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Sean Pettibone

World Tour Soccer (PSP)

Taking to the pitch for the first time on the PSP, Sony's own World Tour Soccer franchise makes an impressive debut on the handheld system. Featuring more than 100 teams and 2000 officially licensed players, WTS has a remarkable amount of depth. It plays smoothly with intuitive controls, a fast pace and intelligent opponent AI. From a visual standpoint, the game looks good with excellent player animation, close-up angles and excellent color commentary. There are also some cool extras like a challenge mode plus unlockable teams, stadiums and players. These elements make World Tour Soccer an addictive, challenging soccer title that takes excellent advantage of the PSP's abilities.

Sony's World Tour Soccer for the PSP is a surprisingly deep game that offers nearly the depth and nuance of a console sports title on a portable system. While many gamers would probably be satisfied with a bare-bones title that plays well, the game goes the extra mile and offers more than 200 teams with most international and club teams represented, along with an impressive array of classic teams and rosters. The teams included in the game range from well-known to unknown but aren't generic and features has their authentic lineups, with home and away uniforms. More impressively, each club also features their own unique play styles and strategies implemented. This is quite impressive by handheld standards, though the PSP's power leads to higher expectations and standards.There's a good selection of teams available at the start, but players can unlock many additional clubs and stadiums as they play the game. While it doesn't offer the real team names or logos, WTS' official FIFPRO license means you'll find the rosters intact with most major players represented in the game including David Beckham, Landon Donovan, Freddy Adu, and Ronaldo to name just a few. Once you've selected your team, you'll find that there are a number of standard modes included in the title. World Tour Soccer offers a decent selection of Competition, Exhibition and Cup matches. You can also select from a number of different tournament and cup modes at the menu screen, and even set up custom matches between different teams, giving WTS a lot of replay value.

These are fairly standard modes of play for soccer titles, and are fairly self-explanatory. They perform solidly and should offer plenty of depth and excitement for soccer fans. However, the game offers several cool extras that set it apart from the pack. WTS' coolest feature is the arcade-like Challenge mode, where you pick a team and challenge a pre-selected team such as Barcelona to a match. The hook here is that instead of only registering goals, you score points for every successful action, such as a tackle or pass but lose points when you get a red card or lose a goal. The object here is to earn enough points at the end of each match to unlock additional challenges against other teams. This is a really cool little mini-game that offers something refreshingly different. WTS also offers players the opportunity to challenge nearby PSP owners to an 'ad-hoc' match, where you can challenge another player head to head. You can also adjust their team's rosters and formations in the Team Management modes and change options such as match length, penalty kick rules and difficulty and more. WTS' variety of play modes give it plenty of depth and form a solid foundation, but the real test lies is how it plays once you hit the field.

Playing World Tour Soccer is surprisingly easy thanks to the intuitive controls that take good advantage of the PSP's button placement and layout. They're not as complex as a console game, but still offer players plenty of nuanced control. The game lets you to move your players using either the D-pad or Analog Nub. Players can pass or shoot quite easily when on the attack using the system's face buttons. You can control your goal shots using a power-bar, holding down the button causes harder, higher shot. Likewise, the passing system offers a variety of options and lets you see where you're passing easily thanks to the Icon passing system, which assigns a different button to each downfield player. Players can also gain further nuance using the directional arrow passing indicator to select where they want the ball to go. The game allows you to automatically switch between players, and you can also call in a player-assist, where a CPU controlled team-mate will automatically come and guard your player. You can also make your goalie come out of the net to meet attacking opponents if you want to defend your goal more aggressively. When you are on defense, you can select one of your teammates to attack an opposing player automatically by attempting to tackle them. You can also set up a defensive clearance to kick the ball out of danger when you're in the cross-zones near your own goal.

WTS' interface and controls are remarkably simple and allow you to perform a variety of special moves by pressing the shift and face buttons together such as shimmys, spins, feints, and more. You can also perform several types of predetermined aerial and ground passes plus one-twos and give-and-takes to keep the opposing team off guard. World Tour Soccer's streamlined controls work well on the PSP and make most of the basic moves easy to learn and simple to perform. These special moves aren't that difficult to master, and make the action easy to control and accessible to casual soccer fans. Off the field, players can adjust their team's strategy by changing formations, attack patterns and substituting players easily at the menu screens. Each match moves remarkably smoothly throughout, with a fast and exciting pace that mirrors the feel of real professional soccer.

The visuals are likewise impressive and take full advantage of the PSP's processing power with excellent player animations and movement that gives the game a realistic appearance. The action is highlighted frequently by close-ups and replays which focus in on the action after some of the more exciting plays. World Tour Soccer's overall production values are excellent with a smooth, television-style appearance giving it a slick look overall. This is further enhanced by the game's excellent color commentary, which draws you right into the action. During each match, players will find the overall layout of the screen satisfactory, with mostly unobtrusive graphics allowing for a fully immersive experience. The interface screen is smartly designed and clear with the onscreen radar giving players an overview of the action at all times. Unfortunately, there are a few problems with this title that slightly diminish its appeal. The biggest of these are its load times, which seem to drag on a bit longer than they should. Another problematic area lies in the camera system. While players have three viewpoints to choose from with near, medium and far angles. These far points make the players difficult to see, even on the PSP's large screen. Its slightly annoying and makes the action hard to follow. However, things get much easier to play when you play using the closer angles, so this annoyance can be easily avoided. While these issues are noticeable, they really don't seriously detract from the overall experience.

With numerous modes of play, a deep roster of teams, players and stadiums, and challenging opponent AI, World Tour Soccer for the PSP is an excellent handheld soccer title. It offers a surprisingly deep, challenging soccer experience. The controls are superb, making for intuitive play while the on-field action moves at a quick pace. Aside from the limited number of camera angle, the graphics look great on the PSP with excellent player animation and a smooth television style presentation. The cup, tournament and challenge modes extend the game's appeal even further, making for a solid title with plenty of replay value and depth. World Tour Soccer isn't perfect, but offers players a solidly entertaining and challenging soccer title that should please PSP sports fans. - M.P.

Grade: B

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