Right. I'll start this review by admitting that the duration will not be that of an average review. The stint available to me with Fifa 06 was fairly limited, but this in fact turned out to be a blessing. Read on if you want to know why.
When you first power up Fifa 06, you are treated to the standard EA level of presentation - In this case a fancy intro involving the best players of your favourite national side. This intro blends into the menu system in a similar fashion to that of NBA Live 06, allowing you to play the game in a limited sense. In Live 06 you are given the opportunity to shoot a few hoops with your favourite player, and it's fairly standard stuff with Fifa 06, the game giving you about half-a-team of players with which to shoot around with against one unfortunate goalkeeper.
Once into the actual menu you are given fairly limited choices, a trait that has fast become synonymous with all of EA Sport's Xbox 360 launch titles. You have the choice to play standard exhibition matches as you would expect, as well as the "Road to the World Cup" mode.
The "Road to the World Cup" mode is the party piece of this offering of Fifa, and on the whole its a fairly comprehensive representation of an international team's journey to the World Cup. It includes not only the qualifying, group stages and final tournament, but also the various warm up tournaments that national teams can opt into as they approach the qualifiers.
It's worth mentioning at this point that any of the modes available to play will be done so only as international teams. Yes, you heard correctly - no club teams. This is not overly surprising considering that the subtitle of the game is "The Road to the World Cup". Still, whether this was to take full advantage of EA's lucrative World Cup license or whether it was to rush the game out for launch is debatable. After all, EA Sports' Fifa 98 was a "Road to the World Cup" edition and that featured both national and club teams. Make what you will of that.
Still, none of this is important. Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer series proved that gameplay makes the difference and not the amount of teams in a game. Unfortunately Fifa 06's developers have managed to produce a game that is almost, but not entirely unlike Pro Evolution Soccer or the quality it represents. Brutal honesty would force me to say that this is the worst football (or soccer in the US) game I've played the in the last five years. Player movements feel robotic and pre-determined, and the shooting system has little touch or feel, with almost no feedback to let you know where you are going wrong concerning missed shots.
You'll feel this distance in almost every element involved in playing a match. You never really feel like anything you do has much impact on what is going on on-screen. Any goals you might score often feel the result of blind luck more than player skill, which only leads you to surmise that you do not have to be any good at games to beat this one.
If there is any kind of redeeming features at work in Fifa 06, it is EA's unfaltering presentation. Commentary is simply fantastic, announcers sounding believable and occasionally injecting some interesting trivia into matches.
Visually the game moves randomly between senseless to gorgeous to totally excessive. Player likenesses are spot on concerning major nation's players, and stadiums look stunning and go some way to representing the sheer virtuosity of their real-life counterparts. These superlatives aside, the visuals fall over in some fairly unusual areas. One such area are the pitches on which the games are played, in that they more closely resemble forests. EA made a big deal about each blade of grass being individually rendered, but to make sure everyone notices they have made those blades of grass, for lack of a more clever term, huge. If the groundskeepers at Old Trafford allowed the pitch to get into a similar state, they would likely be flayed. Which is, oddly enough, a punishment that EA executives should have considered bestowing upon their in-house developers when sampling the result of their work.
This may sound harsh but it really does almost feel like EA Sports want the 360 to fail. While the 360 versions of Madden and Tiger Woods offer better gameplay than NBA Live 06 and Fifa, both are flawed and inferior when compared to their original Xbox counterparts in every department except visuals.
As such, Fifa 06 doesn't stack up well compared to the whole pool of 360 titles either, probably being the weakest link of all. Their are plenty of other games that warrant your money before this one, and even a bargain bin price could not persuade me to part with my hard-earned cash.
If you absolutely have to have a football (or soccer) title, then you don't have much choice at the moment on a next-gen front, though I would still go as far as to recommend an original Xbox Pro Evolution Soccer 5 to 360 owners who have the luxury of a hard drive. It won't look quite as spectacular Fifa 06, but it plays a hundred times better and doesn't leave you looking out for Anacondas roaming the jungle masquerading as a football pitch that you'll be playing on.