Unless you've been stuck down a mine the past few months (apologies in advance if your name is Brant or Todd), then you've probably come down with a serious case of World Cup fever. With interest at such a high locally thanks to the world-beating efforts of the Socceroos, EA's 2006 FIFA World Cup is bound to sell truckloads of copies, regardless of the quality of the game. Thankfully, the game is mostly a winner, and should prove a solid choice for both football veterans and bandwagon jumpers alike.
2006 FIFA World Cup allows you to take your favourite national team (from any of 125 countries) all the way through to World Cup glory. As well as quick match and online play modes, the game allows you to play a World Cup finals campaign with 32 nations, either randomly generated or player chosen. Real football fanatics, however, will probably want to take your favourite country through its own particular qualification process. If you choose Australia, for example, you'll have to progress through the Oceania qualifiers and then defeat the fifth placed South American team to make the World Cup.
EA has been gradually making gameplay improvements to its FIFA games over its last few versions, and the process continues with 2006 FIFA World Cup. The game certainly isn't as easy as previous FIFA games, with the ball having vastly improved physics and players acting much more realistically. Balls, for examples, aren't on "strings" anymore, meaning players actually need to keep close control while dribbling and passing to make effective attacks. 2006 FIFA World Cup even features first touch controls (using the right control stick) for finesse moves.
That's not to say goals will be at a premium in 2006 FIFA World Cup. The game still hasn't reached the precise control levels needed to score in the Pro Evolution series, which means some matches in FIFA will still be unadulterated goal-fests. That said, overall control in 2006 FIFA World Cup feels tight and responsive -- newbies to football games will probably take a few sessions to get into the groove, but anyone who's picked up an EA FIFA game in the last few years should have no problems.
One of the most appealing things about EA FIFA series has been attention to detail, and this latest game is no exception. Players, country uniforms and stadiums are all recreated with a high degree of accuracy, and should please football pedants the world over. All of the world's licensed FIFA footballers are here, meaning you should be able to spot your favourites no matter what country they hail from.
We reviewed the Xbox 360 version of the game, although 2006 FIFA World Cup is also available for the PS2, Xbox, GameCube and PC. As you would expect from the 360, graphics are top notch, particularly when it comes to player animations. Up close, most players do sport a distinct likeness to the real-world counterparts, although they tend to look rather plastic and freakishly unreal. They do move extremely realistically, however, particularly when shown in one of the game's many replays and close-ups. Apart from the players themselves, 2006 FIFA World Cup has plenty of graphical niceties, including realistic looking crowds, country flags strewn across stadiums and enough confetti during pre- and post-matches to sink a ship. Sound is also another plus, with the game featuring great commentary and a wide variety of licensed music tracks.
There are also plenty of extras aside from pure football. The game features many unlockable bonuses, which can be opened by spending points earned by playing the game. 2006 FIFA World Cup features more than 200 objectives which earns players points upon completion -- these could range from beating specific countries and regions, to performing tasks such as winning by a certain margin or having an individual player score multiple goals. Bonuses that can be unlocked include classic players and teams, new balls and new difficulty options.
When you feel like pitting your 2006 FIFA World Cup skills against a human opponent instead of the CPU, you can either get some friends over or play online. The Xbox 360 game lacks the excellent FIFA lounge mode that other versions enjoy, unfortunately, and also doesn't support "quick tournament" play online. If you choose to play online, you'll find that 2006 FIFA World Cup uses an outdated lobby system, with rooms where you can, in theory, find players of similar ability or who are from your region. In reality, at least based on our own experiences thus far, there are rarely enough players online simultaneously for this system to work properly, and you're better off either going into the same room that every other player is in or simply hitting the quick-match option.
The quality of your online experience with 2006 FIFA World Cup can vary quite wildly with each opponent, not because of the way they behave, but because the game's lag is different every time. We invariably found that our online matches kicked off relatively free of lag, but got worse as the game progressed. For the most part the lag never got so bad that the game was rendered unplayable, but there were one or two occasions when quitting out prematurely and getting a DNF (did not finish) black mark next to our profile looked like a tempting option.
Additional reporting by GameSpot.com.