FIFA Soccer 06 Review (Xbox)

An interesting thing happens when a video game company starts to feel some pressure. For years, the FIFA series has been an unrealistic mess that relied on the fact that it is the only franchise with licensed clubs and players. EA expected (with good reason) that many soccer fans would ignore the lack of realistic play and would be satisfied with being able to play with your favorite club. Thankfully, competition arrived in the form of Konami's Winning Eleven series. The competition has caused EA to create a more realistic soccer game to please true soccer fans. This question remains: Is FIFA 06 realistic enough to knock Winning Eleven off of the top seat?

No matter how you feel about the FIFA series, it is undeniable that EA makes a very pretty game. FIFA 06 includes twenty-nine real and fifteen generic stadiums in all. One thing that frustrated me in other games had to do with using the wrong stadiums in a franchise or season mode. For example, most soccer games do not have versions of some of the lower tiered club's stadiums like Aston Villa's or Middlesbrough's pitch. With other soccer games, I was forced to either assign a stadium from outside the English Premier League that looked nothing like their stadiums or make a historic stadium like Old Trafford or Highbury as their home. It's unreasonable to expect EA to include every stadium for every team, so including generic pitches that resemble the real life stadiums is a great idea. This game also features some of the best lighting and grass textures of any sports game I've ever played.

The player models are decent, but there are a few issues. First, there is a strange glow or shine on each player during close up shots. This may have something to do with the stadium lighting, but the glow on each player looks strange. Regarding the player faces, EA is hit-or-miss once again. In all of their games, EA seems to get the star players like Thierry Henry or Ronaldo spot on. When it comes to the lesser-known players, EA will usually assign a generic face or make a generally poor attempt at creating one.

When it comes to sound, FIFA 06 has it all. The crowd is extremely loud and responds to the on-field action at the appropriate times. There are also many team specific chants. Clive Tydsley and Andy Gray take over announcing duties this year, and form an impressive duo. There seems to be a large amount of play-by-play dialogue and their lines do not repeat often. I wish Andy Gray would speak more often, but the commentary doesn't annoy and that is the most that can be asked for in most sports games today.

I have to give it to EA because the on-field action has been greatly improved. In previous versions of the FIFA series, the AI rarely (if ever) took shots from outside of the box. This year, if the CPU has a scoring chance outside of the box, it will take it. There are also a large variety of shots that will occur outside the box. The more accurate strikers will fire accurate scoring chances at your goalie and have a legitimate chance at scoring. Your back-line defense is extremely important when attempting to block these shots. You will see a large variety of shots, and defensively, it keeps you on your toes.

The "Skill Stick" from last year's version is still in the game and while I like the idea behind it, I am not a fan of how it was implemented. By moving the right analog stick, the player will execute a number of moves - including side stepping and pulling the ball back. The problem is that once you press the right analog stick, an animation kicks in automatically, and it is difficult to cancel it. That said, the "Skill Stick" is still a great feature. I just wish that it was a little more user friendly and fluid.

An example of the improved AI is the use of lob passes to advance the ball up-field at the higher difficulty levels. Past versions of FIFA frustrated me to no end because the AI always used direct passes to advance the ball. In FIFA 06, not only will the AI use lob passes, but it will take them from different areas on the field and from places where real-life teams will take them. The corner and free kick system has been redone and it resembles the Winning Eleven system. Corners use a power bar and arrow while free kicks just use a power bar, and I think this is the best possible system for these kind of kicks. Another positive is the way the AI adjusts to defensive pressure on a throw-in. In other versions of the FIFA series and in other soccer games, you could step in front of a CPU player accepting a throw-in and easily steal the pass. This year, if you step in front of the attacking player, the thrower will adjust and throw the ball long.

doesn't include sliders of any kind, and there is a danger in this. Everybody has a different understanding of what a realistic and fun sports game is. While I may feel that the goalkeepers are too effective, someone else may feel that the goalkeeping is just perfect and that is why sliders are needed. FIFA's main competitor, Winning Eleven, doesn't have sliders either, but there is a huge difference in the AI as you raise the difficulty level, and there are less AI flaws, so it is able to get away with that. In FIFA 06, there isn't a big difference between the "Professional" and "World Class" difficulty levels, and because of that, both levels contain the same AI flaws. Many of the AI-related issues could be fixed with the addition of sliders.

