It’s hard not to get excited about the World Cup. The quadrennial event inspires more global passion than the Olympics and is more fairly contested than presidential elections. If you’re feeling the fever, rejoice, because EA Sports is there to cash in by pumping out a quickie update of FIFA Soccer 06. ¡Olé!
HOT TIP: To unlock classic soccer superstars, win the world cup as a team from each region.
Not that you have a choice if you want to simulate your own tournament. It seems Electronic Arts holds an exclusive license to the FIFA property. The makers of the better-received Winning Eleven and Pro Evolution Soccer series can’t even attempt a rival product unless they feel they have too much cash on hand and would like to channel some of it to EA via the legal system. Pretty soon EA is going to hold the rights to baby names.
To its credit, 2006 FIFA World Cup doesn’t settle for the bare minimum of content — just slightly more than that. Although it’s easiest simply to jump into the 32-team World Cup finals in Germany, you can if you like go back to the multi-year qualifying stages. (Might as well give teams like Guatemala a chance to shine.) There’s also a penalty-kick mini-game and an indispensable practice mode. Still, the draw here is the tournament, and it’s unlikely that you’ll spend much time on anything else.
Developer EA Canada ably conveys the pageantry and the bombast of the World Cup finals. Before each match, the camera zooms from outer space all the way down to the stadium, which fairly throbs with crowd noise. Confetti cascades from above. The British announcers even sound slightly interested. Too bad the action on the pitch is so uneven.
Gameplay walks a weird line between comprehensive simulation and crazy, arcade-style button masher. It’s strangely easy to press forward with a minimum of passing, and set pieces are even simpler than kicking a field goal in Madden. After a short bit of play time, you can figure out how to exploit the computer and start racking up the goals. But you also need to control your team’s tactics with the D-pad, which means that if you’re pressing forward on the wings and want your players to crowd the box, you need to input that command without taking your thumb off the control stick. It isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s downright frustrating. Shouldn’t the AI adapt according to the situation?
And this World Cup game seems strangely limited compared with the annual FIFA installment. It’s not just that the defense is as dumb as bricks (both your team’s and the opposing squad’s), or that the players look like burn victims. The absence of the world’s FIFA-sanctioned leagues and club teams makes the whole thing feel a little thin. Not that you should expect anything more from a game called FIFA World Cup, I suppose.
WANT TO RIGHT INJUSTICE? Add Taylor Twellman to your USA squad.
Even the rosters are suspect, if the United States players are any indication. Yes, you can right the greatest injustice in the history of the world by adding Taylor Twellman to your 23-man roster. But real-life squad members (and potential starters) Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson are hidden somewhere on the list of alternates after such heavyweights as Kyle Martino. The two aren’t even given skill rankings, which means they’re functionally useless. So much for authenticity.
2006 FIFA World Cup is the only game in town. Like most EA Sports titles it is, despite its faults, wholly playable. Still, I can’t recommend it as anything more than a time killer between now and June 9.