Since 1994, not a year has gone by without EA Sports releasing at least one new FIFA soccer game. And, predictably, 2005 is no exception. The isometric pitches and teams of identical players that graced EA Sports' earliest offerings have now been replaced by stadiums and players that can be difficult to distinguish from their real-life counterparts. And although there have been some ups and downs along the way, the series' gameplay has evolved at an equally impressive rate. FIFA 06 is particularly unusual in that it ditches some of the series' recent innovations in favor of tried-and-tested gameplay mechanics. However, it also adds plenty of new features that help make it the most realistic and accessible (and best) FIFA game to date.
You're sure to find something in the fan shop that's to your liking.
The first time you play FIFA 06, you'll be prompted to let the game know which of its 500-plus teams is your favorite, and then, before you know what's going on, you'll be challenged to a match against a formidable "Classic XI" squad that counts such men as Zico and Eric Cantona among its players. Winning that match will award you your first 1,000 points to spend at the fan shop on such unlockables as classic player profiles, all-star teams, different-colored balls, alternate team uniforms, extra player celebrations, new stadiums, and season highlights footage from last year's German, English, French, and Italian leagues. To stand a chance of winning that match, you'll need a good grasp of FIFA 06's control scheme, which--although there have been some improvements made since last year--certainly won't be a problem if you're a fan of the series.
If you're not a fan of the FIFA series but are taking the time to read this review, it's probably because you're a Winning Eleven devotee, in which case you'll be pleased to know that the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of FIFA 06 let you opt for an alternate control scheme that's straight out of Konami's soccer franchise. The PC game also features customizable controls, although it's impossible to re-create Winning Eleven's controls perfectly.
Once you've decided which button you want to use for shooting and which you want to use for long passes, you can start familiarizing yourself with some of FIFA 06's new controls, which include using the D pad or left analog stick to change offensive and defensive tactics on the fly, as well as using a single button to perform a dummy move (either to yourself or to a teammate) whenever a pass is headed your way. There are eight different tactical changes and team mentalities you can switch on and off on the fly, including counter attack wing play, box overload, offside trap, and zone defense. Like many of FIFA 06's new features, these aren't really explained in the instruction manual but are instead covered comprehensively via easy-to-follow help screens in-game.
Other changes you'll find on the pitch in FIFA 06 include much simpler (almost to the point of being retro) control systems for set pieces, much-improved commentary and TV-style presentation, and the all-new playing-style feature, which affects your team's performance based on how well your players feel the match is going. This doesn't necessarily mean that your team will become stronger if it's winning, though, because your players' morale is influenced by recent action on the pitch rather than by everything that's happened since the kickoff, as well as by whether you're playing the match at home or away.
The goalkeepers are well-behaved for the most part, though a little lazy.
The boost your team will get from stringing together a few good moves against a team it's losing to is definitely noticeable, and you'll find the opposite is true if you're in charge of a winning team that's struggling to retain its lead. Individual players can also be affected by events on the pitch, and if you notice that one of your players is feeling particularly down, it's invariably a good idea to replace him with one of your substitutes--none of whom enjoys sitting out match after match on the bench.
On the pitch, FIFA 06 is undoubtedly the best game in the series to date, but it's not without its flaws. The goalkeepers, for example, are extremely slow to come off their lines--even when the ball has been hoofed from the other end of the field and there are no other players with a hope in hell of reaching it before they do. This is actually a good thing when it's your keeper, because you can bring him off his line manually, and you don't have to worry about him going on a walkabout of his own volition. The keepers on CPU-controlled teams, though, appear to be largely unaware of the "keeper charge" button, although they do become more proactive as you move up through the game's four difficulty levels. FIFA 06's other main flaw, which is more of an issue on the PS2 than on any other platform, is that the whole game can slow down quite dramatically when a large number of players is onscreen simultaneously. The drops in the frame rate aren't so bad that the game is rendered unplayable, but they're certainly noticeable enough to be worthy of mention.
If you're playing FIFA 06 solo, one of the first gameplay options you'll want to check out (perhaps after playing a couple of practice matches) will undoubtedly be manager mode, which lets you take charge of a team anywhere in the world so you can play through a career spanning no fewer than 15 years. You won't be able to assume control of whichever team you want from the outset, because most of the top teams seem to be happy with their current managers, but there are plenty of jobs to choose from that will make for great stepping stones en route to the management position of your dreams (if it isn't available on day one).
Need better backroom staff? Throw money at them.
Once you've taken a job as a manager, you'll receive your first e-mail informing you of the board's expectations for the season, and you'll be introduced to FIFA 06's simplistic backroom staff system. As a manager in FIFA 06, you'll have eight staff members working under you, including a negotiator, a scout, a stadium manager, and coaches specializing in fitness, goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, and strikers. Each member of your staff has an effectiveness rating of between 1 and 10 that can be upgraded simply by spending money on him. Money isn't always easy to come by in FIFA 06, though, so you'll almost certainly want to keep some funds available for the transfer market and for sending your scout in search of young, unsigned player talent from time to time.
One of the easiest ways to make money for your team, of course, is to sign a lucrative sponsorship deal, of which you'll have plenty to choose from before guiding your team through its first match. You'll choose your sponsor based on the various amounts of cash offered to you in the form of match funding and as bonuses for different competitions. Opting for the sponsor that's offering you the most money seems like the obvious thing to do, and you actually can't go far wrong if you do so. However, it's worth noting that the sponsors offering smaller figures generally have less-strict qualifying requirements for their handouts. So while one sponsor might offer you a fortune for winning the league, for example, another might offer you a more modest sum that you can get your hands on simply by finishing in the top half of the table. The other ways you'll earn money in FIFA 06 are by doing well in competitions and by charging fans to come and watch your team in action. And before every home game you can choose to set a low, medium, or high ticket price--bearing in mind that you won't endear yourself to fans by charging them an arm and a leg to get through the turnstiles.