When EA Sports announced its intention to release FIFA Soccer for the PSP, we naturally assumed it would be a scaled-down version of last year's FIFA Soccer 2005. Well, the PSP game has arrived (a little later than planned), and we're pleased to report that it was well worth the wait. FIFA Soccer is a great soccer game in almost every respect, and it has a lot more in common with its excellent console and PC counterparts than we could have guessed.
For starters, FIFA Soccer features more than 350 fully licensed club and international teams from all over the world. The uniforms are detailed enough to include player names, team badges, and sponsor logos, and the better-known players are easily recognizable. Lesser-known players tend to be quite generic looking by comparison, but since you'll spend the majority of your time viewing them from a gameplay camera positioned high above the pitch, this is hardly a cause for concern. FIFA Soccer also boasts a decent create-a-player option similar to that in FIFA Soccer 2005, and while it won't let you edit the features of existing players, there's no reason why you can't use it to create a second David Beckham the next time he gets a headline-making haircut.
FIFA Soccer also features a transfer market option, which lets you easily move players between teams, though it has practically nothing in common with real transfer markets. The most obvious use for the transfer market option is to keep your game's team rosters up to date, but you could also use it to create a dream team of all your favorite players.
Given that the PSP version of FIFA Soccer doesn't feature anything resembling a real-world transfer market, it might come as no surprise that the game also doesn't include a career mode. You'll be able to play through an entire season in any of 26 club divisions, though, or use the new midseason scenario mode to play through just the second half of a season where the real-life results for the first half are already in place. The midseason scenarios are available for 18 different divisions, all of them European. Alternatively, the custom season mode lets you create your own league comprising three to 20 teams. More than 20 real cup tournaments are also available, as well as a custom tournament option.
Other gameplay modes in FIFA Soccer include exhibition matches, a challenge mode, and wireless head-to-head play. The challenge mode comprises no fewer than 40 real-life scenarios for you to play through, most of which are based on memorable matches played in 2004. In real life, these scenarios were all quite different, but in FIFA Soccer they basically boil down to your having to score a certain number of goals in a certain amount of time, thus replicating the spectacular comeback or rout that happened in actuality.
When you successfully complete a scenario, you'll unlock the next, more difficult one, and you'll also earn a number of FIFA Soccer points for yourself. In fact, you'll earn FIFA Soccer points the first time you do just about anything in the game, whether it be accessing a new mode, keeping a clean sheet, or scoring a hat trick. You can spend the points at the FIFA Soccer store, which has 38 alternate uniforms, six official balls, nighttime options for 30 stadiums, two extra songs, and the famous referee Pierluigi Collina up for grabs. None of the unlockables are particularly exciting, but it never hurts to have goals--pun intended.
So how does FIFA Soccer on the PSP play on the pitch? The short answer is that it's a lot like the PC and console versions of FIFA Soccer 2005. The slightly longer answer is that it does just about everything that those games do and suffers only because the PSP's control configuration is ill-equipped to handle the controls. The most unfortunate example of this is that since the PSP has no equivalent to a right analog stick, you'll be expected to perform all of your tricks and first-touch moves using the directional pad. Moving your thumb between the pad and analog stick is tricky, to say the least, and as a result you'll likely make far less use of FIFA Soccer's otherwise excellent first-touch system than you'd like to. With that said, it's difficult to see how EA could have better implemented all of the controls from FIFA Soccer 2005 on the PSP.
Absent right analog stick aside, FIFA Soccer will feel familiar to fans of FIFA Soccer 2005. The controls are responsive, the ball physics are great, and every player on the field behaves quite realistically. Your best friend in FIFA Soccer, incidentally, will be the PSP's left shoulder button, since it's used to send teammates on forward runs when you're attacking, to get help from a second player when you're defending, and to add height to chipped shots and through balls. FIFA Soccer uses the same tried-and-tested controls for set pieces as its console and PC counterparts, and free kicks at goal are so satisfying when you get them right that they almost seem like a missed opportunity for a minigame or training option.
Most sports games, of course, are best played against human opposition, and FIFA Soccer is no exception. It's a close call, though, simply because two-player matches invariably suffer from noticeable drops in frame rate, which are frequent and dramatic enough to be irritating, though they certainly don't render the game unplayable. We also noticed that the ambient crowd noise disappeared completely during some of our multiplayer matches. It's really unfortunate that the wireless multiplayer game suffers in this way, because in all other respects it performs admirably. The interface for matching up with opponents couldn't be simpler to use, and the fact that the game keeps a record of your previous results against human opponents means there's never any doubt which of you is putting the bragging rights on the line going into your next match.
The single-player game, thankfully, doesn't suffer from any dramatic drops in frame rate, which is pretty impressive considering the number of players running around. The players are very small when you play using the default camera setting, but they move realistically and animate almost as impressively as their console and PC counterparts. FIFA Soccer's visuals don't hold up quite as well when the camera zooms in for a set piece or a replay, but that's hardly surprising and is certainly no cause for concern. We were a little disappointed to see that postmatch highlights invariably consist of just one highlight replayed from multiple angles, but again, this isn't a big deal.
FIFA Soccer also sounds impressive, thanks largely to the mostly accurate and well-delivered commentary from John Motson and Ally McCoist. You'll also find an eclectic soundtrack comprising no fewer than 35 tunes that can be switched on and off according to your personal tastes. To give you some idea of just how eclectic the tracks on offer are, the artists include, but are certainly not limited to, Air, Debi Nova, Dogs Die in Hot Cars, Elkland, Faithless, Franz Ferdinand, Los Amigos Invisibles, Morrissey, The Sounds, New Order, Scissor Sisters, The Streets, The Libertines, and plenty more that you may or may not have heard of.
When all is said and done, then, FIFA Soccer for the PSP is not only a great portable sports game, but a great sports game in its own right. If you can come to grips with (or are happy to completely ignore) the idea of using both the PSP's directional pad and analog stick, and aren't worried about any of the minor failings that we've mentioned, there's really no reason why FIFA Soccer shouldn't be the next game that you play on your PSP.