2006 FIFA World Cup PS2 Review

We’ve all heard about the theatre tradition I think, the one where nobody will say Macbeth as it is supposed to bring bad luck. Instead, they call it ‘the Scottish play’, and as long as everyone does that, the performances will supposedly go without a hitch.

Well, I reckon it’s a bit like that within the EA Sports offices. If no-one mentions ‘the other football game’ then everything will be alright and FIFA games will continue to top the charts on release. The other football game is, of course, Komami’s Pro Evolution Soccer series. When 2006 FIFA World Cup arrived for me to review, it was genuinely my intention that this review would make no mention of PES and that I would judge this game solely on it’s own merits. A couple of hours into the game, it became clear that that would be an impossibility. The reason? Well, EA have replicated so many of the features and controls of the PES series that they have openly invited such comparisons. In fact, they couldn’t have invited them anymore if they had sent a pretty little card with flowers on asking us to RSVP.

So, I make no apologies at taking EA up on this invitation and comparing their game to Konami’s, and at the end we’ll see if they have surpassed football gaming’s current opus.

EA Sports games will always score highly on presentation. It is clear how much effort has gone into this game to replicate the look and feel of the World Cup. As EA have all the licences, all players have their correct names and all teams have their correct kits. The actual stadiums to be used during the summer’s tournament are recreated in digital form in all their glory, with a wonderful sense of scale and atmosphere. Player likenesses are, on the whole, very good, particularly for the world’s most famous players like Ronaldinho and Beckham. The individual players have all of their nuances present, such as Beckham’s mannerisms when taking a free kick.

The player animations are very smooth, and the cut scenes for goal celebrations etc are extremely well done. The PS2 version does suffer from a little bit of slowdown with lots of players on the screen, but I think that’s more to do with the aging hardware trying to keep up with a very modern game engine. The full choice of camera angles is available, although I think none do a better job than the default one, so I wouldn’t bother changing it if I were you.

Graphically, this game is as good as the series is going to get on the current format. It’s hard to see how the PS2 could be pushed any more than it already is. If you want to improve on the graphics here, then I am sure you would be better off with the Xbox 360 version that is also available.

This is where EA have ‘copied’ PES the most. I don’t necessarily mean that as a criticism. After all, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The problem is, though, if you are going to copy the gameplay of another title, you need to make sure you do it well…very well. EA have succeeded to an extent, but it’s not quite up there with PES in general playability terms. Let me explain why.

Control-wise, this plays exactly like PES. The button layout is identical, with L changing players, R being used to sprint, tricks on the right analogue stick, movement on the left analogue stick. X is pass, square is shoot, circle is a lofted pass and triangle plays a through ball. Obviously, the controls are different for defending, but they mimic PES in that too. The ball physics have improved since the last FIFA but the ball still feels a bit too leaden to me, passes suddenly fall short as the ball dips suddenly. It doesn’t have the precisely accurate ball physics of PES, and it is this that makes it a little less fun to play.

The game does have a good few options, though. You can play a whole World Cup tournament and, unlike the previous FIFA World Cup games, the game doesn’t just include those teams that made it through to the finals. Every country that took part in the qualifying groups for the tournament is included. This means you can play right through the qualifying rounds and into the knock-out tournament, and this is great, especially with EA’s superb presentation making it feel like every game is being covered live on TV.

There are the usual multiplayer options and these now include online play. This works well with minimal lag. We also have a range of classic scenarios from previous World Cups to play through, but these lack some authenticity as you are forced to play classic scenarios with modern teams. This is clearly to get round licensing issues, but there are problems with playing a 1972 World Cup with the 2006 Brazilian team, it just doesn’t feel right.

One thing to note. The default difficulty level in the game is ridiculously easy. You will need to ramp this up to at least professional level to feel like you are being given a competitive game.

This is one area where the FIFA game outshines the PES series comfortably. The commentary is easily the best yet in a football game, with the phrases used accurately reflecting the passage of play, and you will rarely hear a phrase repeated during a match. The crowd sounds are also authentic and are used very well, with individual chants for the various teams all adding to the atmosphere. I’ve said this before, but EA really do know how to immerse you into a game, and these audio factors, coupled with the realistic in-game sounds, add to this immeasurably.

To play through the whole tournament and complete all of the scenario challenges will take you quite a while. Like any sports game, though, the longevity will be determined by your ability to play other real people in the multiplayer game. If you have lots of like minded friends, or if your PS2 is connected to the internet, then this game is theoretically endless. Well, at least until next year’s annual update of the FIFA games.

This is the best FIFA title yet, no doubt about it. It flows better and plays better than the previous incarnations. However, if you already own FIFA 2006, then think twice before spending your cash on a slightly updated version of the same game, even if it does have all the World Cup bells and whistles. I have absolutely no doubt that this will sit atop the multi-format charts for weeks on end, no matter what anyone says in a review. We will be thankful, then, that it’s actually a good game. It is not better than the game it tries so hard to emulate, PES is still the king of the hill as far as football games go. But FIFA is getting closer than ever, and considering that many were a little disappointed with PES 5, the battle between PES 6 and FIFA 2007 could be an interesting one.

8 out of 10
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