FIFA Soccer 06 (Xbox) review
"Frankie doesn't do this. Instead he gift-wraps the ball and gives it to Roy Keane. Football fans: think on this a little. Frank Lampard -- Frank bloody Lampard -- making an error so basic that I'd blush about doing it for my local Sunday league team. Despite hefty price tags and huge collection of stats, Fifa lets the best players in the world sometimes play like pre-schoolers."
It's the 72nd minute, and you've been destroying your best friend's team mercilessly. Controlling the formidable Manchester United against the mighty Chelsea, you've submitted nothing but complete dominance to the game. Scholes has smashed a 40-yard bullet against the apex, Ronaldo has had a blatant penalty decision turned down and when Giggs danced into the box to put the ball away with a cheeky chip, he was flagged offside. You lead by one goal; a goal you scored in the opening minutes when Ruud van Nistelrooy powered in a volley on the edge of the area. You're in cruise control.
But disaster strikes!
Robben has surged down the wing and delivered a centimetre-perfect cross right onto the awaiting head of John Terry. Van de Saar is left flapping as the ball is powered into the bottom left hand corner. It's one-one, and you are beyond displeased.
Why can you summon up such emotion from a video game? Because when Fifa 2006 works well, it works very well.
Kick-off is squandered when Wayne Rooney tries to take on the world with a run right down the middle of the pitch. Thanks to the fancy little tricks he can perform by nudging the right analogue stick whilst in possession of the ball, he skips his way through a good deal before Wayne Bridge cuts him down with a viscous sliding tackle. The ball is passed around the defence for a while whilst Chelsea regain some possession and then slid right to the feet of Frank Lampard. Looking for a deep, probing ball forward, he instead mis-kicks it and the ball is easily intercepted by the vigilant Roy Keane.
Taxi for Lampaaaaaaaard!
You have the ball again, and you waste no time. Hitting the right buttons on your pad makes your fellow team-mates surge forwards as fast as their little legs will carry them. Giggs has already blitzed past his marker, and you sail the ball over to him. With a squeeze of the shoulder trigger to inject even more pace into his run, you're away! You avoid a desperate sliding tackle by flicking the ball up on your instep and hopping over the extended leg and find yourself in the penalty box. Rather than go for glory, you square the ball back across the goal mouth where Rooney awaits you. The barrel-chested ogre has an easy tap in. 2-1 with 87 minutes gone. You are pleased.
But your opponent is not. You see, when Fifa '06 is bad, it's downright depressing.
Your chum had to contend with a comedy of errors he'll insist while you nod and smile and gloat, but the fact remains he did. Take Rooney's mad dash from kick-off. All the spinning the ball away and other fancy chicanery was all very pretty, but the main reason he held on to the ball for so long was because the computer would not let the desired player be selected for your opposition to control. Like all football games since the beginning of time (except Libero Grande, but we shan't speak of that) you can cycle through your team to take control of the one you desire. But not if Fifa has anything to do with it! More often than not, you will be caught pounding the cycle button relentlessly, scrolling through a slew of players you don't bloody wan't to control trying desperately to find the one you do. While this is happening, the other team has free reign.
By the time he would have got control of Bridge, a lot of damage had been done. He had to take a risk and hit a dangerous sliding tackle to try and dispossess me of the ball. Dangerous because that close to the area could concede a free kick, and whilst the ease of which these things are scored with have been much regressed from earlier Fifa games, they remain a threat.
But the tackle was good and no foul was given. The ball was played around into space while a counter attack was set up, and finally slid to Frank Lampard in the middle of the pitch. Seeing Drogba on the run, the plan was to slip in a sneaky pass, releaseing him past the back four and springing the offside trap.
Frankie doesn't do this. Instead he gift-wraps the ball and gives it to Roy Keane. Football fans: think on this a little. Frank Lampard -- Frank bloody Lampard -- making an error so basic that I'd blush about doing it for my local Sunday league team. Despite hefty price tags and huge collection of stats, Fifa lets the best players in the world sometimes play like pre-schoolers.
Why? Because passing is a gamble. Every last ball that leaves your foot is a risk that shouldn't exist.
Teams will ignore your request to square a ball back to your defence sometimes and instead try to put together a pass with a tightly marked player. When a striker is away and open, teams will ignore your frantic pleas to give them the damn ball and backheel it to the player behind him instead. This shouldn't be, yet there it is. It doesn't happen every ball, it doesn't even happen often, but it always seems to happen when it matters the most. It's done it here, and because of it possession is lost and Giggs surging down the wing.
But even here questions are thrown up. Because attacking players will always always react quicker to probing balls than defenders will. Strikers'll get to loose-ball scrambles quicker, respond to rebounds faster and generally make defenders look 42-year-old chain smokers at times rather than the professional athletes they're supposed to represent.
And a few second later, it's all over. 2-1 with only a few minutes left. Despite a valiant last assault, I win again and the gloating commences. But the victory is somewhat shallow because I didn't really win; I had an ally in the sometimes shoddy interface that Fifa continues to employ.
Just as worrying is the fact that Fifa '06 is simply Fifa '05 dressed up. These same flaws plagued the earlier games and yet EA seem reluctant to fix them, concentrating instead on giving their franchise football licence a fresh coat of paint each year rather than making it the heavyweight game it should be.
Last year Fifa '05 looked like it was closing the gap on the superior Pro Evolution series. This year, Fifa '06 comes to a standstill. Same as it ever was.
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