Review: FIFA Street
FIFA Street is back with a vengeance but does this title have the finesse and skill to cut it with the posts having shifted since the last time the series came out to play?
- Worth The Time?Certainly.
- Things LovedEase of controls, compelling nature of World Tour, 5v5 with clubs, vast variety of matches, vibrant locations, slick visuals.
- Things HatedLimited soundtrack, poorly realised multiplayer, unfathomable goalkeeper AI.
- RecommendationThis is one to buy for any footballing fan and certainly those who are looking for something as little different to the usual FIFA routine.
- Name: FIFA Street
- Genre: Sports
- Players: 1-7
- Multiplayer: 2-8
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: EA Canada
- Publisher: EA Sports
- Price: R539.00
- Reviewed On: PS3
This is not FIFA-lite, it’s not a football simulator and it certainly isn’t going to give you a deep and complex single-player experience like its big brother. No, FIFA Street is another beast entirely. The core focus is different and the way you play the game is even further removed from what FIFA/PES fans may be used to.
And now, a brief history lesson. FIFA Street was created as football’s iteration of the successful NBA Street and while the first game missed more than it hit, the second had enough going for it to be a pretty good and quite memorable PS2 title. The focus was on crazy tricks, ball control and capturing that real street feel which FIFA Street 2 did expertly. FIFA Street 3 decided to take a stab at establishing the series on the current generation of consoles and failed miserably due to being little more than a big demo and having such little scope that it was an insult to demand the price of a normal game for it. Everyone looked like wonky caricatures and the only good feature was being able to wall-run but we have Prince of Persia for that.
So the new game doesn’t only have a reputation to uphold by finally establishing this series on the current gen the way its predecessors did on PS2 but it also has to undo everything that the third game led people to think about FIFA Street as a series. It was tentatively then that I accepted news of a new FIFA Street being in development some months ago but then I saw the first trailer and I knew that this was what I’d been waiting for.
Having spent a weekend with this game, I can confidently say that this is a triumphant return to form for the series and certainly a must-have for any soccer fan. It’s not as zany as previous titles but a little more grounded and grown-up with the focus still on mesmerising footwork and having fun.
FIFA Street may be FIFA 12 deep down since it runs on the same engines, uses largely the same animations and was even created by a team of people that worked on FIFA 11, but that’s certainly not the case from an exterior perspective. The game is stripped down and far more simplified when compared to its bigger, more intimidating sibling. The idea is to be more navigable with a focus on making the game more accessible to newcomers and old hands alike. There are some idiosyncrasies such as Options and Settings being tucked away in some sub-menu rather than just being right there in the main menu but it’s nothing big, just some odd yet inconsequential design choices. Anyway, menus and the overall interface are pretty slick and really lets players do everything they need to.
While it is initially jarring for those accustomed to the likes of FIFA 12 and PES 2012, this game plays very differently and forces you to play it in ways that you won’t necessarily be used to. The last two annual FIFA releases have forced players to approach a match with more tactical awareness and a better understanding of how to work the ball rather than just sprinting with the ball and shooting. This is essential in FIFA 12 or you’ll struggle quite a great deal if you don’t play the game the way it wants you to. This is exactly what FIFA Street does, it demands that you play in a certain way and at times the game resembles a fascist dictator for this, but it never makes any apologies for it and certainly shouldn’t.
The primary assets in this game are skill and close-control, because what makes this format of the beautiful game so much more attractive is the way players can weave in and out of opponents with the ball stuck to their feet, or leave their opponents standing flummoxed in the wake of a dizzying trick performed at their expense.
True to reality, the bias is on attacking with defence being reserved to the backseat. Controls are largely just slightly simplified versions of your standard FIFA scheme which includes a more basic iteration of the new Tactical Defending that takes some getting used to, for noobs like myself who have stuck with Legacy Defending, but you get the hang of it all rather quickly because that’s the whole point – for the basic controls to be easily mastered so that the focus is really on manipulating your analogue sticks to make the ball do majestic and magical things at the feet of your player. Players have a greater degree of close-control than they do in FIFA and pulling off some simple tricks is fairly basic. Even jiggling your right and left analogues about a bit will likely produce something half decent, so even a rank amateur can get past players, but it takes some practice to get the hang of purposefully pulling off some tricks, while learning when and how to use them takes just as much perseverance.
The attacking bias means that defending is a bit tricky and you often only have one man at the back to stave off an onslaught, so a goal here and there is inevitable, but matches are typically very high scoring and it is pretty easy to score using the right technique. This gives each match this great high-intensity, high-scoring feel to it. The game seems to be very German in its insistence on you following a set playing style since deviating from the standard of short passes and big skills with a lobbed pass here or a ranged shot there practically never yields results. Even through-balls are wayward. It’s a wee bit Nazi, but you’ll certainly appreciate it once you see what the game has got you doing to get past players when you take the easy options out.
