When we reviewed World Tour Soccer 2005 last year, we used the phrase "consistently disappointing" on more than one occasion and likened the off-the-ball movements of some of its players to those found on a foosball table. In short, we weren't impressed. The recent arrival of a work-in-progress version of World Tour Soccer 2006, then, was met with trepidation rather than excitement. Later, we're sorry to report, those feelings gave way to bewilderment as we scoured the game for evidence that SCEE's London Studio has spent the last six months doing something other than just add EyeToy Cameo support to last year's game. That's not entirely accurate, actually, because we have noticed a few other differences between World Tour Soccer 2006 and last year's game. It's just that very few of them appear to improve the game significantly at this point.
With the exception of the EyeToy Cameo creator, the options you'll be greeted by the first time you load World Tour Soccer 2006 are identical to those in last year's game. You can play an exhibition or challenge mode match, take part in customized cup and league competitions, create new teams and players...or edit existing ones, or manage a team in the career mode. Most of these options are pretty self-explanatory regardless of whether you're familiar with the World Tour Soccer series, but the challenge mode is a little different from anything you'll have played in other soccer games. The challenge mode puts you in control of a North American "superteam," and it pits you against a European equivalent. The rules of the game remain unchanged, but in addition to beating the opposition, you're required to play "stylish soccer," score "well-worked goals," and dispossess opponents with "skillful tackling." Playing in this way (which isn't something that World Tour Soccer 2006 is conducive to) will earn you points, while you'll be docked points for "unimaginative soccer, sloppy passing, and reckless defending." At the end of the match, you'll be told how many points you earned, and you'll be given a code that you can enter on an official Web site to see how your performance ranks against those of other players. The challenge match is by far the toughest we've played in World Tour Soccer 2006, and it's clearly intended for advanced players who've already spent a great deal of time playing exhibition games and career mode matches.
Based on the time we've spent with it thus far, the career mode in World Tour Soccer 2006, unlike those in FIFA Soccer 2005 and the recently released Winning Eleven 8 International, is largely unchanged from last year's game. You're forced to take control of one of 10 London-based school teams, and you have just a single season in which to earn promotion to a semiprofessional league before spending a further two seasons attempting to make it in to the professional league of your choice. The games you play in charge of a school team are no different from those you might play in charge of a top international team, by the way, except that the stadiums are replaced by one of two school fields. Needless to say, the first few seasons of a World Tour Soccer 2006 career can feel like a chore, especially if all you really want to do is manage your favorite professional team.
The career mode might be less disappointing if the action on the pitch showed some significant signs of improvement over last year's game, but sadly, all the flaws we noted in our review of World Tour Soccer 2005 are still present. It's still easier to take the ball from one end of the pitch to the other by using fancy dribbling skills than it is to do so by passing the ball around to different members of your team. Furthermore, the intelligence of CPU-controlled players is questionable at best, and the goalkeepers can make seemingly impossible saves one minute and look like their gloves are made of lard the next. Players on your team are effectively useless when you're not controlling them yourself. Moreover, opposing players are invariably so desperate to score that they'll try taking shots from just about anywhere, and they also appear to have developed a liking for the game's controversial deliberate-dive button (which doubles as a deliberate foul button when you're not in possession of the ball) and can often be seen receiving yellow cards after falling over and crying foul. You could argue that the deliberate-dive button has a place in any modern soccer game, but it's not something we like to use ourselves, and the fact that we've witnessed CPU-controlled teams receiving upwards of five bookings for diving within the space of a few minutes is just plain ridiculous, especially when the timing of the dives is often inappropriate to the point that none of our players were even within several yards of the supposed fouls.
The on-pitch referee in World Tour Soccer 2006, fortunately, is quick to punish deliberate dives and fouls, but it's unfortunate that he's inadequate in so many other areas. The advantage rule, for example, clearly isn't something that any of the game's officials are familiar with, and our work-in-progress version of World Tour Soccer 2006 also has the unique distinction of being the only soccer game in which we've been dispossessed of the ball by a referee when he got a little too close to the on-field action. We've noticed plenty of other problems with the version of World Tour Soccer 2006 at our disposal as well (for example, career mode goal replays that only show the few seconds after the ball has crossed the goal line), but we'll refrain from listing any more of them here in the hopes that they'll be addressed before the game goes gold and we get our hands on a review copy of it.