A little over five weeks from now, the 2006 FIFA World Cup will kick off in Munich when the tournament's German hosts take on Costa Rica. Recent player injuries are already providing plenty of pre-tournament drama, but if you really want to get your experience under way a month ahead of time, you can claim the FIFA World Cup Trophy for your country in EA Sports' 2006 FIFA World Cup. EA Canada's latest football offering does a good job of re-creating the carnival atmosphere that surrounds every World Cup competition, but the game suffers from frequent and noticeable slowdown, which makes it more difficult to recommend than its predecessor, FIFA 06.
Gameplay options in 2006 FIFA World Cup include quick matches, online play, practice sessions, and penalty shoot-outs. In addition to those football game staples, you also get global challenge scenarios, a slightly reworked FIFA lounge mode, and, of course, a chance to guide your favorite international team through the World Cup competition. The World Cup mode will almost certainly be your first port of call, and although its default settings see you assuming control of one of the 32 teams that qualified for the finals, it's possible to play as any of around 125 different teams from all over the world. Furthermore, you have the option to take your chosen team through the relevant territory's qualification process or to jump straight to the last 32 teams using real or randomly generated group information.
The pre-match presentation does a great job of setting the stage.
The presentation throughout the World Cup mode, and throughout the entire game, is great. Before each match you'll see a camera, which is positioned somewhere in orbit around the Earth, zoom in on the appropriate German stadium, and then you'll be treated to flybys of the grounds where it looks like almost every supporter in the crowd came through the turnstiles armed with streamers, confetti, and balloons. You'll also get to listen to one of the game's many licensed songs, which come from an eclectic soundtrack spanning some 14 countries. Good pre-match commentary replete with World Cup trivia and anecdotes is the icing on the cake, and as your players line up on the pitch before kickoff, you feel both excited and nervous at the same time--exactly as you'd expect to before a real match. It's unfortunate, then, that 2006 FIFA World Cup takes a turn for the worse once the referee's whistle gets the game under way.
Although there have certainly been some improvements made to 2006 FIFA World Cup's gameplay over the already superb FIFA 06 (which are most noticeable in the shooting and passing mechanics and in the very dramatic penalty shoot-outs), both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game suffer from frequent and quite dramatic doses of slowdown. These drops in the frame rate are predictably most common when there are a lot of players on the screen simultaneously, but they're certainly not limited to those occasions, and are even a regular occurrence during replays, set-piece camera close-ups, and the aforementioned pre-match buildup. It's a real shame that 2006 FIFA World Cup has been released in this state, because there's really very little else about the game that's easy to pick fault with.
Slowdown issues aside, 2006 FIFA World Cup offers a football experience that, while not quite as realistic as Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer (Winning Eleven in North America) games, is certainly comparable in terms of quality. It's a lot easier to score goals in FIFA than it is in Pro Evo (largely because FIFA's keepers aren't too clever), but they can still be very satisfying. And if you're playing on the correct difficulty level or against a suitable opponent, you'll inevitably still have goalless draws from time to time. The player animations are uniformly excellent, and although every player on the pitch has a handful of skill moves at his disposal, you'll find that good use of the excellent first-touch controls along with passes, through balls, and dummies are generally the best way to beat opponents. The controls on the PS2 and the Xbox are equally good, though the Xbox controller's poorly positioned black-and-white buttons do come into play when you start employing some of the game's more advanced moves.
The game's player animations are excellent.
As you progress through the World Cup, you'll inevitably earn points by fulfilling some of the 200-plus objectives that the game tracks for your profile. These objectives include beating certain teams, winning by a certain number of goals, scoring at different stages of matches, winning streaks, and lots more. The points that you're awarded can be spent at the game's store, which stocks more than 20 classic players, 25 different pairs of licensed boots, more than 20 Adidas balls, 10 classic strips, and five "AI unlockables"--those being additional options for perfect difficulty, invisible walls, no infringements, slow motion, and turbo mode. The unlockables are a little disappointing, not only because the different boots and balls are barely noticeable during gameplay, but also because the classic player and classic strip options are so limited. The 10 classic strips, for example, include only two each for five different European teams, and although the classic players all deserve their places in the game, it's not hard to think of dozens more who are conspicuous by their absence.