Format: PC, Xbox, Xbox360, GC, PS2 (reviewed)

The road to the 2006 FIFA World Cup is paved with lots of options.

If you’re a fan of football, not just kicking a ball around a field, but also the tactics, player selection and complicated manoeuvres, then 2006 FIFA World Cup is definitely worth checking out. If, however, you just want to knock a ball about, then you should be looking for a different title. FIFA is great for the complete football experience, but has a very steep learning curve and unless you’re a fan or prepared to put in the long hours required to become fluent with the button combinations and multitude of tactics it will be difficult for most casual gamers to get to grips with. That said there are a plethora of options to help create the best possible setup for each gamer.

For me there are just too many controls and combos and buttons to remember, especially as they keep changing between offensive and defensive layouts. The biggest of my gripes is that that the tackle and shoot button is the same by default, meaning I would often kick the ball into the middle of nowhere because I was pressing the tackle button and managed to get control of the ball. Unless you are used to this setup I highly recommend changing the layout so that the tackle and pass buttons are the same instead.

As I said before the options are wide and varied, and not just in determining what gameplay style you’d prefer, but also in what type of game you’d like to play. You can practice, play friendly’s, have penalty shootouts and of course take on the daunting task of the 2006 FIFA World Cup itself as well as a few other play style options such as Global Challenge where you begin play at various key points in football history and can attempt to repeat or even better the results of football legend. You can also manage teams, edit players and even create your own players to rise to stardom.

Completing matches gives you reward points depending on performance and meeting certain targets. These points can then be spent to unlock a variety of extra content, from balls and boots to classic players and even such oddities as invisible walls and no infringements.

Once you start to get the hang of the controls and gameplay is what you’d expect and becomes quite comfortable, although once having mastered the basics I kept fumbling around trying to remember to change tactics and remember which button changed which tactic, and what that tactic did, and remember to try and do the various more complicated manoeuvres.

The graphics are, in general, very impressive. Unfortunately it’s the high level of graphics that makes the deficiencies so jarring. It’s obvious that a lot of time was spent trying to create an impressively large atmosphere, unfortunately the massive crowds used to accomplish this are very two dimensional and completely over the top. The match-play graphics are pretty impressive, the players’ movements are quite fluid and natural and the replays look excellent. The developers have made the players as recognisable as possible, with varying degrees of success… Wayne Rooney for instance looks more like a Picasso painting, but it’s obvious who he is.

The sound is really excellent and helps generate a great atmosphere. While navigating the various menus there is a good customisable soundtrack with EA SPORTS Trax system and decent sound effects in game, but it’s the commentating that really stands out. There is a wide variety of talk so you aren’t hearing the same things over and over and it all sounds very natural.

In amongst the multitude of options there is also the multiplayer to consider, be it with friends, over a network or online. The most fun has to be two player, getting together with some friends and taking each other on for some great goal scoring action. If you’re more competitive you can take your skills into the world arena against others in the internet as well compare your results to others around the globe.

If football is your passion and to be the World Cup champions is your dream, then you should definitely pick up a copy of this, but if you just want to kick a ball around then you may want to look for a more simple football game like FIFA Street or sensible soccer.

Gameplay: 8
Graphics: 7
Sound: 9
Multiplayer: 8