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When I was lucky enough to come into possesion of a PSP unexpectedly, the only downside became that fact that I didn't have any games for it. What was worse, was that I really hadn't taken much interest in Sony's little black hand-held, so I didn't actually know anything about it's games library either. When I decided to make my first purchase, I decided to stick with a tried and tested franchise I knew inside out, and had rarely disappointed me. FIFA 06 is the latest installment in EA Sports' never-ending footballing games series that started way back in 1994, and has made an appearance on every console barring Sega's Dreamcast released subsequently, and is the second game in the series released on the PSP console.
For those unaware of the FIFA series, it's basically the football/soccer equivalent of EA Sports' other yearly sporting titles, ala NHL or NBA Live. As such there is no story or real purpose or anything, just the ability to select from oodles of club and national football sides from accross the Globe and pit them in various tournaments, leagues and such. Also on offer is a feature stolen from Konami's ISS games, where you can take part in Challenges, but I'll go more in-depth into the options a bit later on.
I'd just like to get one thing out of the way before I go any further; many people claim that the PSP is the same as a PS2, so therefore, games should be exactly the same, or around the same in their handheld incarnations. FIFA 06 is not the same game you will find on DVD for the PS2. As well as the expected graphical degrade the game has taken during it's downsizing, the PSP title also has it's differences with regards to the options the full size title offers, as well as the gameplay engine in general.
You see, cramming the full-size FIFA 06, with all it's gameplay tweaks, onto the PSP, which is 2 buttons and one analogue stick short of the Dualshock 2 pad, this means that some moves have to be assigned to different, buttons, for example the lobbed-through ball, which now has to be performed via double-tapping Triangle instead of using the shot-modifier with Triangle. Lack of the second analoge stick also means the series now trademark 'First Touch Control' has to be re-assigned, and it has been assigned to the slightly awkward control of tapping the L button and a direction as you recieve the ball. While this can work, it certainly isn't as fluid a system as the full-size control, but I'll give EA Sports the benefit of the doubt on this one, they didn't design the PSP.
These aside, the game does control remarkably similar to it's full-size incarnations, with Pass/Change player being X, High-Ball/Slide Tackle on Square, through ball on Triangle, Shoot/Step-in on circle and sprint on R. Their responses are, for the most part, nothing to issue complaints about, and aside from the two aforementioned control changes, the game won't take long for those reared on the recent FIFA titles to master, or even for those who have never touched one to pick up. My only major control complaint is the forcing of the gamer to use the analogue stick, which is placed in a disgusting place on the machine, taking some time to get used to playing with, and even when you do, cramp or pins & needles is immenent.
As for the actual gameplay...well, while it falls short of it's brother's PS2 version's standards, it is certainly above the FIFA titles released for the last generation of consoles, and when I look at it in comparison to the FIFA I played on the last generation of handheld, which was FIFA 2004 on the Game Boy Advance, the upwards swing in quality is staggering. The game is in full 3D, and while it may not better, it is at least around the same level as the first few FIFA titles on the PS2. In fact, in many ways, I actually prefer it to all but the most recent of console incarnations of the game. It's AI is a good bit better, and it's a lot harder to take goals off your opponents than it is on, say, FIFA 2002.
Sadly though, while the basic crux of the gameplay is fine and quite enjoyable, the game certainly isn't without it's fair share of faults. For a start, the game suffers from a bad case of passing the ball where you didn't intend to do so, which is especially infuriating when it becomes apparent that it won't let you cut-back the ball accross the opponent's box.
One gameplay element that has undergone change in all versions of FIFA 06 is the set pieces. While EA Sports have thankfully scrapped the terrible corner system in favour of the old-school, use an arrow to direct a ball into the box method, their tampering with the free-kick system has left a better taste in my mouth. In the form of the Free Kick system, for the last few years, EA Sports had something they could stick up 2 fingers to Konami and mock them for. However, some moron in the office decide "if it's not broken, let's try and fix it anyway", and instead of the precision aiming, timed free kick system, we have an archaic, FIFA 99 esque-free kick system where you simply charge the power and hope for the best. Fantastic chaps, take out your game's best feature and replace it with a generic, long out-of-date system.
