It’s known as football the world over, but soccer in the United States, and for whatever reason it’s relatively unpopular to Americans. However, that didn’t stop Electronic Arts from releasing FIFA ‘06 here for those who do have genuine interest in the sport. FIFA (which stands for Federation Internacionale de Football Association) is the latest in a long line of soccer games from EA and it packs a huge roster of real players and teams from all over the globe. Soccer fans will rejoice because this game has everything you love about soccer and more.While you may not think it when you first play it, FIFA ‘06 has some pretty nice graphics. Now it’s nothing that fan boys will point at when trying to prove the PS2 has the best looking games, but they’re good nonetheless. Consider this: every team represented has to have their players and stadium (grass variations and shadows included) modeled to something that resembles the real thing and that’s no small task. The highlights and replays from every angle look great - they’ve got the whole televised look to them. Close-ups suffer somewhat, but you’ll forgive them in the end. Overall, the visuals do a pretty good job of representing the game just like you might see it on television except without the annoying ads in the background.
Like the visuals the audio isn’t what would be considered fabulous, but it does do a good job of capturing the essence of World Class soccer competitions. In every stadium, you’ll hear the crowd chanting and wildly cheering on goals just like in real life. Even the announcers are good, they’re not so intrusive and annoying that you want to turn them off, unless you’re losing and they just keep piling on you, but you’d only have yourself to blame for that. Then of course, no EA game would be complete without their trademark of musical tracks during every single menu. The song selection is long and quality varies for the player, but the music was pretty good and at times I felt that I’d much rather hear the music than listen to the announcers, but maybe that’s just me.
Key to the success of any sports game is the way your player controls; in the case of FIFA ‘06 it’s good, but it could use some work. The learning curve is really steep. This is not a game where you can expect to really mount up the score like you might in Madden. Every button on the controller is used, and maybe in this case it’s not really a good thing. Now, again, this game has a steep learning curve, so maybe it was just me, but it was pretty hard to do something as simple as steal the ball and pass the ball while in your opponents zone because instead you just end up kicking the ball right over the goalies head and out of bounds, in effect causing a turnover. Now, that’s just one example, but it’s a good example of how the controls don’t work as well as you want them to because tapping buttons repeatedly will net you results like these.
This really isn’t the biggest problem though, the biggest problem in my opinion was the balance of the game. You see, in theory when EA assigned a numbered ranking to each team those with higher rankings would be better than the other teams with abysmal numbers. It didn’t seem to pan out that way here. You could take the best team and match up with the worst team, and the outcome isn’t even always leaning in your favor. It’s not that the game is unbalanced, but the computer AI is so efficient that they barely leave room for errors. You should have a fighting chance with any team, but when your team has a higher rating than another you should be able to dominate them at every facet of the game, this isn’t necessarily the case here. Otherwise what’s the point of rating a team? To top it off your teammates are no help at all, you are forced to rely on the computer automatically switching your defender fast enough. If that doesn’t happen you’re out of position and the teammates that you’re not controlling don’t do anything beyond standing there, you’re forced to do everything as the computer switches you over. In most games if you hold the advantage it’s because your players are better, here it’s so hard because your players don’t help as much. Again, with practice a lot of this can be remedied, but it really requires a lot of practice, unless of course you’re familiar with the previous FIFA games in which case you will hold an automatic advantage over first time players, such as myself.
Now, FIFA ‘06 does have an incredibly deep Manager Mode where you create your own manager and take control of any of various clubs available throughout the world. From there you can set your roster up, hire new coaches to develop your team and even sign contracts with sponsors to help your club bring in more money. Take your club through the ranks of whatever league they participate in and watch the earnings and your status as a manager rise, and you’ve got 15 seasons to work on it! If you don’t perform up to the owners standards you will be fired and forced to look for a new job. It’s not as deep as franchise modes from other games, but with scouting and playing the actual game there’s more than enough to enjoy.
Like most other sports games with multiplayer games you’ve got infinite replay value in FIFA ‘06. That is, if you can get other friends to sit down with you and play soccer. There are plenty of extras to unlock which will give you incentive to keep playing including all time great players and teams. Most sports games are geared towards fanatics and none come more fanatical than soccer fans, so for them especially there are probably few games better.
For anyone looking to experiment with some soccer action this may be a rough start because the game so difficult to pick up right away. It’s nowhere near as easy to pick up and play as some other sports games. The fact that so many soccer matches are low scoring affairs (doesn’t every match end 2-1?) is probably the main reason it just doesn’t appeal to the masses in the United States and you’re going to get equal results here if you’ve got reasonably decent playing skills. The game is just plain hard. You’ve really got to be willing to invest a lot of time practicing and losing before you can become a winner. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. You don’t want the game to be a pushover, but you also don’t want the game to be so absurdly difficult that you end up repeatedly throwing your controller in frustration. Overall it’s a finely crafted game, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
If you hear the word football and you automatically think World Cup instead of Super Bowl, then this is definitely the right game for you. Anyone thinking of experimenting with the world’s most popular sport may want to try before you purchase FIFA ‘06. This is not the right game for everyone, but it is the right game for many of you. Fans of previous versions will be right at home. In the meantime there’s always EA’s other soccer title FIFA Street for some faster paced arcade style action.
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