FIFA 06, Electronic Arts Whether it's the acoustic guitars of Oasis or the deep bass beats of Damian Marley, Fifa 06's soundtrack alone tells players that they're not in the United States anymore.
Soccer, while still striving for more popularity in the United States, is the sport of the world, and Fifa 06 brings that notion home with the most detailed simulation of professional soccer to date.
The casual U.S. soccer fan can pick up Fifa 06 and have a great time. If your knowledge of soccer doesn't extend beyond what you see in the states with Major League Soccer, then go right ahead and enjoy the rivalry that is Chivas U.S.A. vs. Real Salt Lake. All MLS superstars are accounted for.
Freddy Adu may battle for playing time in real life, but in Fifa 06, he's right there in the starting lineup for D.C. United. Players such as Adu and Landon Donovan of the Los Angeles Galaxy shine for their teams with stellar play and goal-scoring ability based on what they do on the field in real life.
But you can't bask in American pride forever and hope to enjoy what truly makes Fifa 06 a great game. To not play a match with one of the many European clubs or international teams would be like having the option to eat filet mignon but settling for a double cheeseburger.
From Arsenal of the English Premier League to Real Madrid of the Spanish Primera League, the game play of the international clubs in Fifa 06 sets the tone whether playing against an opponent or against the computer. The difference in the flow of the game when it comes to player speed, passing and scoring ability is dependent on the prestige of the league in which you are playing.
In short, you're free to face off against Manchester United with a U.S. team, but don't expect to win.
The reality of the game is apparent in player movement with the ball. Just hitting the passing and kicking buttons is not going to get you the goals you need to win. Getting the ball in scoring range is a task within itself. Passing is the most important aspect of the game and is not as easy as it may seem. Getting the ball to an open teammate vertically and backwards is easy. Advancing the ball horizontally towards the opponent's goal is what requires the most skill and practice.
Defenders come at you ferociously. No forward pass goes unchallenged once you pass mid-field. Using new dribbling and shielding techniques to get passes toward the opponent's goalie are imperative to scoring success.
Scoring frequently requires practice (which can be gained in practice mode). Once you do score, you may feel the urge to do your own victory dance, but don't dance too long, or you'll miss some really great player celebrations put into the game.
The game's graphics are top-notch. More emphasis on facial details and even player hairstyles is apparent, as well as net movement after a goal and even the type of shoes worn by some players. And, the sounds of the game, such as unique crowd chants and accented commentary provide an authentic gaming experience.
-- David Betancourt PlayStation2, Xbox, PlayStation Portable, $50
STAR WARS: BATTLEFRONT II, LucasArts/Pandemic Studios: With a playable Xbox demo of this game available on the "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" DVD, a lot of people will be able to give this ultimate interactive Star Wars thrill ride a whirl.
Battlefront II offers everything a Star Wars fan could ask for in a video game. The sequel to the best-selling Star Wars game introduces massive battlefields on planet surfaces from all six films as well as in space. For the first time, players can jump into a TIE Fighter or a Jedi Starfighter and enter dogfights amid chaotic battles with mammoth capital ships and Star Destroyers.
The immersive, open-ended game play even allows you to board one of these huge ships via the hangar, jump out, battle your way through the laser-firing stormtroopers and commandeer a Star Destroyer.
The thrill of this game franchise has always been about the multiplayer experience. Depending on your system of choice, up to 64 players (plus additional artificial intelligence-controlled bots) can suit up as one of four factions (Rebels, Imperials, CIS, and Clone Troopers -- although only two factions battle at once) and take on enemy forces.
While PS2 (24 human players) and Xbox (32 human players) gamers won't have as large player-controlled fields, the inclusion of computer-controlled bots in every version recreates epic battles straight from the film.
Jumping into the multiplayer game is a snap -- pick a side (the good guys or the bad guys), a class (soldier, pilot or sniper) and jump onto a classic battlefront such as the ice planet Hoth or inside the Death Star, or a new trilogy location such as Episode III's lava planet, Mustafar.
Whether on a planet surface on foot, in one of the 30 vehicles from the films or in space dogfighting, the third-person perspective action perfectly recreates some of the best moments from the two trilogies.
The ability to control Jedis and Siths in both the single-player campaign (for short periods of time) and in an exclusive Celebrity Deathmatch online multiplayer mode (which includes Yoda, Darth Vader, Darth Maul and Boba Fett) adds a new dimension to game play with an array of special Force powers and abilities.
While the movies may be over, Battlefront II ensures that the best part of the films -- the action sequences -- live on with you and your friends as the stars.
-- John Gaudiosi
PlayStation 2, Xbox, Win XP or 2000, $50