If you're a PlayStation 2 owner even remotely interested in soccer games, chances are that you're a fan of either the FIFA or Winning Eleven titles from EA Sports and Konami, respectively. It also stands to reason that, as a fan of those series, it would take a very special game to convince you that your loyalties were misplaced. Enter World Tour Soccer 2005 from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe's London Studio. The game boasts around twice as many playable teams from around the world as FIFA 2004, it features the real player names that are absent from the Winning Eleven games, and it offers a number of varied gameplay modes--some of which support up to eight players simultaneously. It's a pity, then, that World Tour Soccer 2005 plays such an ugly version of the beautiful game that it's unlikely you'll play it for long enough to see even half of what it offers.
So what's wrong with World Tour Soccer 2005? Let's start with the first thing you'll notice after negotiating the menus and staring at the loading screen for 60 seconds that you'll later wish you'd spent doing something worthwhile: the in-game visuals. Depending on which of the game's 900 or so soccer teams you've chosen to play with, you might recognize some of the better-known players well before you spot the names on their generic-looking uniforms. None of the players look nearly as lifelike as their FIFA or Winning Eleven counterparts, though, and you'll find that many of those who don't feature prominently in both club and international soccer share little more than the color of their skin with the real-life players they supposedly represent. The same thing can be said of the team managers and coaches that appear on the sidelines incidentally, and while it's admirable that SCEE has even included models for them, the fact that relatively few of them are recognizable turns their appearance into a negative rather than a positive feature of the game.
Dodgy visuals don't necessarily make for a bad game, of course, but World Tour Soccer 2005 is nothing if not consistently disappointing, and it has shoddy gameplay that's totally in keeping with its appearance. Perhaps the worst thing about the game is that no matter how many goals you score or how many matches you manage to win in succession, the experience is never pleasing. Players like France's Thierry Henry and England's Wayne Rooney are known for unleashing shots at goal that are, effectively, unstoppable--onion bags bulge, goalies appear deflated as they pick the ball out of the net, and half of the stadium falls silent as the other half bursts into song or chants the scorer's name. Scoring a goal in World Tour Soccer 2005 is a very different experience. For one thing, the shots themselves float through the air at a sedate pace that almost defies gravity, the goalies react unrealistically, and then, after the ball has floated into the net and dropped limply to the ground, you're treated to a close-up of a handful of almost human-looking supporters getting excited ahead of the requisite action replays. This is in stark contrast to both FIFA 2004 and Winning Eleven 7 International, in which matches without goals can still be satisfying, and where well-worked and occasionally spectacular goals see you jumping off your seat as if you were really in the stadium. Ironically, the commentators in World Tour Soccer 2005 are more excitable than those in most sports games--which is just as well, because all of the other sounds in the game are instantly forgettable.
Like everything in World Tour Soccer 2005, the players on the field are consistently disappointing, whether they're being controlled by you, a friend, or the CPU. The goalies, as we already mentioned, react unrealistically to just about every shot they face, and it's also worth noting that they're extremely reluctant to come off their line unless you specifically ask them to using one of the shoulder buttons. Defensive players, with three different tackle commands and an injury-inflicting deliberate foul at their disposal, are lucky to make it through an entire match without getting booked if you're playing with a strict referee--even if you use the tamest of the three tackles exclusively. Midfield players that are looking to set up the strikers with perfectly weighted through-balls have the hardest job on the field, not only because passing the ball between players doesn't feel as quick or as intuitive as it should, but also because none of the players in World Tour Soccer 2005 seem capable of making intelligent runs or moving off the ball. The only positive thing that can be said about the strikers is that they're not as prone to straying into offside positions as their FIFA and Winning Eleven counterparts, but since they make surging runs forward about as often as the players on a foosball table, this is hardly surprising.
Does World Tour Soccer 2005 have anything good going for it? Sure it does, but there's a lot more bad stuff we need to tell you about before we get there. Deliberate dives, for example, appear in the game and can be performed at the touch of a button. The inclusion of this dirty tactic in a video game isn't inappropriate given that it is all too common in the modern sport, but the way it's implemented in World Tour Soccer 2005 does make you wonder what the developer is actually trying to achieve. Against our better judgment, we've tried to win ourselves free kicks and penalties on numerous occasions by having our players fall to the ground when opponents are nearby. The result, invariably, is that our player receives a yellow card, and the opposing team gets a free kick. That cheating doesn't work isn't a bad message to be sending out to kids, of course, but that's a job for real-life referees, not for a video game.
Speaking of kids, World Tour Soccer 2005, like previous games in the series, features a handful of UK-based school teams. The only time you'll be forced to use these subpar sides is during the game's career mode, thankfully, but what's even stranger than their inclusion in the first place is that they are, for all intents and purposes, identical to all of the other teams in the game save for their lower skill ratings and gaudy uniform designs. The players all have adult physiques, they all keep their shirts tucked in, they're able to use the same fancy step-overs and shimmies as every other player in the game, and their games are played on full-size fields--albeit with school buildings rather than stadium seating on the other side of the touchlines. The school team players do, admittedly, exhibit an appropriately low level of understanding of the game as they chase the ball around the pitch; but given that this is actually no different from the very best international teams in the game, it seems reasonable to assume that the schoolboy artificial intelligence is more by accident than by design.
Things that work well in World Tour Soccer 2005 are few and far between, but there are a few things. Double-tapping the run button to knock the ball ahead of your player, for example, is a good way of beating defenders, though in all honesty it's a little more effective than it should be. Being able to alter your team's formation and strategy simply by tapping the right analog stick is a lot easier than the systems employed in the FIFA or Winning Eleven series. Also on the plus side for World Tour Soccer 2005 is that it offers a pretty good selection of unlockable content, which you have the option to purchase using tokens you've acquired by winning matches. The game's club shop offers everything from additional historical teams and unusual stadiums to extra visuals and sound effects. Finally, the fact that World Tour Soccer 2005 supports up to eight players is not to be sneezed at--sports games are almost always better played with other people than against the CPU. Would you really want to inflict this game upon up to seven of your friends, though? We'd recommend that you don't.
In fact, it's difficult to recommend this game to anybody. If the perfectly presented FIFA 2004 is David Beckham, and the superbly skillful Winning Eleven 7 International is Zinedine Zidane, then World Tour Soccer 2005, with its impressive features list but complete lack of satisfying gameplay, is just an overweight guy in the crowd who owns a replica uniform and who dreams of playing there himself one day, but sadly never will.