For such a new system, it's surprising that the PSP already has two soccer games; 989's World Tour Soccer and Electronic Art's FIFA soccer. WTS was a pleasant surprise, and was actually better than its console counterpart. FIFA Soccer isn't as good as the console version but that's primarily because FIFA on the PS2 is markedly better than WTS was. It shows a lot of promise, but also the effects of a shortened development cycle – a problem that plagues many of the early PSP games.
There are several different play modes, including: Head to Head play, challenges mode, season, mid-season, Custom Season modes, Tournaments, and Custom Tournaments. The season mode is a bit misleading, since you can only play the games during the season, and can't transfer players, or manage your team. Most people aren't looking for a robust franchise mode to take with them on the road, but a little more depth would have been nice. The mid-season mode is a nice feature for hardcore fans, but it's so difficult to follow soccer in North America that very few people will even care that they can pick up a season at its mid-point.
Of course, FIFA soccer has all the licensing that you'd expect out of an EA Sports title. There are 350+ international club teams, all with real players and uniforms. You can unlock licensed gear by accomplishing certain tasks during the game, and finally, after years of waiting, you can unlock a referee as a bonus! Awesome!
All of the basics for a great game are here, but the controls really hurt the overall experience. Players are unable to quickly stop and change direction, instead making huge turns, like a station wagon trying to make a u-turn. It's easier to just switch to another defender if you get beaten, because you're never going to catch back up. Special moves and the "first touch" control as mapped to the d-pad, which frankly just doesn't work. It's incredible difficult to move from the analog pad to the d-pad and back, especially in tight corners. Neither of these two issues ruin the game, but they do make it considerably less enjoyable.
There are several things that point to the game being slightly rushed; key amongst these are the frequent load times. You've got long load times between every menu screen, and even when the ball goes out of bounds for a goal or corner kick. WiFi play via ad-hoc is included in the game, and supports two players. The experience is a bit buggy, and it's disappointing that you can't play the game over the internet.
FIFA's visuals aren't bad, but they don't have the usual level of polish that one would expect from an EA game. The default camera is extremely far away, which makes the player models little more than tiny, two-toned figures, though it is a good view for gameplay. During the game's cut scenes, the framerate takes a noticeable hit, and every player looks as if they are moving in slow motion. The detail on the players in these closeups is impressive, but there isn't much variety to what they do during them. The stadiums don't look bad, but don't expect to see the wild, flare toting, flag waving crowds that bring so much energy to the consoles – they are nowhere to be seen. For some reason, an incredible annoying "EA Live" logo stays present in the top right of the screen for the entire game. It's enormous, and takes up as much room as a couple of players. If they had that much extra space to kill, perhaps making the players larger than ants might have been a good solution.
One of FIFA's biggest strengths is its audio. From the announcing team of John Motson and Ally McCoist, to the eclectic mix of artists in the EA Trax, everything is top-notch. The commentary certainly isn't as varied as what you'd expect to hear on a console, but it's much better than some of the other PSP sports games have offered up. I'm usually the first one to slam EA Trax, but the game's music is actually quite good. It's a varied mix of artists, some of which you may have heard of, while others you'll have never been exposed to – especially if you're American. You can turn off the tunes that you don't like, and you can even watch a few music videos via Pocket Trax. One minor quibble – it would be nice to not have to hear a new song with every new menu. Some people like to listen to a tune for more than 3 seconds; and this frequent loading of songs cant' be helping the game's sluggish load times.
It's a tough call as to which soccer game for the PSP is better – they're both pretty good. Each game has its own strengths and weaknesses, and each has laid a strong foundation for the future. It's probably the easy way out, but I'm going to have to say that this round is simply too close to call – it's a draw.