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FIFA 06

Each year EA and the FIFA team assure us in a very serious fashion that they've gone back to the drawing board - have they with FIFA 06?

This is a difficult review to write. Each year EA and the FIFA team assure us in a very serious fashion that they've gone back to the drawing board. They tell us they're all huge fans of Pro Evolution Soccer and make the point they've all learned lots since they last released a FIFA game and that this one, this time, is the perfect soccer game. The official FIFA 06 website highlights this by pointing out that "intuitive gameplay enables you to command every move of your player with pinpoint accuracy", which is a clever way of saying they've done an even better job of copying Pro Evo's control system this year.

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Now, when starting up a game for the first time, you're given the option of choosing Classic or Exciting New And A Bit Different controls, with the newer option being this Pro Evo clone bunch of settings. Which is great - there's no more using the A button to select your man any more, the Right trigger is sprint like it should be because surely everyone plays Pro Evo these days, and yes, even the holding down of the Right trigger and A does the same homing-in-on-the-ball move in FIFA 06 as it does in Pro Evo, thanks to this year's FIFA's new controls. But poor old FIFA has shot itself in its goldtrim Predators by doing this. Comparisons with Pro Evo were easy before, but now FIFA 06 is using the identical same control system they're even easier than ever! Whereas before it was slightly unfair to say FIFA was a worse Pro Evolution Soccer, now it's a scientifically provable fact.

The action out on the pitch has been altered to fit this 'new' system. The through-pass, triggered by the Y button as it always has in both Pro Evo and FIFA, is at the core of new FIFA. Which means there's less reliance on ping-ponging the ball through midfield, and more emphasis on springing the offside trap, timing your passes and getting through on the keeper. It's a better idea, a nicer way to play, and an enhancement that makes FIFA feel a little bit more like the proper soccer sim it wants to be. There are still disappointments, though - it's still way too easy to take one man through the Xbox-controlled opponents and score.

There's also the usual array of double-tapping special moves and on-the-fly tactics changes that have always been at the core of FIFA, and with these established moves and the newer, more fluid passing-play style, new FIFA is a fresher, faster and fairly improved game. But the biggest innovation in FIFA 06 is the management section. This isn't just some tacked-on little extra, it's a gigantic, 15-season long, detailed and statistically accurate welded-on slog through the league table. It really is an impressively generous addition, with piles and piles of matches, coaching and scouting options and months upon months of strategic play.

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It's also pretty good for a management game. You can play the matches each week for starters, a significant advantage over many donkey jacket sims, plus there's the option to skip them - and read text updates of the match such as "He scuffs the shot!" if you want to hurry through the league season. Not exactly the most thrilling thing to do, but handy if you're in a hurry (although here at Official Xbox Magazine we do not advise the playing of management games in any kind of hurry).

Another peculiar thing that greets you when you boot up FIFA 06 for the first time is the event-based matches. After creating a profile and choosing your team (we chose Sunderland, out of pity), you receive a memo from the FA office.

This memo informs you that a World's Best XI has reformed and is challenging you to a match. So off you go, playing a team that consists of Eric Cantona and Franz Beckenbauer, presumably brought together under the time-travelling management of Doctor Who and desperate to prove themselves against the mighty north-eastern footballing superpower.

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