So it's almost here again. The pinnacle of sport, the soccer/football World Cup. For about a decade now EA has dominated the football genre in terms of licensing with its exclusive FIFA deal and many of the world's most famous leagues. However recently an unofficial game, Pro Evolution Soccer, has challenged EA's dominance of the genre and is now seen as the premiere football game. EA is quickly playing catch up and have turned FIFA from an arcade style game into a simulation with excellent results. This continues in the official World Cup game, and surprisingly, EA has added a huge amount of depth to the title, but as expected it does come up short in a few areas.
FWC: Germany 2006 contains many game modes to choose from but obviously the most complete one is to play through the upcoming World Cup tournament. However there is a lot more meat to the game than just that. You can setup your own custom tournament and play through a league style format or play an exhibition game. The tournament itself is also in depth as you can choose to either join the tournament at the Finals stage or play through the qualifiers in each FIFA confederation zone. This allows those teams who did not qualify to make it and gives the game much more replay value and authenticity.
This is of course the second game from the FIFA franchise on the X360, however it is the first to be released in Australia so we were of course expecting a huge improvement on last generations titles. We were a little disappointed but overall EA has done a good job of using the power of the next generation console. The mechanics of the FIFA series has once again gone down the simulation path and the game plays much slower than what you would have seen in the World Cup game four years ago. It's all about precision passing, and tactics rather than screaming through the defense from your own goal line to score an unrealistic goal. The thing is that when you pull off a stunning move to beat the offside trap, you not only have a clear shot on goal, but feel a reward that not many other soccer games can provide.
In terms of licensing you're not likely to be found wanting here, unless you specifically want club teams which are being kept under wraps until FIFA 2007. However almost every country in the world is represented in the FIFA confederations and the qualifying tournaments reflect the exact structure of how they played out. If that seems a bit boring you can mix up the qualifying groups in each zone but you can't move teams from zone to zone so Australia can't play in UEFA for instance.
EA has also gone to a lot of trouble in carrying the media side of the World Cup through to the game as well. Throughout qualifying you will get official quotes and comments from the various managers (with real world names) and a magazine every month which details results and information about the previous month's qualifiers. It's all aesthetic but it's a nice touch. We can't see it being overly useful in the long term for those who continue to play the game well after the World Cup however.
All the official strips are included with all their sponsorships but Australia's strip is the one that the qualifying tournament was completed in, not the strip which was unveiled just a few short months ago. The stadiums are also included from Germany and there are many others from around the globe used for the qualifying tournament. Each stadium looks stunningly lifelike and EA has done a stellar job in capturing the World Cup atmosphere in this game. From the cheering fans, to team chants, to stadium announcements about lights being left on, it's all here.
Which leads us into the presentation of the title and again EA gets full marks. The aforementioned crowd and stadiums look stunning but what really shines are the players. This is by far the most life like replication of some of the world's most famous players ever seen. You can literally pick players by their looks. Not once did we have to look at the name display to see who had the ball. Also between play if you don't press buttons you will see emotional reactions to what is going on such as players having a small tiff behind play, a goalkeeper yelling at his defenders and players moving back for a kick. It does get old quickly, but the fact EA went to this trouble speaks volumes about how the developers felt about this game.
Of course there are a few problems with the game such as the fact it's limited to country teams only (but to be honest and fair, that really was to be expected) and of course once the World Cup is over, chances are you won't want to touch it anymore. However this is the best World Cup licensed game ever produced and EA has made a huge effort to give us a slight glimpse at what FIFA 2007 will look like on the next generation consoles. Konami and EA are continuing to fight for our football gaming dollar and the big winner is the gamer.