Review: FIFA Street

FifaStreet

There was a time when the concept of “arcade sports” meant wild, crazy and (often literally) on fire. NFL players jumped off alley walls wearing more bling than Flavor Flav. Second basemen, engulfed in searing flames, cold-cocked runners as they tried to stretch for a single. And point guards with heads the size of ripe county fair watermelons leapt 100 feet into the air to heedlessly shatter backboards into so many Plexiglas shards. We can still rock that last one—feel free to fire up EA’s NBA Jam: On Fire Edition if you’re so moved—but the rest have faded into arcade-sports obscurity. As the major professional sports leagues have embraced a type of brand management more tightly controlled than Will Smith’s movie career, the crazy has turned to cautious, and game developers have taken a hard right at the intersection of Realism and Arcade.

So it’s been on the soccer pitch. The last time we kicked the rock around in Electronic Arts’ FIFA Street series (2008’s FIFA Street 3) it was a hyper-stylized affair, with Fox Sports-like blue streaks trailing balls bicycle-kicked on goal and a meter that filled with every goofball move you pulled off, leading to a gamebreaker mode that almost always resulted in ridiculously athletic/easy goals. The new FIFA Street switches the field completely, putting the emphasis on the “Street,” but in a way the guys who start for squads in FIFA 12 would recognize and appreciate. This is a sim that approximates the kind of five-v-five scrum you’d find on the streets of Sao Paulo or at the local sports complex.

Turns out that’s a pretty great thing. FIFA Street gets a ton of things right, beginning with the ways it forces you to master complex spins, stepovers and rainbow flicks, reducing soccer to its barest essence—one-on-one battles between you and a defender. Gone are the “whoa!” moments where your player rips off an off-the-wall somersault just to pump a gamebreaker meter. Instead, you’ll be performing mental somersaults to try to memorize the various trick combos, the same way you might try to memorize attacks to take out M.Bison in Street Fighter X Tekken. Still, simplicity survives: Waggling the right stick to nutmeg an opponent (and unlocking the “Want Some Nutmeg With That” achievement) is totally cause for an imaginary high five.

Don’t freak, would-be Messis. You can still stand back from the D and show off your mad juggling skillz to your heart’s content, but your reward is both more sublime and carries less immediate impact on the game at hand. You’ll earn points to level up your player, yes, but if your ball-hawking doesn’t lead to goals and a victory, there’ll be no unlockables for you.

It’s not exactly shocking to discover that FIFA Street isn’t designed to highlight defense, and as such you’ll have to be careful how much defensive button-bashing you engage in when you’ve trapped a striker in a corner. Tap too much, and you’ll possess the ball, only to wildly pass it off the wall or down the court and right back to the opposition. That’s frustrating and lame. So is your goalie’s behavior, which swings from the brilliant levels of Iker Casillas to the absolute forehead-slappingly dumb. (There’s an achievement for that, too.)

FIFA Street adopts its more serious sibling’s international approach, lining up events on every continent for you and your squad of recruited ragtags to conquer as part of the career-building World Tour mode. Play and win an event on the gold level, and you’ll unlock sweet-looking kits that’ll have your guys feeling like Real Madrid wannabes in no time; dribble though on bronze and you’ll get only socks, a prize that stings only slightly less than relegation. The more matches and events you win, the more skilled players will come calling to join up and upgrade the roster talent, a feature that fueled the fun in classic EA arcade titles like NFL Street and NBA Street 3. It’s not always an obvious decision to nab new talent. Parting with Tony Danza—yes, the AI actually named my teammate Tony Danza–the blue-fro’d middie whose adept passing was not just the boss, but also responsible for bumping my striker up three levels was such sweet sorrow. Such is the cost of world domination.

The gameplay options really add attractive depth and variety to FIFA Street. Modes like Last Man Standing, where you’ll lose a player every time you give up a goal, redefine the momentum tug-of-war that marks every soccer match, in addition to leading to some truly epic comebacks. Play with panna rules, and you’ll bank points every time you deke or nutmeg an opponent; of course, if he scores first, those points land on his side of the scoreboard and your hard work’s been wasted. And we haven’t even mentioned futsal, the walls-free street-soccer variant that focuses on tight passing and ball control. The venues in FIFA Street are only large enough to support, at maximum, six-on-six matches, so any thought you have of long-balling your way to victory is better left in the locker room.

The game’s requisite world-beat EA Trax soundtrack is saved for the pre- and post-game menu screens. What you’ll hear when the game’s being played is what you’d hear at any place where pickup soccer’s being played—a bunch of guys shouting at each other to mark up, pass the ball and get the hell back on D. This carries the dual advantage of amping the authenticity and dodging one of the things that often sinks arcade sports titles—annoying announcers recycling lame catchphrases. (NFL Tour flashback. *Shudder*)

Like an extra-time PK buried in the upper corner, FIFA Street has nailed the feel of the beautiful game, not by kicking high into the arcade stratosphere, but by bringing it down to earth. That’s what we call World Cup worthy.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Mastering complex tricks is challenging, rewarding
+ World Tour is deep and easy to access
+ New gameplay options (Last Man Standing, futsal) shake things up

Cons:
– Defense takes a giant back seat to ballhandling
– Controls can be a little touchy

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360, also available for PS3
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: 3/13/2012
Genre: Sports – Soccer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-4
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.