The FIFA Football games have been with us from what seems like the start of time (1994 to be exact) and most of these games have been highly successful and worthy of any football fan's time. The first and arguably only real rival for the FIFA series is Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer which has gone from strength to strength in recent years.
It's no secret that EA have a reputation for only making minor modifications to sequels and FIA has received much criticism in the past for that very reason. All things said FIFA 06 doesn't feel dramatically different to FIFA 05; its certainly no big improvement.
When you start the game for the first time you will be asked what your favourite team is then challenged to a match with that team against a fictional squad called 'Classic XI' consisting of legendry players of yesteryear such as Eric Cantona and Rudi Voller. This match allows you to get used to the new controls but feels ultimately pointless since your likely result will be a loss against this 'all star' team on your first ever play.
The main single player venture is called Manager Mode. As the name suggests the managerial aspects are a great deal more sophisticated than previous instalments in the series, giving a lot more depth to the training and financial side of your club. Your main objective is to lead your team to great things in 15 seasons of play. While some of the managerial aspects may please the hardcore, some fans will be left with the feeling of having to wade through endless screens before being able to play the next match. The game also offers to let the computer play games for you which feels a little cheap, hardly surprising since what you would be doing essentially is completing the game without even touching the main gameplay aspect of FIFA. If this is all you want from a Football game look elsewhere, to Football Manager 2006 for example.
If its gameplay you want FIFA 06 has seen some slight changes since the last instalment and not necessarily for the good. FIFA 05 was well balanced and although it could be classified as inferior to rival series Pro Evolution Soccer from a gameplay standpoint at least it was its own alternative. Now FIFA 06 claims to have 'learnt from Pro Evolution' which just feels like they made a really poor attempt to copy things, and it doesn't suit the game at all.
The biggest problem with FIFA 06's gameplay has to be the lack of support from your team mates, even despite the new Tactical Control function during matches. You get little if any runs from your team mates making it feel like you have to dribble the whole way down the pitch with one player to get anywhere in the game. This is rarely possible because dribbling feels clumsy and awkward, and you will eventually be challenged by the dull and predictable AI and as a result the game sees very little goal mouth action.
FIFA 06 claims to have 500+ fully up to date teams but this isn't entirely true. While most teams do have all their correct players and fairly accurate stat ratings all of course fully licensed as a trademark of the FIFA series, some of the late summer signings for many teams are missing which will make for some very unhappy supporters.
Graphically the game is nothing special either. Despite some key players looking almost exactly like their real life counterparts this cannot be said for the bulk of players in any given team. With Many players it's difficult to tell who they are actually supposed to be due to the sometimes awful player models. The kits look reasonably accurate but with minimal detail, the logos are very difficult to see thanks to poor textures. The pitch and some of the stadiums are the only things which stand out for any kind of praise. Sadly the often jittery frame rate lets the graphics down to the point that it's no better than the previous FIFA game.
Sound thankfully has seen some major advances since last years Fifa game. Clive Tydsley and Andy Gray are this season's commentators. The commentary is overall a lot more convincing and can often be mistaken for commentary off the TV. Each team appears to have there own chant which is a nice touch but that same chant happening for the duration of matches tends to get a little frustrating after a while. In the menus the ever trusty EA trax return with songs from various artists around the world. Some menus even have famous commentary from real life footballing events such as Wayne Rooney scoring his first ever goal.
FIFA games have always been good at capturing the essence of 'the beautiful game' not through first class gameplay but mainly through presentation. It makes you feel like a true football fan to own FIFA 06 because as you progress though the game you can unlock videos of last seasons premiership highlights and a great deal more footballing extras. If you like retro there is also the original version of FIFA World Soccer from 1994 to play just for a laugh.
Overall, few new ideas, lack of creativity and mediocre gameplay mean FIFA 06 this time round doesn't live up to the hype the series is famous for. They threw out many decent features from Fifa 05 such as First Touch and the unique free kicks in favour of poorly copied gameplay dynamics from Pro Evo, which don't work at all in FIFA. The game feels uninspired and unless you are looking forward to the sophisticated managerial aspects the single player has to offer it's difficult to find a good reason why anyone should get it. FIFA 06 will sell, it always does purely due to its unlimited licensing. However now more than ever if you haven't already started to look at Pro Evo perhaps you should, it plays much better and feels like more a game of football than FIFA 06 ever will.