World Tour Soccer '06 Preview

We check out a near-finished version of Sony's fast-paced soccer game for the PSP.

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Currently scheduled for release toward the end of this month, World Tour Soccer '06 (World Tour Soccer 2 in Europe) is Sony Studio London's upcoming soccer game for the PlayStation Portable. World Tour Soccer '06 promises not only fast-paced soccer matches between more than 70 international teams, but also a whole range of innovative gameplay modes that expand upon the enjoyable challenge mode from last year's game. We recently received a work-in-progress version of World Tour Soccer '06 from Sony Computer Entertainment America, and we're pleased to report that we've had a lot of fun with it.

The PSP already has some great soccer games available in World Soccer Winning Eleven 9 and 2006 FIFA World Cup, but while those games are striving to offer the most realistic soccer experience possible, World Tour Soccer '06 will offer something a little different. That's not to say that Sony's upcoming game doesn't play an enjoyable game of soccer, because it does; it's just that its standout features are those that you won't find in any of its competitors--at least not this season. Matches in which you can't score a goal until all 11 of your players have touched the ball, for example, play out quite differently from regular games, as do those in which you earn points based on the quality of your passing and tackling.

In zone challenges the different colored areas of the pitch represent score multipliers.
In zone challenges the different colored areas of the pitch represent score multipliers.

There are 10 different challenge modes in World Tour Soccer '06, and although many of them employ the same point mechanic that rewards you for passing the ball, beating opponents, and regaining possession of the ball cleanly, they're all quite different. The classic challenge mode, for example, simply tasks you with playing "stylish soccer" using the aforementioned techniques, while the zone challenge game rewards you with score multipliers if you do those same things on specific areas of the pitch where the grass is colored differently. Other innovative gameplay types that we've enjoyed include checkpoint challenge, where you can earn bonus multipliers by kicking the ball through checkpoints that randomly pop up on the pitch; shot clock challenge, where you have a limited amount of time in which to shoot after gaining possession of the ball; and player tag challenge, in which you're tasked with passing to all of the members of your team who are highlighted without ever losing possession before you can take a shot. Not only are these innovative challenges a lot of fun, but they force you to focus on improving specific aspects of your game, which will likely pay off if you ever decide to return to the regular exhibition match gameplay option.

You'll unlock all of World Tour Soccer '06's different challenge modes by playing through the single-player world tour mode, which tasks you with completing challenges against increasingly difficult opponents as you travel between continents, while earning bronze, silver, or gold medals in the process. Regardless of whether or not you've unlocked them for single-player use, challenge games can be played with up to three other players using the PSP's wireless connectivity. Furthermore, World Tour Soccer '06 will support online play, as well as a game-share feature that lets up to four players get in on the action using only a single copy of the game.

We've established that World Tour Soccer '06 has plenty of gameplay options, but how does it play? We'll talk about that in more detail when we review the finished game later this month, but right now we can tell you that the game is fast paced and does a good job of giving you the freedom to play soccer however you want to. So far we've enjoyed the most success in World Tour Soccer '06 when we've made a point of passing the ball around a lot, but the game also boasts a number of skill moves that can be very effective when used properly--affording you an opportunity to send one of your players on a mazy run from one end of the pitch to the other. Long shots are also effective enough to make them worthwhile, although they're certainly less likely to find the back of the net than well-engineered striking opportunities that are taken from inside the area or when you've managed to lure the goalie out of position.

The game's stadiums are based on world landmarks and architecture.
The game's stadiums are based on world landmarks and architecture.

World Tour Soccer '06's controls are slightly different from those in other PSP soccer games, and while the game is missing one or two moves that you might be accustomed to using (there's no lofted through ball, for example), it compensates with some neat tricks of its own. Tapping the sprint button instead of holding it down, for example, will cause your player to knock the ball ahead and then chase it, which results in a burst of speed that can often be used to beat defenders. World Tour Soccer '06 also features a deliberate dive button, which we've enjoyed zero success with to date (every player we tried it with got a yellow card) but which might come in handy if you're getting desperate toward the end of a match or something.

Also worthy of note before we wrap this preview up are World Tour Soccer '06's visuals. The player models and animations are looking good, the menus (and in particular the uniform selection screen) are easy on the eyes, and some of the stadiums--which are themed after world landmarks and architecture rather than their real-life counterparts--are nothing short of spectacular. Look for a full review of World Tour Soccer '06 later this month.

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