Every four years, the greatest soccer teams in the world get together to compete for one of the most sought after trophies in all of sports, the World Cup. Also every four years, EA cashes in on the World Cup by releasing the official game of the Cup. The big question is whether or not you're going to want to pick up 2006 FIFA World Cup if you already own FIFA 06. The answer: it depends on how bad a case of World Cup fever you've got. It's a decent effort, but a little on the shallow side, especially when compared to the robust offerings of FIFA 06.
While the main focus of the game is playing in the World Cup, there are several other noteworthy modes. You can play an exhibition, play online, and try to complete a number of pre-set scenarios such as jumping into a game and coming from behind, holding a lead, or winning a shoot-out. If you're looking for a lengthy challenge, you can take any of the 125 teams in the game and guide them through the qualifying stages of the World Cup, as well. Should you just want to play the World Cup, you can not only choose any of the 32 teams that qualified in real life, to simulate the current Cup, but you can also add teams that didn't qualify and remove qualifiers to create your dream scenario.
2006 FIFA World Cup plays very similar to FIFA 06, which is understandable, since they were released less than a year apart. The controls are mapped out sensibly, and while there are a few weird button combinations to press for some of the advanced moves, most of the moves you need are easy to perform. The computer tends to automatically switch the player you are controlling far too often, but this can be adjusted in the poorly designed menus. Ah, the menus. Even simple things, like choosing the speed of the match are botched in the difficult to navigate menus. Choices are worded poorly, there aren't really any sliders to adjust gameplay, and some options, such as speed of play can only be adjusted when you start the Cup.
Back to the action on the field, where passes are crisp and your teammates even make some intelligent runs. The game does suffer from some spotty A.I. like when computer controlled players will dribble around in circles, back 15 yards, and then charge forward, with no apparent goal in mind. It's not like you see in real soccer, where one team will work the ball backwards or side to side in an effort to regroup and find a point of attack, it's just one player acting moronic. You'll find yourself holding the tackle button down trying to get the ball, often to no avail.
Scoring is fairly balanced, as the scores are certainly higher than you'd see in real life, but they're generally not absurd either. Maintaining possession, changing up your strategy on the fly with the d-pad (another poorly constructed feature), and making the most of set pieces are key to victory. Free kicks are difficult to perform well, but that's nothing new to anyone who's a veteran of the FIFA series.
Online play is included, and like any EA game, you've got to surrender an email to be spammed or cough up a few bucks if you want to play online. Once online, the game plays well, though lag was an issue every now and then, as was spotty voice chat. People seem to love the lounge mode in FIFA 06, so it makes a return here in FIFA World Cup. The game tracks your record against everyone in the room, allows you to take control of territories by winning games, and even allows you to level the playing field with "cheap shots" like taking off an opponents star player, or lowering the whole team's stamina.
Visually FIFA World Cup has a few visual differences from FIFA 06, but really, they look pretty similar. Before a match starts, you'll view the Earth from outer space, and then the camera drops towards Germany like a meteorite, all the way down to field level. This effect is pretty cool, but after a dozen or so viewings, it's nothing special. The stadiums are filled with flag-waving fans, confetti, and for some reason, hundreds of balloons. I've watched every match of this year's World Cup, and I have yet to see a single balloon, so the prevalence of balloons in this game is hard to understand.
The players look good, as do the stadiums, but in both cases the default camera angle does little to showcase either. FIFA World Cup does suffer from a rather unsteady framerate, especially during field level views, like before free kicks. The poor framerate doesn't ruin the game, but it's very noticeable.
The announcers are competent, but the number of Cup-specific phrases they have really could have been increased. Should you decide to play as Brazil, you'll hear the announcers rattle off the same riff about what years they've won the Cup every single game. The game's soundtrack features an eclectic mix of artists, but as opposed to featuring multiple genres, most of it is dance and hip-hop. It's still a heck of a lot better than the normal EA Trax out there, but it's not as good as what you would normally expect to hear from a FIFA game.
2006 FIFA World Cup is more robust than the typical World Cup videogame, but even then, its feature set is far below that of FIFA 06. That said, it's only $30, so if you don't own FIFA 06, and you're hankering for a football fix while watching this year's World Cup, it's worth a look.