When it arrived in stores last month, the Xbox version of FIFA 06 was undoubtedly EA Sports' best soccer game to date. Now, less than two months later, FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup has been released for the Xbox 360, and the Xbox version of FIFA 06 is still EA Sports' best soccer game to date. How can that be the case? At the very least, FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup must be the same game that was released for the Xbox but with better graphics, right? Wrong. FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup is inferior to its Xbox counterpart in just about every way imaginable, and is undoubtedly one of the most disappointing games available for Microsoft's new console at launch.
As its title suggests, FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup's main gameplay mode tasks you with leading an international soccer team through the qualification process to next year's World Cup competition in Germany. There are no club teams in FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, so whereas the Xbox version of FIFA 06 boasts a rough total of 500 teams for you to play with, the Xbox 360 game features just 72, more than 50 of which are from Europe. No fewer than 132 of the international teams that participated in FIFA's preliminary qualification process for Germany 2006 are absent from FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup. The majority of you are unlikely to miss the likes of American Samoa, Chile, and Turkmenistan, of course, but the upshot of their omission from the game is that the European qualification groups are the only ones available in the Road to FIFA World Cup gameplay mode. If you want to qualify for the World Cup as a team from outside Europe you can create custom groups, but it's simply not possible to re-create the same qualification matches played by Brazil, Cameroon, or Japan in real life. Also, you can't ever actually play in the World Cup; only qualify for it.
Assuming that you choose to play through the real-world qualifiers as a European team, you'll be placed in a group with five or six other teams and be required to play each of them twice. Artificially lengthening the Road to FIFA World Cup mode, though, are a number of mandatory friendly matches, as well as two fictional tournaments. The additional games might be a worthwhile feature of the qualification campaign if FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup boasted something resembling FIFA 06's team chemistry for you to consider, but it doesn't, so playing through them can feel like a bit of a chore. With that said, you might want to beat each of the fictional tournaments at least once if you end up in possession of a copy of FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, simply because doing so is one of only a handful of unimaginative ways that you can earn gamerscore points for your Xbox 360 player profile in the game. You'll also earn "road points" for your achievements in FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup that, at least according to the instruction manual, can be used to unlock a classic FIFA team, along with extra uniforms and soccer balls. There's no fan shop for you to spend your points in like in FIFA 06, though, and unlocking the classic FIFA team, Adidas balls, and such really doesn't appear to involve points at all.
In addition to the Road to FIFA World Cup mode, gameplay options for you and up to three friends include custom leagues and tournaments, friendly matches, and online play via Xbox Live. FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, like other Xbox Live games from Electronic Arts, uses an outdated lobby system for matchmaking that's not nearly as good as Microsoft's own. How well the game performs online after a match gets underway can vary according to your opponent, but to date we've experienced only minimal lag during matches. We're also pleased to report that, because your ranking can be affected if you disconnect from a game prematurely, we've yet to have a single opponent quit out of a game because he or she was losing. There are no online tournament or league options in FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, but it's possible to view leaderboards that compare your own statistics to those of the top 100 players, friends, or players in the same country as you.