FIFA 06 review

As we enter the new footie games season, NGC kits up for EA's offering

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You are Wayne Rooney. 'This is your moment', goes the opening gambit. If you actually were Wayne Rooney, upon receiving a perfect through ball, you'd expect to race clear of the defender and smash the ball into the top corner.

Here, playing against Swindon Town in the FA Cup, 37-year-old clogger Alan Reeves will catch our Wayne up and 'your moment' will be gone. Unless of course 'your moment' is passing back to Paul Scholes.

This chronic lack of pace is the one thing that prevents FIFA 06 from being a very good football game. It doesn't matter whether you're Thierry Henry, Robinho or Michael Owen, if you are running with the ball 30 yards from goal, the opposing defender will have a chance to get a tackle in.

Of course, as is always the case with FIFA, for the first five minutes of play you'll be convinced that this is the best football game ever (Well, you will after you've sat through the excruciating opening movie which proclaims that football is more than just a game, it's 'our faith').

First you'll hear some old commentary for a classic goal and while it's never of a Barry 'look at his face' Davies class, it is always good to hear the sound of the commentator's wonder as Rooney smashes home his first ever goal for Everton.

Then it's time to pick your team, and of course all the real player names are here, but it's the strips that really impress.

From Newcastle to Norwich and Northampton, every detail is spot on - the players' names are on the back of the shirts, the sponsor is correct and any new swooshes or stripes that have been added for the new season are in there. EA really knows how to push the right football fan buttons.

So it's a shame that this level of detail hasn't been applied to individual players' attributes like speed.

Still, once you get over the fact that Owen is not going to race past Chesterfield's right back, you can play a decent game of football. The passing is crisp, the players' movement is smooth and there are some skill moves to learn.

The best news is that the Off the Ball feature has been ditched, so instead of having to control your striker's runs with the C-stick while also controlling the player on the ball, your number 9 will make his run automatically.

This is good because as any linesman will testify, it is always difficult to look at two places at once.

This doesn't mean that FIFA 06 is easy - the new ability that enables teams to call a second defender in to tackle the man on the ball means that you'll often have two men to beat when you're running down the wing.

So you have to adopt an Italian-style patient approach and pass the ball across the midfield, waiting for your striker to make a run. Then if your route to goal is blocked, you'll have to knock it back.

If you spot an opportunity to play a through ball, you'll have to release it straight away as the opposition defence are drilled in the George Graham school of the offside trap.

Delay a second and you'll be caught, although the linesman will blow a tantalising second late, making you believe you are through on goal with only the keeper to beat.

Still if the through balls aren't working, you can try the new chipped pass over the top or get the ball out wide. Not only is heading by far the easiest way to score in FIFA 06, but the crossing is the best we've seen in a football game for a long time.

You have loads of control as you can use the power bar to send a deep cross straight over the keeper's head or play an early, low cross to the near post. Or you can even play a square through ball for your striker to tap in. Brilliant.

The reason heading the ball is the easiest way to score is that unless you're one-on-one with the keeper, shooting is quite tricky. Directing the ball is easy, but like the centre backs, every keeper is outstanding. So most of your top corner-bound free kicks or long-range volleys will be clawed away.

Still, when you do head home to go one goal up, you can exploit a bit of cheaty AI to win the game 1-0 every time.

We now know that FIFA is a patient game of short, square passes, but here you can pass the ball along your back line without being challenged. So if you're a goal ahead you can just pass the ball from defender to defender and the opposing strikers won't close you down straight away and try to get it off you.

Sure it's boring and not exactly in the spirit of the game, but if you're in a situation where you have to win one match to achieve promotion to the Premiership, who wouldn't play a bit dirty?

Along with the slow strikers, it's another thing that prevents FIFA 06 from becoming what it could be.

The football itself is very good and with the amount of challenges on offer you could be busy playing until the end of the current season without getting bored. And by that time there will be a World Cup and probably another game to worry about.

Whatever happens, the basics of a really good game are here. Just sort out that silly flaw and the players' speed and we'll have a cracking football game. But after more than 15 years of FIFA games, we shouldn't have to be saying this sort of thing.

More info

Platform"Xbox","PS2","GameCube","Xbox 360","PSP","DS","PC"
US censor rating"Everyone","Everyone","Everyone","Everyone","Everyone","Everyone","Everyone"
UK censor rating"","","","","","",""
Release date1 January 1970 (US), 1 January 1970 (UK)