"World Tour Soccer 2005" tries something in videogaming I've long sought from real-world soccer - make it interesting.
This take on the virtual pitch for PlayStation2 has good graphics and game narration sound, but I'm still stuck wanting more zest and quicker player response.
It continues 989 Sports' long line of soccer titles, none of which I've previously tried. But they'll need to win over a serious non-soccer fan in me, one who honestly cringes at the thought of any 90 minutes of professional sports that can end in a 1-0 score - ugh.
I started in "amateur" proficiency mode, electing to take on the role of the U.S. team led by Landon Donovan and going up against Canada. I vowed not to try my hand at a World Championship Cup tournament bracket until I'd trounced my northern neighbors.
Getting used to the controls was tough. Every time I fumbled around to hit the "O" button to blast a shot on goal instead of "X" to shove off a pass, I agonizingly misfired and tipped a slow roller to the goalkeeper instead of embarrassing him.
But practice makes perfect. After six tries, I'd bested Canada, 4-1. Persistence and long runs at the goal from midfield were the key.
Highlights on my road to victory were the high graphic detail of rowdy fans in the stands after my goals, and the slow-motion instant replays which appeared to embellish my rough crossover moves to the goal, but were fun to watch nonetheless.
Another nice touch is the play-by-play sound, which detailed each pass and shot-on-goal. The announcer agonized over my wayward shots that caromed off the cross bar. When I scored, he blared "DONOVAN!"
Players were a bit sluggish when they first received passes. They appeared to pause and ponder before sprinting downfield with the ball. I thought this detracted from whatever high stakes game play is to be elicited from soccer.
It was nice to see the opponents bite hard on my fakes and crossover moves as I neared the goal. When defenders fell, it wasn't too hard to double back and get an open shot on goal, though actual scoring wasn't by any means automatic.
To take the shot, you have to hold down the "O" button just briefly or the shot will go too high. That was an early and frequent problem for me.
At the pithier World Championship Cup level, I again took the U.S. squad.
Fouls are touchier at this level, and the South Korean team I went up against first passed the ball quicker and more often, leaving me fiddling to change to a controllable defender ahead of the ball. The defender under my control always had a light blue halo at his feet.
It's not hard to hang tough at the advanced competition level, but late in the game the opposing team really starts driving to the goal and my takeaway tackles proved fruitless.
For sure, 989 Sports knows soccer. They've included profiles of 18,700 real players from leagues around the globe. If you want to bend it like Beckham or fake someone out of their shin guards like Donovan, it's there.
I'd ask for a lot more player response next time around to make this sports game better. It just felt a little too sluggish to get the blood pumping.
"World Tour Soccer 2005" is rated E and costs $39.99.
Two stars out of four.