Then there are the glitches. If it's not matches beginning but the screen remaining blank, its goals that shouldn't have went in. Seriously, in one match, the opposition headed the ball a foot wide of my right-post, yet it somehow registered it as a goal. The replays didn't even hide the fact it blatantly went wide.
In terms of the modes on offer, while the console staple Career mode is missing, the Season mode, in which you pick one from a variety of represented leagues from around the world, including the FA Premier League(England), the Italian Seria A, the Spanish Primera Liga and the mighty Bank of Scotland SPL. This really works not too dissimilar to a stripped-down version of the Career, where you simply have to guide your team through a year, trying to win your respective league. Also on offer is a variety of Cups from each country represented, as well as the aforementioned Challenge mode and the PSP exclusive 'Keepy-uppy' mode. Challenge mode sees you take on a situation faced by one of the teams at some point during the last season and try to re-enact the events of it, for example coming from behind to win by two goals or such. While this is a neat feature, the flaws of being forced to play as specified teams come to haunt it. I'm not playing as Celtic, and scoring them goals. Ever. Ditto Manchester United. Both of those teams are ones forced upon the player, and seeing as you must complete one to unlock the next challenge, over half of my challenges remain unlocked. Keepy-Uppy, or Ball Juggling to give it a more professional title, forces the player to revolve the PSP until you hold it long-way up, before using the D-Pad to try and time your presses with when the ball will hit a part of the player's body. This mode is quite a fun little distraction, and while it takes it's time to load(which is actually an issue with the game in general), it is quite a fun diversion from playing matches all the time.
Playing these modes also unlocks points to spend in the EA Store, where you can buy different ball designs, extra kits and stadiums and so on. While I've always thought this was a neat idea, it kind of lets itself down by simply offering last years kits. Seriously, if you want this highlighted, look at the extra kits for Roma and Lazio. Both sport sponsors, yet neither team's current kit does. Actually, why does Lazio's kit have it's sponsor AWOL? they do have one in real life, and what was wrong with putting in Roma's correct third shirt?
The fact that I actually had to check the replay, half-expecting to have went in tells you one problem I have with the graphics - the nets. On most occasions, the ball seems to fly through them, which, while it should be a minor issue, is really quite annoying, and it can ruin your appreciation of a wonderful goal. Further annoying me graphically is the teams' kits. The club-badges and sponsors on the shirts are all incredibly pixelated, making them a bit of an eye-sore during close-ups. What makes this, and the other graphical flaw, so infuriating, is that everything else about the graphics is outstanding. The players bodies look and move realistically, the world's most famous players all look exactly like they should, and it's hard not to be initially blown away by the fact these visuals are coming from a handheld.
The same goes for the sound actually, with some wonderful crowd noises that actually sound realistic being complimented by full commentary from Andy Gray and Clive 'the really irritating ITV guy' Tyldsley. While most occasions see me playing the PSP with the sound turned off, when I play it at home, I've no problems with the sound in the least, and it really does showcase the wonderful technology companies have to work with. The music chosen is almost awesome, with great tracks coming from Bloc Party(Helicopter), Nine Black Alps(Cosmopolitan, although this is edited from the version I'm used to) and LCD Soundsystem(Daft Punk is Playing at my House). What lets the side down is the inclusion of Oasis' Lyla, one of the worst songs in recorded history.
When all is said and done, while FIFA 06 isn't a game I regret buying, and it's certainly livened up a few journeys, it isn't what I would call a great game, and the horrible glitches, which have cropped up recurring times, really hinder my appreciation of it. The game does have some other neat little features, such as link-up play and the ability to download roster updates from the internet, but on the whole, it feels a bit rushed, and has too many problems for me to truly get behind it. However, I do have to say the game has showed me some of the great things the PSP is capable of, and while I realise it is far from perfect, I would still recommend it to football fans. There is a certain joy to be had playing a football title that actually resembles the sport quite a bit while on the train or during a particularly long car journey, and had it not featured those horrible glitches, which really annoyed me, I probably would have generously awarded it 4. However, such is life, FIFA 06 will have to be content with 3/5, and can be grateful of a recommendation.
Review also posted on Epinions.com