranked game or an ranked one.
For solo play (or co-operative multiplayer), the main method of play is the subtitle to the game: Road to the World Cup. You select your team from a massive list of European, American and Asian teams and work toward the ultimate goal (and achievement) of winning the 2006 World Cup. To gain entry to the World Cup, the team you select must first qualify for the tournament by competing and doing well in other tournaments that come well before the date of the World Cup. Along the way, even during some tournaments, other teams will invite you to play a friendly match that doesn’t count toward your goal of the World Cup but gives you a chance to exercise your skills. These matches also give some of your underplayed players a chance to shine. If the Road to the World Cup doesn’t interest you, you can create custom tournaments at any time with varying numbers of teams, which allows for a lot of play.
Modes aside, how does the game play, and is it worthy of next-generation status? Well, the animations are very fluid and sync with the button presses, making reaction time a non-issue. Advanced dribbling skills, activated using the right analog stick, are also useful when used sparingly, as is the sprint option. It’s interesting to note, though, that if your game selection includes very short halves, there’s no reason to refrain from having each athlete sprint throughout the entire game, because their fatigue drops as if you were playing a regulation game, not a sped-up version.
Passing in FIFA 06 on the Xbox 360 feels spot on, as does shooting and even scoring. It will be rare to see a game’s score get out of hand if you play shorter halves, and even in longer games, the opponent AI and true-to-life low-scoring soccer style keeps games in the realistic realm.
At times I felt the graphics seemed a little too realistic and cartoon-like at the same time, especially during some of the player close-ups. High-profile players from around the globe all appear in ultra-realistic form, with hairstyles, warts and differing degrees of pale skin included. Yet noticeable during these close-up shots is a sort of halo effect around players and the ball, giving the game a look akin to watching a 3D movie without the blue and red glasses. A sad point, though, is that because soccer/football is played on such a large field, the camera is zoomed out quite far in order to have enough information on the screen at any given time, making the high-powered ATI chipset nothing more than a heat-producing chuck of silicon. That aside, a player dribbling the ball downfield is accurately drawn and reacted as one would expect from a real player confronted by a defender barreling down the pitch primed for a knee-shattering slide tackle.
But is all this worthy of a next-generation console? Sure the graphics during cut scenes are pretty, and the Xbox Live player matching is great, but the zoomed-out camera and even the AI seem slightly “previous generation.” Add to that the stripped-down featureset with very limited career-mode options, and you get a game that’s a shell of what it possibly could be.
If the trend of stripped-down games continues to plague the Xbox 360, there are going to be a lot of very unhappy gamers. Even shallow gamers expect more out of their system than just pretty high-definition graphics. Gamers are looking for more of everything, including options within the game and ways to improve on what might have already been a good game. And FIFA 06 definitely needs more of everything.
- Gameplay: 7
- Controls are responsive, pacing of games is dead on, and the AI plays a great game of football. Online is limited, but matchmaking works well and players are abundant.
- Graphics: 7
- Up close the game looks good, but the zoomed-out perspective probably leaves the graphical processor wondering what it was even built for.
- Sound: 8
- Great commentary throughout the game, and thankfully not a heavy reliance on techno to artificially pump up the player.
- Replay: 6
- You might pop this in once in a while, but the slow pace might scare American audiences a lot more than the world that is really into football.
- Overall: 6
- Looks good and plays decent, but lacks the next-generation punch one would expect it to have.
— Jeff Paramchuk