Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Review: FIFA Street

Football's a funny old game. And so is FIFA Street for that matter. There's no getting round the fact that EA's latest sports release is a top product, oozing more moves and skills than you'd think possible with a football. It's got a tonne of real-life players and numerous game modes, including the fantastic World Tour competition... but despite the gloss, at first glance it feels like it could have been a DLC add-on for FIFA 12. Remember back in the day (FIFA 97 and 98) when indoor matches were a staple part of the annual update? Well now the street side of the beautiful game is big business and stands alone.

Despite this minor quibble, FIFA Street still has plenty of pick up and play appeal, and enough content to keep you coming back for more.

Unlike its bigger, more comprehensive brother this is all about the tricks and feints, flips and spins. Whereas showboating is possible in FIFA proper, it's often frowned upon by opponents. Pull of some silky smooth skills here, however, and you'll be applauded.

EA's latest sports game demands you learn moves achieved through seemingly complex stick twiddles and button presses, almost as you would if you were playing Street Fighter. Get to grips with the various button combinations and you can pull off some outrageous heel chops, flip-flaps, roulettes and step overs just as you've seen them done by Ronaldinho or Ronaldo in real life. Learn the moves and it's an awesome spectacle.

You can opt to play a match as you would in FIFA 12, focussed solely on sensible short passes and scoring goals, but you'd be missing out on the whole point. FIFA Street is all about dribbling and tricks, one-on-ones and battling your opponent. Think Eminem in 8 Mile but switch the microphones for a ball.

It's a pretty comprehensive package too - not just a cheeky way of cashing in on the franchise. There are various rules and game modes to keep you coming back for a kickabout. First up is regular five a side in locations such as an abandoned car park, where the enclosed space can be used to your advantage. Rebounds off the walls provide a welcome assist in your build up play and can help you outsmart the keeper before you smash the ball in the net. Then there's Futsal, which is the same sort of thing minus those handy walls. More skill is therefore required to keep the ball in play.

Panna offers a nice twist and really helps you hone those moves. Pannas are otherwise known as nutmegs - where you pass the ball through another player's legs before darting round him to collect it. It looks awesome when you pull it off, and even better you get three points for doing so. There are another two points available if you beat a player by chipping the ball over them, and one for getting it passed them in a more mundane fashion. All the points you accrue only count when you score a goal, meaning there are plenty of facets to each match - and they can be quite high-scoring affairs. Finally, there's Last Man Standing - a personal favourite. Each time a team scores, they lose one of their players until none are left. Simple. But as you'd expect, things get a little tricky if you're prolific as you'll quickly find yourself outnumbered.

The main focus of the package, however, is the World Tour mode that allows you to create a team and embark on a journey across the globe, competing in various styles of matches to improve the squad, unlock skills and become the best. You can monitor the progress of you and your friends through the Street Network and Leaderboards. Starting with challenges in minor tournaments, your team gains in stature and ability, eventually appearing in national, European and global events. Get good enough and you'll meet some of the top street footballers as well as mega stars like Barcelona's Messi and Manchester United's Rooney.

Using the famed FIFA engine, FIFA Street looks and feels very similar to FIFA 12. The players are nicely animated and look the part; gone is the more cartoony feel of its predecessor FIFA Street 3. And despite the volume of skill moves on offer, the control system remains relatively simple. Many of them are instantly familiar, allowing you to sprint, tackle and shoot with ease. However, hold the Flair Modifier bumper or flick the right stick and a plethora of moves become available, transforming you from a conventional player to a creative genius. Close dribbling and Street Ball Control also give you control in even the tightest of spaces - certainly useful in these enclosed arenas!

For me, the tackling is a bit of a bugbear as it proves quite frustrating seeing your player stick a leg out and then stall for a few seconds before you can move again. Collisions and impacts are a bit daft too; running into an opponent can result in some ludicrous flips and falls, which undoes some of the sense of realism.

FIFA Street is a decent sized game, with plenty to see and do, but I can't help but feel it could be incorporated into FIFA 12 somehow as a downloadable add on. After a few week's play, it does all feel a little samey. That's not to say it's not a great game, because it is - especially with a few friends - I just wonder whether it will see have the same longevity as it's bigger brother.

Reviewed on Xbox 360