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World Tour Soccer 2006 (PS2)


By Michael Palisano

Building on the success of previous titles in the series, Sony's 989 Sports hits the pitch again with the release of World Tour Soccer 2006 for the PS2. Its controls have been improved dramatically, offering a responsive touch that makes passing and kicking much easier. With a roster of hundreds of teams and thousands of players, WTS 2006 offers an incredible amount of depth. Add in online play and EyeToy support, and you have a strong soccer title. The game's smoother appearance, complete with in game cut-scenes gives it a visual polish that previous titles have lacked. Read our review and find out why this excellent soccer title that should please die-hard soccer fans and casual players alike.

The release of World Tour Soccer 2006 on the PS2 represents a huge leap forward for 989's popular soccer series that places it firmly alongside the other major contenders. Not content to add a few minor upgrades to the game, the PS2 edition brings some noticeable improvements that improves the game flow and feel dramatically. The controls and interface are noticeably improved this time around with improvements coming on both the defensive and offensive sides. 989 have created the most realistic title yet with more than 900 real international and club teams, 19,000 licensed FIFPRO players from more than 30 different leagues and conferences, giving it a remarkable amount of depth. WTS 2006 also features eight separate tournaments taking place in 28 realistically rendered stadiums. The game includes a number of gameplay modes including Exhibition Matches, Season, Career, League, and Challenge Modes for solo and multiplayer action. These different modes allow players of varying abilities and skills to play a quick fast-paced match, or go through an entire season with their team, adjusting their rosters and attack strategies as the year unfolds.

Most of these modes are self-explanatory, but the Challenge mode deserves mention, since it allows players to play a one-off match against tough opponents. These matches won't just score the players on number of goals, but on other factors, such as ball possession time which gives it a more arcade-like feel. WTS 2006 will also allow players to compete in a number of cup modes, and allows the creation of new leagues, cups and, tournaments. The game will also feature numerous unlockable items that can be obtained by successful play including extra teams, stadiums, and cheats to name a few. This is an impressive features list, to be sure, but the real test of any soccer title is how it captures the dynamics and excitement of professional soccer. WTS 2006 does an excellent job in bringing the feel of soccer to the PS2. In order to capture the nuances and sophisticated strategies of real life-soccer more accurately than previous titles have, the developers have given the series AI a massive overhaul. The most noticeable changes come when you discover the added intelligence of the rival teams' strategies. They pass and block much more effectively than before, and play their sides much more aggressively. Opposing teams will adapt to the onscreen action quicky, which means more unpredictable and challenging play. They change their shot timing, placement and change their defense strategies to makes their moves much harder to anticipate. Additionally, their tactics will change with the game. They'll defend their goal much more aggressively when your side seems to have success with possessions and will also attack aggressively when they near your net. Each team feels more authentic and plays cooperatively as a real team would. This improved AI more accurately recreate the tactics, styles and approaches of the actual teams. Certain teams emphasize finesse or strength, while other focus their attacks with style or precision, as their counterparts would.

Along with these on-field improvements, World Tour Soccer 2006 is also the first title in the series to support the EyeToy peripheral. Using the camera, players can scan their own faces into the game and watch themselves on the field. The process takes several steps to complete, but is relatively painless. The first thing you need to do is stand in front of the camera, and scan your face into the game. WTS uses Digimask technology to convert high-resolution images of a gamer's head into digital form. This data is then used to render a 3D model of your face, which is then transferred to the player who will take the field. What's really impressive about this is that the technology adds emotions onto each digitzed players' alter-ego, allowing them to react to different events. For example, the player will have a big smile after scoring a goal, but will frown and grimace when they foul out. This is a unique feature, and an impressive use of the underutilized EyeToy camera. While some of the game's features and upgrades seem standard for sports titles, World Tour Soccer 2006's support of the EyeToy should bring it at least some more respect from players.

WTS 2006's redesigned interface scores thanks to its smooth, intuitive control scheme that makes passing and shooting the ball much easier. Its enhanced control scheme also allows for more control of the ball on field, which makes dribbling and running much more accurate. The basic moves have been simplified, but more nuance and subtlety has been added to the more advanced moves. You can now kick the ball on a curved arc for more accurate shots, use a variety of air- and ground-passing techniques to keep the opposing team off guard. Players can also adjust their team's formations on the fly to defend their goal or use their strikers to go in for the attack. Other key elements in the controls allow you to switch from standard running to sprinting. You can also perform dangerous moves such as slide tackles and fake dives, but these aren't recommended because they generally result in a red card foul. The game's icon-passing system will also give you plenty of flexibility. Using this, you can choose which team member you want to control, and which player you want to pass to. It's quite simple, and works well with the PS2 controller. Players can also choose a variety of different attacks and implement them quickly, making the strategic elements of soccer more prominent. The game's smartly designed controls go a long way in allowing for greater flexibility on the field. Obviously, the action flows at a fast pace, but the intuitive controls are easy to learn, which lets novice players pull off cool moves easily, while offering enough nuance for the sophisticated soccer fan.

In addition to fine-tuning the on-field gameplay, World Tour Soccer 2006's visuals have also undergone a dramatic improvement that makes it look much better than previous titles. The on field animations are fantastic, giving the game a smooth, fluid feel that effectively recreates the passion of real-world soccer matches. The television-style presentation allows players to have a good viewpoint of the action, with several new camera angles ranging from long-view to close-in on the field. The animations and cut-scenes spotlight each match's dramatic moments ranging from celebrations to dejection as a defeated team slumps off the field. WTS' developers have also enhanced the engine with a smoother appearance for the players, who are more detailed and lively. Players will also find better motion captures, improved lighting effects and deeper commentary tracks for each match. The commentary includes four different languages: English, Spanish, French and Italian. Another big change comes in the stadiums themselves, which will feature an incredibly high level of detail, which makes them look much more realistic than before. The action on the field is further enhanced by authentic crowd noise, chants and songs, with each team's fans' waving their flags and colors in the stands, adding to the level of excitement and intensity of each game. These excellent production values make WTS 2006 the best looking title in the series to date, surpassing all the previous titles in terms of technical production values and on-field realism.

With so many significant improvements on and off the field, this is definitely one of the more impressive PS2 soccer sims on the market. The gameplay is smooth and intuitive, with a great control interface that makes it accessible while offering enough depth and nuance in its tactics and rosters to satisfy die-hard fans of the sport. The numerous modes offer variety, while the game's extensive roster of players and teams give it plenty of depth. The visuals are excellent as well, with a highly polished presentation that captures the essence and passion of the sport. Allowing players to scan their own images onto digitized players using the EyeToy camera is another cool idea that's implemented well in the game. This solidly entertaining and challenging title that offers fast-paced play, excellent controls, plenty of depth and a solid presentation. Overall, World Tour Soccer 2006's polish and depth is impressive, and makes it an enjoyable and highly entertaining sports title that should appeal to both casual and hardcore soccer fans.

Grade: B

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