It's a funny old game
When you say football and console you usually think of either the Pro Evo series or the FIFA series. In this case it's safe to say that we're talking about the FIFA series here and the newest incarnation 2006 FIFA World Cup for the Xbox 360.
I'm going to get right to the point for those people who don't like to wade through a review to get to the end. The previous game was a bit of a rushed release and suffered extremely for it, this one I am glad to say doesn't actually suffer in the same way but it is still far from the current generation's releases in regard to football goodness.
It's however plagued with small graphics glitches and a few problems in the controls. The biggest let down is the LIVE mode which is akin to trying to play football through a giant glob of sticky treacle while wearing lead weights around your ankles.
The single player experience comes in several flavours but right from the start the title has limited appeal as well as a limited shelf life. It will be good for getting a few more achievement points to that Gamerscore but in the end apart from unlocking players and limited edition apparel, there's nothing more to it because the game is such a let down online.
This game isn't about managing a franchise or helping a team grow; it's about getting on that long road to the World Cup and playing through heaps of regional qualifiers until you get there and can taste the brackets, finally making it to the end and the golden trophy itself. You can also if you want, start right in the middle of the World Cup and forgo the preliminary stages; it's up to you in this game and your play style.
You can take a national team, like good old England or Brazil and play through in the main mode, get to the World Cup and win it. That's the game in a nutshell.
There's a Global Challenge mode in the game which piles on the pressure, only has one difficulty and sorts out the men from the boys. This mode puts you in a variety of situations; you may be a few points down with only a bare thirty minutes between you and the might of Germany. You get awarded a bronze medal for doing the main goal and if you want to earn silver or gold, you're going to have to play like David Beckham on Speed.
In addition to the Global Challenge mode the game throws in Penalty Shootouts and so on, just to round off the football package as you might expect. These modes are a welcome addition and between them they should extend the titles shelf life beyond a couple of months.
On the whole the game's play hasn't changed much from the previous title, the control system is ok but it's nothing to write home about, nor is it as slick and focussed as EA's main competitor for football goodness. It does a passable job and provides a fairly good level of ball control.
The game's graphics have been toned down from the previous game which was shiny and glitzy, but suffered from bad slowdowns and terrible frame rates most of the time. It has a decent graphics engine and this isn't too overworked, we did notice that there were a few times when odd things happened in some of the replays, which have been improved from its predecessor thankfully. There were some camera glitches and at one point it seemed like a player vanished to appear somewhere else.
The stadium and pitch graphics are good, they do what they set out to do but it's still nowhere near as next-gen as it could be.
A good level of detail is provided here as the likenesses of many of your favourite players have been recreated, these models are well made and they don't show any obvious faults. The clothing and equipment as well as the stadium models, crowd and so on are all rendered with a suitable level of detail.
This is an area that looks smooth sometimes and then other times the players can look like they're jerky and uncoordinated, there seem to be a few glitches related to the animation engine that appeared on the retail copy of the game and there were some reports from other game owners that this was the case on their copy as well. These are however quirky isolated incidents that don't turn up all the time, therefore they don't provide a massive stone to drag the game into the depths of the unplayable.
The various animations exhibited by the players are all of decent quality and they bring to life the character of the footballers, some good ball control animations combined with realistic keeper animations keep the action looking especially great.
I don't have any major nit-picks with the AI for the opposing teams, you can play a good match against them and they will offer a decent level of challenge. They pass the ball and work against you quite nicely, in the Global Challenge mode since there is only one difficulty setting you'll need to be a FIFA veteran to stand a chance of getting the silver and gold medals.
The offline modes allow you to play against your mates or with them against the AI, they allow you to experience the game as it should be played with or against another opponent and are good for the odd bout of settee related trash-talking and beer swilling football shenanigans.
The online mode is a complete and utter shambles and a lesson that playing a game online shouldn't resemble trying to Tango knee deep in porridge oats whilst being under the influence of mind altering drugs.
Players in the same geographical region can suffer horrendous lag let alone players from different parts of the globe, it's as though the LIVE servers are being re-routed through a tiny pair of tin cans connected by an immensely long piece of string.
All in all it really boils down to a frustrating online experience that leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
It's all there, commentary, music, the crowd and the ambience of football. It's captured with a good level of detail and brings to life the game as a counterpart to the situation. The crowd swells and ebbs with the flow of the match and you get a good feel from the audio when you nail a decent goal.
If you've read this far then all that's left for me to say is, this incarnation of the game is a little filler for the next FIFA to come along. They'll get it right in 2007 hopefully or whenever the next slice of football action comes around. The single player is good and solid, but ultimately it's a title with a short lifespan unless you're the kind of person that eats, sleeps, breathes and drinks football 24/7.
The game is good for a multi-player football fest with your friends, but online you can forget it. There is more lag and more spatial anomalies than even Doctor Who could solve that combine to bring the online matches to a grinding halt. When it works (which at the moment is rare) then it's good, but really it should work 9/10 times not 2/10.
So that is it, it's a decent enough game, does what it says on the tin but unless you're absolutely wanting to get those Gamerscore points or live the World Cup I'd wait for something else to wander along.