The ball physics in FIFA 06 appear to be slightly off. The ball has a "ping-pong" effect when headed or during a direct pass. During headers, the ball will always rocket off of a player's head, no matter the position of the player or how much contact is made. The headers also appear to be too accurate. Another AI problem occurs toward the end of the games. Using Manchester City, I was up 1-0 against Wigan with 10 minutes left. On World Class difficulty, I proceeded to hold the ball and pass it between two of my players for the entire 10 minutes plus stoppage time. I didn't move both players and the AI never once applied any pressure or showed any urgency. No matter what the team strategy is, the AI should adjust to the game situation, and the CPU never attacked or aggressively tried to get possession of the ball. Now, I know that most people will never just pass the ball between two players just to kill the clock - but it is sad that the AI never adjusts to this tactic and tries to win the game.

The two biggest flaws in this year's game are the lack of fouls and off-sides calls. Fouls are rarely called this year, and they only occur if someone executes a sliding tackle. This seriously takes away from the realism of the game because there are no consequences to constantly applying pressure. Also, it appears that every foul results in a yellow card. There is no difference in punishment if I take down someone from behind or from the side. Off-sides calls rarely occur and are never called against the CPU. This isn't a case of the CPU being off-sides and the ref never calling it. It's a case of EA failing to program AI that makes realistic mistakes.

My most frustrating problem with this game is the substitution AI. The problem is the CPU never substitutes and when I say never… I mean never. I played over 30 games and the CPU did not substitute once. Any person can watch a game on Fox Soccer Channel or GolTV and see that substitutions do occur often. I just can't understand how EA could fail at this so badly.

I was also disappointed to see that there isn't a season mode in FIFA 06. There is a tournament mode, which allows you to create a league and replicate the English Premier League or French Division One; but there are two problems with this. First, you can only control eight teams in the league. Now, eight teams may seem like a lot, but this limitation could prevent the user from playing or watching a pivotal game in the season. This limitation really is just a pet peeve of mine, as I enjoy being able to play any and every important game in a season. The second issue is that you cannot create a league with in-season tournaments like the FA Cup or the UEFA Champions League, so it makes playing a season feel a little incomplete. A suggestion to EA: Add a multiplayer franchise mode and the ability to play or watch games involving teams other than the ones the user controls.

Speaking of a franchise mode, Manager Mode in FIFA 06 is an absolute blast to play. You begin by picking your team from a limited amount of teams. All of you Chelsea fans will be disappointed because most of the teams available are mid-level teams. I like this, because it makes you earn the opportunity to coach an upper-echelon team. The next step is to choose how to upgrade your staff with the available budget allotted. This isn't realistic, because it's entirely based on money. A better staff selection process would provide you with a number of potential coaches, scouts and negotiators to choose from and force you to negotiate a contract with them. Choosing a sponsor is the next step, and it a great addition to this mode. Depending on your team, you are given a choice of sponsors who will pay your team a per-game payment and bonuses should the team perform well. Manager Mode also includes all of the league cup and country cup tournaments.

My favorite aspect of Manager Mode is responding to the press and different situations surrounding your club. For example, the press may ask you to comment on rumors that your team is unhappy with the atmosphere surrounding the club. You must choose one of three responses and your choice can affect the team's morale and your job security. Managing Manchester City, my team morale was already low after a 3-0 loss to Sunderland. I decided to blast them in the local paper for their poor play. After my comments, team morale took another hit and the next game, my team lost to Liverpool 7-0. Needless to say, I was fired the next day.

The only negative I found in Manager Mode is the inability to see results and stats from other teams in the leagues. Some people may not consider this important, but the lack of this feature can affect scouting for potential transfers. I hate having to completely rely on ratings when considering signing a potential player, and would love to see stats that help me make a decision.

The beautiful thing about improving a game offline is that usually those same improvements show up online. This seems to be the case with FIFA 06. From the few random games I was able to play, I saw that people who used strategy to advance the ball were successful. The users who tried to run and gun and were reckless were penalized. Most of my games were lag free - however, there was quite a bit of lag during penalty kicks. The options are pretty much the same as last year and the lobbies are still divided by region. One strange thing - only two weeks after the game was released, the lobbies were pretty empty. There was no one in the North American lobby and only five people in the Europe lobby. That is rare for an EA Sports game.

is a great improvement over previous versions. That said, there are some glaring flaws that prevent this game from being a truly great title. It is inexcusable to omit adding intelligent substitution and foul AI. If you can ignore those issues, you will find that FIFA 06 is a beautiful-looking game with many enjoyable game modes.

FIFA Soccer 06 Score
out of 10