Wednesday 3 May 2006
Remember Baddiel and Skinner singing about "Thirty years of hurt" during their classic England anthem Three Lions? That's how we feel about EA's FIFA series - it feels as if it's been that long since we played a semi-decent version of the series.
EA has obviously taken note of all the criticism directed at FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup 2006, and the result is the best soccer game (that isn't Pro Evolution Soccer) we've played in ages. Thank goodness for that.
Lots of new ideas, from the subtle to the overt, fill the rich gameplay in FIFA WC. On 360, it borders on the sublime. From the Match of the Day-style match intros to the dynamic replays, mad celebrations, magnificently detailed players and a carnival atmosphere in the stadia - this is presentation dynamite. EA has done a top-notch job capturing the essence of the World Cup, the biggest event in the entire sporting calendar.
New shooting mechanics mean that instead of using your power bar to place strikes, you'll instead determine the angle of a shot by holding down the shoot button. It's a vastly improved method, and results in some realistic-looking screamers. Factors like how closely you are marked and distance from goal also play their part.
We soon noticed that goalmouth action was more dynamic, so shots often cannoned back off the crossbar or were tipped onto the post by keepers only to be blasted into the back of the net by our strikers. It all helps get the adrenaline pumping.
We're even happy with the concept of the outrageously talented star players. Give the ball to a Rooney, a Zidane or a Henry and you'll feel invincible. Okay, so you'll still have to be handy with a control pad to whiz past the opposition, but the concept succeeds in conveying the irrepressible feeling that you're controlling a genius.
While default difficulty is boredom central, the good news if that if you ramp difficulty up to Pro or World Class, FIFA WC's matches become close, tight-knit, exciting affairs.
Referees also tend to play advantage fairly intelligently and there weren't too many occasions when we felt too hard done by. Occasionally, a glaring lapse in the AI does pop up and spoil the illusion. We're talking ludicrously ineffective free kicks, punts into touch for no discernable reason and the odd strike on goal thwacked so high you'd think you were playing Rugby 06.
Some classy commentary from reliable punditmeisters Tyldesley and Townsend is also worth a mention, though it's still not as context-sensitive as you'd imagine for a next-gen product. Still, between them these two certainly conjure up an atmosphere that's almost as balmy as that famous night in Barcelona.
Gameplay feels smoother than it has in years. Surprisingly, the 360 version (while redeeming itself through liberal amounts of eye candy) isn't quite as slick to play as current-gen versions, given that EA appears to be using the same core engine to power all four.
Above: Any kids out there wanting to be keepers, protect your near post better than this
Players (who admittedly look phenomenal up close) look oddly jerky and unrealistic from afar next to their current-gen equivalents, and seem to pass with all the finesse of Momo Sissoko. In the end, we actually found using the through ball to play the majority of our more elaborate passes was a much more successful method.
For all its qualities, World Cup 2006 isn't faultless. It's still frustratingly hard to keep shots down. The lack of finesse when it comes to truly spectacular goals also grates. Although we bagged a few spectacular volleys, we're pretty sure it's technically impossible to score from 35 yards, never mind the halfway line.
Tricks are also still a weak point, and don't seem particularly well implemented into the gameplay. Ho hum. Rant over, then, because we certainly don't want to end what has turned out to be a surprisingly glowing review on a negative.
There's little doubt that FIFA WC is a far superior game to both 06 and the execrable Road to World Cup. It also succeeds admirably in capturing the spirit of the planet's most loved tourney. Pele, Diego and Bobby would be proud - take a bow EA.