There aren't many soccer games to choose from on the Xbox, but Rage Software attempts to fill the void with David Beckham Soccer. It doesn't quite have the same high-quality gameplay found in 2002 FIFA World Cup, but its enormous number of features is enough to make it an all-around solid game. Not only does it offer the World Cup tournament, but it also has several other tournament modes, international and league play, custom leagues, classic matches, and even an entertaining--albeit somewhat pointless--training mode.
The gameplay in David Beckham Soccer is generally good, but it lacks some of the more interesting mechanics introduced by the FIFA series. You can perform all of the basic passes, ranging from small little taps to lobs, and if you time it correctly, you can also perform header passes. While there's always a temptation to simply pass the ball down the field, doing so doesn't work incredibly well in David Beckham. The AI in the game is pretty relentless, so even a careless pass to a teammate just a few yards away can easily be intercepted. The game actually forces you to think about where you are in relation to other players and to maneuver yourself in such a manner so that you have a clear line of sight to another player. Unfortunately, this makes it seem like the computer is being cheap when you're initially playing the game, but as you become more familiar with the way your opponent operates, it's not nearly as aggravating.
Shooting the ball is a different story. The strength of your shot depends on how long you hold down the button, but it never really feels like you're taking a strong shot on goal even if you hold down the button for an extended period of time. Instead, you end up with a weak kick that actually looks more like a pass to the goalkeeper. It's still certainly possible to score this way, but your best bet is always the corner kick, which you will see quite often due to the goalie's propensity to knock nearly ever single shot out of bounds.
Corner kicks and penalty shots are set up in a similar manner, with key players down the field designated by button icons and color-coded arrows indicating where that particular player will run when you pass the ball. However, corner kicks tend to be a little too easy to execute. The ball will almost always connect with one of your players near the goal, allowing you to take a quick shot on goal. Because the keeper tends to knock every shot out of bounds, you'll normally have three or four corner kicks in succession, so it'll become your primary method for scoring. Interestingly, the same isn't quite as true when the opponent takes a corner kick. When the opponent kicks the ball, it usually goes to one of your defenders automatically, giving you an opportunity to clear the ball to the middle of the field. There are a few moments when the computer player will successfully connect with one of his teammates, but it's relatively rare.
There are also a few issues with defensive play in the game. The cost of challenging the ball (when your player attempts to run at the opponent to steal the ball) is far too great because if you miss the opponent, your player is essentially frozen for about two seconds, leaving the computer player to take the ball up the field with ease. Something as simple as a challenge shouldn't leave your player incapacitated for so long. In addition, some players won't slide-tackle when you want them to, particularly when they're behind an opponent. It's not clear if this was added because most real-life players won't slide-tackle from behind due to fear of being carded, but even if it was, players should respond instantly to your commands no matter how silly they may be.
Though the gameplay has a few small problems, they aren't nearly bad enough to keep you from engaging in one of David Beckham's numerous modes. There are several different types of tournaments, covering a spectrum of territories. You can also participate in the World Cup tournament, although there is no specific reference to the Japan and Korea tournament since EA Sports holds that particular license. There are also a number of arcade-style modes such as Beat Brazil, where you must beat Brazil with the team you're given. Every time you win, the game will give you a weaker team, making the challenge much more difficult the further you go. There's a survival mode, in which you must beat a series of teams, but every goal the computer scores is carried over to the next game, so by the third or fourth match, you may have to overcome a three- to four-goal deficit. The classic matches are especially entertaining, as they let you reenact some of soccer's most famous moments.
Moreover, David Beckham Soccer includes both league and international play, but it also gives you the option to create your own leagues, so you can have the United States team (which interestingly has misspelled names for every player, more than likely due to licensing issues) participate in a league with Argentina, Germany, or even club teams like Inter-Milan. But before you head into any of those matches, you can participate in the training mode, which will take you through the fundamentals of the game. As you progress through each session, the difficulty will gradually increase, giving the training mode its own competitive spirit.
Graphically, David Beckham's player models don't look quite as good as those in 2002 FIFA World Cup. They all have a somewhat generic look, with only a few players looking even remotely close to their real-life counterparts. In addition, the raining weather effect could've used a little more work, since the rain makes it quite difficult to see the action on the field. You'll also probably notice that despite the fact that the sky is cloudy, there's still a sun-lens-flare effect that occurs during the team introductions. However, all of the stadiums in the game look quite good and have some nice little touches, such as the large video screens that flicker as they do in real life.
The commentary in the game isn't all that great. The two commentators will chime in with generic comments, which occasionally don't pertain to the on-field action and are generally just out of sync. There are moments when the commentators get overly excited over shots that had absolutely no chance of going into the goal. The crowd noise has all of the basic chants and screams that you would expect from a soccer game. David Beckham Soccer also lets you rip your own soundtrack to the game, though this seems incredibly pointless considering that you can hear the custom tracks only in the menu screens prior to the match.
In terms of its gameplay, David Beckham Soccer isn't really a match for 2002 FIFA World Cup, but it's still solid overall, so you'll want to play through the various modes that the game has to offer. With a few graphical enhancements and some gameplay refinements, David Beckham Soccer could have easily been one of the must-have soccer games for the Xbox.