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2006 FIFA World Cup

For: PSP   Also on: DS, GameBoy, Mobile

The FIFA 2006 World Cup gets a delayed kick off on PSP, but was it worth the wait?

Product: 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany | Developer: EA Canada | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Format: PSP | Genre: Sports | Players: 1-4 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), wireless (network)
2006 FIFA World Cup Germany PSP, thumbnail 1
The weeks prior to the World Cup Finals always seem to pass too slowly, with optimism reaching ever more outrageous heights with each day that's ticked off the World Cup wall chart.

For England supporters, however, the summer of 2006 is dragging for less pleasant reasons. First the national press force out manager Sven (leaving us with the uninspiring prospect of Steve McClaren), then our star striker crocks his foot, and to compound the damage our departing coach picks an unproven teenager alongside an out-of-form 'little' and quite frankly rubbish 'large' forward line.

Rather than a crescendo of anticipation, each day is greeted with prayers that it won't get any worse (and let's not even start on the official anthem).

Considering the woeful performance on mobile and Nintendo DS, we weren't exactly expecting EA's official game on PSP to lift our mood, especially when it slipped its initial release date.

We were wrong. 2006 FIFA World Cup is a genuine reason to be cheerful, offering the best footie on your PSP.

The control system kicks things off on the right foot, being every bit as inclusive as the World Cup itself. Simple and responsive button layouts enable newcomers to start stringing together passing moves, dribbling and pulling off great shots and volleys. Meanwhile, for the more proficient there's plenty of extra options to master to add subtlety to your play, allowing the crafting of lofted through balls, first touch passes, skill moves to beat defenders, instant tactical tweaks (using the D-pad) and signalling teammates to run into space.

Whilst all of this functionality was present and correct in FIFA 2006, it all slots together more smoothly here. As befitting the quality of players on show, the passes are quicker, dribbling and tricks more effective, and shooting more natural than before, with positioning on the pitch having a pronounced effect (so one-on-ones will often result in goals, but it's a lottery in a crowded penalty box). The players feel more solid too, providing for realistic deflections and the ability to genuinely turn around defenders rather than run through them (although against the boosted AI this is no mean trick).

Visually the game is absolutely stunning. Even when playing with the stick-men required for a proper overview of the match, the fluid animation and detail is sufficient to make it crystal clear not only what players are doing, but also who they are. You'll pick out your heroes before the generally excellent commentary does, and delight in triggering slow-mo replays to relive their moves. Sure there's still a little ghosting in the game and there are some loading delays between matches, but neither causes major problems.

Presentation off-pitch is for the most part slickness personified too, with a chart-topping soundtrack accompanying smooth fading menus. There are just a few notable glitches, the annoying repetition of one World Cup fact for each of the teams on loading screens (yes, we did know England won the World Cup in 1966) and the similarly repetitive crowd goal celebration standing out as rough spots on the diamond.

And while we're in a critical vein, we should also point out the control set-up can seem a little over-simplified at times, and that more hardcore fans weaned on Pro Evo might mourn the lack of a manually controlled pass as they play the ball into the defenders' legs for the umpteenth time. And direct free kicks still force you to shoot rather than lob a cross in – just plain wrong.

Beyond these niggles, there's the perennial question of whether you should purchase this if you already have FIFA 2006. To be fair EA has created a fair selection of distinctive game options, including the ability to play through any World Cup qualifiers and an oddly enthralling 'Global Challenge' mode made up of short 'scenarios' (hang on for a win with ten men, score at least two goals in a half, and the like). There are also superb multiplayer options, which work seamlessly both on adhoc networks and with the EA Nation infrastructure to ensure you'll always have an opponent.

But then that's already in FIFA 2006, and it will be in FIFA 2007, which will be vying for your cash this autumn as club concerns supersede country.

Right now though, that seems a long way away. Germany is at the forefront of our minds, and as a simulation of that tournament – not to mention a timely pick-me-up – 2006 FIFA World Cup is every bit as welcome (and as unexpected) as a Rooney recovery.

2006 FIFA World Cup is out now – click here to buy.
2006 FIFA World Cup
Reviewer photo
Chris James | 1 June 2006
A game deserving of the name, FIFA World Cup is the best PSP football sim to date
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