There are some issues that have crept in such as goalkeeper AI being notoriously haphazard with keepers sometimes rushing out of their goal to steal the ball from an opponent and other times the keeper will just stand there and you have to force him out manually. Auto-switching is also iffy and when it doesn’t work, you kind of have to cycle through your players to get to the one you want. These are issues that only come up when you’re defending but it never becomes a serious problem because you can usually prevent the goal and even if you don’t, goals are easy to come by. It’s certainly not FIFA 12 where that one goal could decide the match.
That said, FIFA Street is no slouch when it comes to variety. There are nearly 40 unique venues to play at and not only are they all vibrant and adequately detailed, but their layouts are different and this modifies the way you play the game ever so slightly. There’s a variety of locales from parking lots to backstreets, gyms, courts, riverbanks and more. Some are expansive and can comfortably host a 6v6 match while others are cramped and require a great deal of close control and accurate skill. Even the size of the goals vary and some pitches have outs while others have barriers which you can bounce the ball off and this contributes to making each location feel different since you play slightly differently at each.
Do you know what really got me excited about this game though? The fact that it would include over 100 of the best clubs from Europe and North America. The entire Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, MLS all those teams are there with a squad of about 10 players to choose from. The trimmed squads won’t please everyone since I believe players such as Andy Carroll didn’t make it into Liverpool’s squad but there’s largely nothing to complain about on that front. Every football fan has this debate with friends or family at some point: “Which team would be the best at 5-a-side?” Well, now you can find out and boy is it a treat to be able to do so. Any fan will appreciate this addition and it is truly something to behold to be able to play with Messi or Nani or Zlatan or Kaka in a setting that demands their creative best. There’s also a smattering of international teams on tap and some street teams to boot.
As far as match-types go there’s such a wide-spread that you won’t get bored any time soon. There’s standard 5v5 or 4v4 with no outs and that’s either timed or to a certain number of goals. Then there’s the more professional futsal which is 6v6 or 5v5 on a rather large court with outs and set-pieces. We also have Freestyle which requires you to reach a certain number of skill points (earned for doing tricks) before the opposition. The catch is you need to score to lock in the points you’ve built up. Similar to that is Panna, which is really just about pure skill and being able to make your opponent look like an utter potato. You get points based on how you beat your opponent and must score to lock those points in while sending your opponent’s uncashed points to the trash. Finally we have Last Man Standing (keep calm and see what I did there) which starts you out with any number of players from 3 to 5 and you lose a man for each goal you score. Like dominoes, the aim of the game is to be the first to lose all your men.
Each type requires a different approach and focuses your skills in different areas of this format of the game, whether it be passing, close control, or trickery. Lots and lots of variety makes for a slightly different experience every time you play the game. You know what really stands at odds with this variety? The way each player feels whether you’re on the ball with them or chasing down an opponent, they all feel the same and while some are better than others at dribbling or skills, you don’t really feel it even though you can see it on-screen. This is perhaps because they seem to use largely generic animations so that Ronaldo (who is apparently from that part of Portugal that no one wants to be associated with) doesn’t move any differently to Rooney really.
That said, the game does at least look great and while players don’t look any better than they do in FIFA 12, many look a touch more realistic such as Ronaldo who just never seemed to be rendered properly up till now. However, some players look more than a little strange and Luis Suarez looks distinctly Indian. I seem to be mentioning issues with Liverpool’s team more than any other, it’s curious how that happens to the team with perhaps the worst luck the footballing world has ever known. The environments are rich nonetheless and the silky visuals are a perfect compliment for those exquisitely smooth skills.
So what’s this game got to contend with FIFA’s Manager and Be a Pro modes? It’s called World Tour and while it can’t hold a candle to the depth and intricacy of Manager mode, it is good fun and pretty compelling at that. You create your own Virtual Pro or can even import the one you prepared earlier in FIFA 12 and then assemble a team of unknowns who will then go on to tackle the world. You can create your own team crest, design a kit and so on and even choose what apparel each player wears when they’re in street clothes for matches.
You complete events to progress and there are four stages of events as it were. You start off in regional where you can choose what region of which country you’d like to start in and then move onto nationals for that country and penultimately continental before going international. Each time the difficulty tips up just a bit and you’ll face increasingly tougher opposition. You start off facing street teams comprising nobody’s like yourself but by National level already, you’ll be squaring off against mid-table teams from the country you started in.
