You got beef! Take it outside and... kick-off? From EA Sports and EA Canada comes a "refreshed" version of the 2005 release that is meant to follow in the foot steps of the famed NBA and NFL street franchises with the soccer fan in mind. And while most will find a solid sports title with a good amount of style, they won't discover the Matrix-esque fireworks show that made the aforementioned so popular.
Gameplay is the keystone function of Street and will attract the attention of curious attractors. Anyone who has played the vanilla version of FIFA will feel right at home with the basics of the control scheme. A for pass, B for shoot, X for lob/clear, and so forth. The Street stamp comes with the right stick evolution. This is the toy chest of stylish stuff that can be used to make the defender look like a straight fool! Base level moves can be utilized for quick cuts like "step-over," "heel chop," and "body feint" which is fake one way, go the other (think cross over in basketball). This is just the short list compared to the plethora of jukes & jives available that even go into the "special" and "juggle" variety.
When you actually use these in a game, you'll come to realize that the "street moves" are best saved for the one-on-one moments in the middle of games. Sure, using a "rainbow" flick to make some chump look stupid on your way to a heated strike from the corner is quite rewarding. But don't expect to be able to be a one man show, and take every set of ankle joints of the opposing team on you way to the keeper. This just isn't how Street plays. You'll still need a good grasp of at least basic futbol etiquette to rack up wins. So, in the middle of a crowd, don't try to be Hot Sauce from the And 1 tour, or you will turn it over. Instead, try a small move like a RB juggle "flick" past the point defender to set up a "have" at the goal or transition into a pass. By the way, juggles saved me as I was learning how to use the more "advanced" stuff, so don't shy away from using it when all else fails.
This is a good segue into the "critique" portion of today's program. I can still remember playing EA Sports BIG's FIFA Street 3 from 2008. To me, that is the epitome of the Street banner. Cartoon-y look, fantasy moves, over-the-top speed, an ear blisteringly annoying soundtrack, and more bicycle kicks in one game than there will be in an entire Champions League season. Was it technically sound? Did it resemble real soccer in any way? Not really and no. Was it incredibly fun to play and a much needed departure from the more "suit and tie" big brother FIFA? Absolutely. And I feel that is the front running appeal of these alternative branches. The crazier, the more fantastic, the better. Do NOT expect that, at all, from this game. This year's Street is meant to pay appreciation to the real life "street soccer" lifestyle that is popular throughout the world. And although I get that, and think it's a worthwhile endeavor, I can't really relate to that style of play. It's not regularly shown on a major sports network, and most places in this country don't have "street pitches" like there are basketball courts a plenty. So, the name that was used for this game is a bit of a "bait and switch" in my opinion.
Now, having said that, this game plays really good. Think of this title as an abbreviated version of last years FIFA 12, which was by far the best in the franchise to date and probably edged out NBA 2K12 for best sports game. Movements feel fluid, accurate, and responsive. The control of the character always seems in sync with what you intend to do, which is not an easy thing to design considering the "open" nature of soccer. Passes, shots, tackles, sprints, everything acts as you believe it would if the game was real. A testament to be sure of the Electronic Arts staff. The friendly and enemy AI is also very strong. I mean, nothing is perfect, but more often that not you'll be happy with your teammate's decisions and will find the other team will have good camaraderie as well. I can only recall one or two instances of a lapse on defense or a poor angle cut towards the onion bag from "the computer." Again, it's FIFA, just shorter with a slightly "spunkier" attitude. Solid fun.
In accordance with the impressive breadth of gameplay comes the amount of modes to choose from. Hit The Streets is the exhibition portion of Street that can be played alone, with and/or against others locally. 5-A-Side features four position players and a goalie per side with 3 minutes per half, "golden goal' ET, and most goals win. Panna Rules rewards style, as beating a defender 1v1 with a nutmeg (pass to yourself between the other person's legs) rewarding three points, and other "beats" worth 2 or 1. These notches accrue until you score a goal, which then transfers your "banked" points onto the scoreboard. But be careful; the other guys are doing the same thing, and if they beat your dude "between the pipes" first, they'll effectively whammy! the stash you've been building. So score early and often.
Futsal is my personal favorite. This features an "open court" style pitch, so out of bounds comes back into play. No passes off the wall here, as you'll have to mind your p's and q's in relation to your position of the surface. And having corner kicks and penalties in this Street environment offers a cool change of pace. Last Man Standing is done with 3-4 positions, no GK. Every time you score, you lose a com padre. The point is to be the first team to have no one left. Sounds bass ackwards, and in ways it is. But just how the game goes back and forth between your guys being on a "power play" or "short handed" creates a frenetic edge that isn't found in the rest of the game.
If progression is more your thing, delve into World Tour. This starts with customizing your "team captain" (look, height, weight, country of origin, ect.) to play in a quick pick up game that is meant to act like a sort of basic tutorial "on the fly." After this, it's time to assemble a team with some chaps that just competed, or with other randoms from around the world, or more "created" guys. Once team colors and a crest is decided upon, it's time to hit the pavement and choose a region of the world to start with. Each spot will consist of a mixed bag of the aforementioned game modes against teams consisting of footballers made by other gamers, real "street ball" legends, or top talent from actual clubs in major leagues. Successfully put up a few wins, and you'll be invited to compete in national tournaments. All these wins unlock attribute points to boost the squad, as well as new schwag to keep fresh while ballin' out.
Keep racking up "dubs," and you'll soon find your group in the top 8 and in the final tournament in each stage. Capture this crown as a "rite of passage" onto the next region. This is a nice way to keep you interested with the game well beyond after the "cool" factor has dulled down a bit. Another incentive of longevity is the online offering. LIVE players will be in a virtual playground that utilizes the World Tour team, with selections like Street Season. A ten game "season" is comprised against other random teams in Division Matches or participate in a tournament with Cup Match that start a new every couple of days. Online Team Play is the "pick up" option where you will take the "team captain" along with others and have at it in single sessions. While there aren't a crazy high number of options, these are standard and do much to improve the package deal with Street. But be sure to play with your created team a lot, and boost their ratings before stepping up against other LIVE-ers. The last thing you want is to be laughed out of the building with a 66 rated team against the 80+ ones that lie in waiting.
The presentation is probably the section I'm most "in the air" about. One one hand, the graphics are phenomenal. The attention to detail of each "Venue" is unreal, and captures the essence of each locale with ease. Colorful "fly overs" before the game induce a sense of inspiration, even. In short, pretty awesome. Same goes with the character models. Up close, look fantastic, and are even "true to form" with real life counterparts (when applicable, that is). But once the game starts, and the "play" camera is initiated, much of the "awe" is taken away. The same can be said for the FIFA series as well, but in that case you get the roar of the crowd and expert commentary by Martin Tyler and Andy Smith to sweeten the pot. You don't get either here. The in-game chatter from both teams is cool, but doesn't throw a steady bridge over the divide between the two pillars. So weighing both, you get something that is solid most of the time, but is spectacular in short spurts.