FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup Updated Hands-On

We spend a little quality time with the latest work-in-progress version of EA Sports' first soccer game for the Xbox 360.

The arrival of the Xbox 360 and its recently confirmed launch lineup of no fewer than 18 games is now just a week away. The soccer fans among you will no doubt be pleased to learn that EA Sports' FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup is one of the games confirmed for launch day, although if you've already invested in a copy of FIFA 06, you'll be looking for some pretty good reasons to purchase the Xbox 360 game. Right? We recently got our hands on a near-finished version of FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup and spent a couple of hours checking it out to see how it compares to its current-gen cousins.

Gameplay options on FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup's main menu include playing a friendly match, creating a custom tournament, putting your chosen team through its paces in a practice mode, and embarking on the "road to FIFA World Cup." That last option is really the only one that warrants any explanation, simply because it's a little different from what you might expect. After opting for the road to FIFA World Cup mode, you'll be able to select either custom or real-world World Cup qualifying groups, in addition to being able to choose one of five difficulty settings and a number of different half lengths for your matches. Your goal, unsurprisingly, is to play through the World Cup qualification process to secure a spot for yourself in the 2006 tournament to be held in Germany. You'll have to concern yourself with at least a couple of the challenges faced by international managers in the real world, though in addition to qualification matches, you'll be expected to compete in other international tournaments, as well as play in friendly matches from time to time. Player injuries could seriously hinder your chances of World Cup qualification, of course, so you'll have to weigh the pros and cons of having your star players take part in relatively unimportant games.

On the pitch, our work-in-progress version of FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup played a lot like the current-generation console versions of FIFA 06, as it let you choose between the same four control schemes that cater to FIFA and Winning Eleven fans alike. Regardless of which control scheme we opted for, we found our players to be responsive and, for the most part, quite intelligent. Off-the-ball players on the Xbox 360 seem a little less eager to make surging runs forward than their PlayStation 2 and Xbox counterparts at this point, but we're hopeful that their tardiness will be dealt with in a development dressing room somewhere before the game steps onto store shelves. We've also noticed that many of the indirect free kicks in the game are played from the less-than-ideal default camera angle, which can make it difficult to pick out players that you want to pass to.

FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup's visuals are obviously an improvement over those of the current-generation games in many ways, but we've noticed some odd effects akin to double vision on occasion, especially when looking at the three-dimensional crowd on a non-HD television. We've also noticed one or two occasions when the ball physics were quite obviously compromised to have the ball stick closer to a player's feet, which was a common occurrence in older FIFA games but thankfully hasn't been noticeable in recent iterations. Neither of these issues is a great cause for concern at this point, though you can bet we'll be keeping a close eye out for them once we get a copy of the finished game for review.

We're expecting to receive a retail copy of FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup any day now, at which time we'll be able to judge whether the game warrants a purchase for those of you who already own FIFA 06 and whether EA Sports' online play is any more user-friendly on the Xbox 360 than it has traditionally been on the Xbox. Look for a full review of FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup in the not-too-distant future.

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FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup

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