Your players earn skill points for performing in matches and these can be used to upgrade them in various areas such as defence, speed, dribbling, you get the picture. It’s a great system and before you know it, your team will be pretty damn invincible. Winning events also unlocks content such as new street teams for Exhibition Matches or a new location to play in but mostly you’ll unlock branded apparel to kit your players out in. What is a bit incongruous is the fact that after winning certain events, you will have the opportunity to poach a player from one of the team’s you played against but the thing is that barring their superior proficiency for tricks, these players are usually pretty much inferior to your starting team in every way after you’ve levelled them up a couple of times. What I did notice that’s pretty cool is that amongst the fictitious players in these street teams are some real street players and freestylers such as South Africa’s Kamalio. That was kinda cool for me but nothing too special since he was slow and couldn’t tackle, and so became pretty useless pretty quickly since you sort of have to be an all-rounder in street soccer, since positions are not fixed, because there aren’t really enough people for that.
As I said, it is a surprisingly compelling campaign and could last you a good few days if you speed through it or play on easy. What makes it even more intriguing is that when playing tournaments you can opt to play against real people and their teams rather than an AI team. It’s cool in theory since it’s still part of your single-player experience except it depends on a strong community to work and people drop in and out of tournaments like dead flies on a yo-yo.
Online you can play an exhibition match but only with your created team and not one of the club or international teams. This sucks, because I wanted to play against Dean, but because I had progressed much further in World Tour than him my team was like Madrid and his was a bit like Powerlines FC. I’d prefer the option to play on more level terms. Past that you can sign up to take part in the divisions which are essentially 15 leagues of sequentially greater rank complete with relegation and promotion. Each season is 10 matches and it’s a nice concept, but there’s little to play for besides trophies and bragging rights. There’s no exclusive apparel to be unlocked or anything of the sort.
The online multiplayer is really just lacking a driving force and isn’t helped by the lag you tend to pick up when playing. Even the modified version of Autolog borrowed from NFS doesn’t do the game any justice. It’s called Street Log, and that’s probably where it belongs, because all EA had to do was adapt the system for a sports game, but instead they ripped out bits and pieces of it so that all you have is the Autolog that you got way back in Hot Pursuit. So it tracks your friends’ progress and shows you what they’ve been up to, but there isn’t that interactivity to it where you are challenged to best a friend . Like the rest of the game, it’s a simplified version of the source material but unlike the rest of the game, it’s worse off as a result.
This is a great social game, definitely one to play when you have friends over, but not one for online which is a cruel irony if ever I saw one.
One thing to note is that there’s no commentary in this game. You get announcers at some events, but that’s about as much as you will get. The only other voices you’ll hear are those of players as they shout and call, and you’ll also hear some spectators. There’s a good mix of songs to play to, but the problem is that there are barely enough songs to put on a mixtape cassette. There are literally only five or six songs and no option to add your own playlist. If there is, it’s hidden deep within some obscure sub-menu.
The game takes those FIFA engines we’re so used to and re-purposes them. The visuals are put to much better use with these smaller, more detailed environments and the precision dribbling from FIFA 12 is a really invaluable part of this game that absolutely shines in showing us what it can do. You don’t see too much of the Impact Engine, but there are glimpses of it in the way a player can lose his footing or slip on a court surface and it’s also there when you’re skipping past opponents with a more realistic interaction taking place rather than your player just kind of ghosting through the other.
A real problem is that the game is sometimes a bit too laid back in its approach and doesn’t really recapture that energy and vibe that football usually has on the street. You feel it somewhat later on when there’s a sizeable crowd around you which cheers of excitement every now and then. This game certainly has no qualms about what it is, but you get the feeling that it’s subconsciously trying to be a bit more like its more mature sibling than it should. I’m not going to psycho-analyse the game because, well then I’d probably need my own psych-analysis and a padded cell but what I’m saying is that the game feels more grown-up than I remember FIFA Street being and while it makes for a great experience, it lacks that certain craziness and energy that it just should have.
A great game, there’s no about that but FIFA Street could do with loosening up a bit and giving us that little bit of atmosphere and emotion that it lacks somewhat. The series seems to be tending more towards becoming a futsal simulator but I suspect this is to balance out the ridiculous insanity that was happening in FIFA Street 3. I mean wall-running, my goodness what a preposterous notion and with a soccer ball? Don’t make me laugh. You know what it is? It’s the fact that this game was developed by a previous FIFA team, as in people who are used to making serious sports games.
FIFA Street is filled with tons of variety and despite some issues and niggles here and there along with a patchy multiplayer, it is a very solid game and a great springboard from which to relaunch the series. It must be noted that you can see places where EA could have perhaps done better and it feels like they left that for future titles.
Ultimately, you have a hugely fun game that looks good, plays well and is simple enough to get the hang of very quickly. Don’t believe me? My brothers put down FIFA 12 for this and still haven’t gone back.