World Tour Soccer Review (PSP)
Just a few weeks ago, Operation Sports published its review of World Tour Soccer 2006 for the PS2. Clay Shaver gave the title a 2 out of 5, writing that "if you want to have a little fun in a slightly more arcade-like title with every team under the sun and almost any player you can imagine, give it a try."
Now that same game has been moved onto the new Sony PSP, as part of its commitment to sports games in the launch lineup. How does World Tour Soccer make the transition to the 4-inch pitch?
One of the most important items for me in a soccer game is ball physics and independence. While there are certainly popular soccer series that don't have it, it's critical to me that the ball behave as an independent entity, and allow for the chaotic results of trying to control a ball with your feet. It's that chaos and unpredictability that make soccer exciting. While not quite up to the standards of the best games in the genre, World Tour Soccer does a good job of making the ball a lively, independent agent. It's a shame that there are no through passes, but the ball certainly isn't a heat-seeking missile attracted only to teammate's feet. You'll pass in the direction of teammates, but the passes are loose enough to get the feel of playing the ball in flight. You can put curve on your crosses, and shooting borrows from the Winning Eleven series where you are controlling direction with the analog stick and height with the length of the button press.
Matches are bite-sized. The default setting is for four-minute halves and the game really seems tuned for that. There is not a lot of midfield play, as both teams tend to get downfield quickly, and the action concentrates in the crossing zones and penalty box. It reminds me of the NFL games I saw while on vacation in the U.K., where a three-hour game was compressed into an hour-long show containing all of the central action, but none of the lag. You can argue that this compression of time removes any claim to "sim" gaming, but I think it works beautifully for the platform. When comparing stats, you'll see in-game against the real thing, the shots on goal and goals scored match up well. It's not an arcade scoring fest, but it takes into account that you'll be playing quick games on the PSP, If the game moved at a real soccer pace, you'd see most games end 0-0 with perhaps only a single shot on goal.
As you’d guess from the offensive emphasis, defense is definitely not World Tour Soccer's strong suit. Slide tackles are out of hand, as both you and the CPU can level players and not get carded. Yellow and red cards do get handed out, but the number of missed calls means you can tackle much more aggressively than you’d expect. In general, you can play a passable defense - at least to a point. Unfortunately that point is the edge of the penalty box. Once the CPU gets in there, defense becomes next to impossible. Player switches don't happen quickly enough, nor will you switch to the best player most of the time. It's a real Catch-22, as the game doesn't present much of a midfield set-up, but that's the only area where you can play an effective defense.
One gameplay area where the limitations of the PSP become obvious is the load times. It takes almost a minute to get into and out of a match, and since the matches themselves are only 8 minutes long, that's a sizeable chunk. A full round trip from starting menu to game and back again will be about 10 minutes, with 20% of that spent looking at loading screens. Another loading concern is the nerve-wracking substitutions. After late-game goals, the game will freeze for a few seconds, then the sub notification appears. It's long enough that even after seeing it game after game, I still worry that my PSP has locked up.
"Challenge Mode" is really the core of the game. You'll work your way up a ladder of international teams, increasing in difficulty. However, this isn't a simple tournament or ladder, as you need to accumulate "Challenge Points" to earn medals and unlock other teams and their stadiums. "Challenge Points" are earned for match goals like keeping a clean sheet or not accumulating cards, and for in-game play like good passes, successful passes, and goals. You can lose points by giving up goals and for generally sloppy play. The points, when earned, pop up above your player's head as they complete a good play (or a bad one), and you quickly get an education in good soccer technique. It's a jolt when your players get points taken away for a sloppy tackle, and you'll start to learn to play better. Any gameplay mode that rewards intelligent play is a great thing in a game that leans towards an arcade-style of play, and "Challenge Mode" is one of the best I’ve seen at this. The problem comes when you finish "Challenge Mode". There is a fixed ladder of seven teams, and then you're done. You can't enable this sort of challenge scoring in cups or friendlies, and after you've gotten used to the rewards of "Challenge", the basic game feels a bit colorless in comparison.
There's also a full set of cups, where you can earn points used to unlock more teams. Though you're encouraged to replay them on multiple difficulties, cups are the same groups and fixtures every time, and you'll quickly get bored facing the same schedule again and again. The fact there's no weather in the game just increases the feeling that you're in a soccer gaming "Groundhog Day". In cup play, there's no automatic management of rosters. While not a huge deal in and of itself, it seems that it would make sense to allow the CPU to set your lineup if you’re playing through to the next match.
Be forewarned: "Quick Match" is really, really quick. In most games, you're basically dumped into exhibition setup, and are allowed at least to pick your teams. In World Tour Soccer, you select "Quick Match", and a match with random teams and locales just starts loading.
Graphics certainly aren't the best I've seen on the PSP. The players are a bit blocky and light on textures. It doesn't detract from the game at all, but it's certainly not a showcase of the PSP's abilities. The animations are solid, however, and the camera angles are varied enough to suit your play style.
There is full commentary throughout the match. It mainly consists of players names, as the announcer keeps shouting out the name of whoever gets possession: "Donovan! Mathis! Donovan! Beasley! Donovan!" would be a typical match. The commentary gets a bit more fleshed out in the replays, but is still quite limited. Still, it's better commentary than I've seen yet. The soundtrack only features two songs that play in the menus, but one of them is The Stone Roses' "Made of Stone". Reminding me of my college days will stand any game in good stead, so I’ll give it extra points for taste, if not variety.
One last note on the presentation: Why do I need to select my language every time I log in? I suppose it’s a minor enough inconvenience, but it seems minor enough to record that once, then leave me alone.
I’m not sure if it’s the publisher or the platform, but once again we have a PSP sports game that straddles the line between sim and arcade. In the case of World Tour Soccer, though, I think that balancing act works well. It's madly entertaining, and seems well proportioned to the demands of the portable gaming lifestyle. While keeping scores realistic, the game is slanted towards offense, so that the average gamer on the go has enough time to play a match, and get some shots on goal. While it's a good distance away from a true sim experience like Winning Eleven, it's pace and play mechanics give it that "just one more game" feeling that separates it from many of the PSP's sports titles so far.