FIFA Street Review
Written : Thursday, March 22, 2012
By: Lee Bradley
In 2002, in a league match at St James’ Park, Dennis Bergkamp scored one of the greatest goals the Premier League has ever seen.
On the edge of the penalty box, with his back to the goal, Bergkamp met the ball with the merest flick of his left boot, span around the far side of the last man, opened his shoulders, and cooly side-footed it into the corner of the net. Executed in one flowing movement, it was over in little more than two seconds.
Bergkamp’s goal was a masterpiece of balance, skill, strength and coolness of thought, the kind of goal you wait a lifetime to watch, let alone score. It was amazing. And I’m a Spurs fan, I hate Dennis Bergkamp.
The brilliance of FIFA Street is that it makes these kind of moments commonplace. Goals like Bergkamp’s are its stock in trade. Indeed, if the build up to a goal in FIFA Street doesn’t include at least one moment of outrageous skill or jaw-dropping flair, you feel kind of cheap. It’s brilliant.
"Interpretive dance. FIFA Street-style."
Of course, FIFA Street isn’t based on the full-sized, mud and sweat version of football that Bergkamp once excelled at. Instead, the game replicates street football, a wooly term used to encompass a range of small team games with varying rules and goals. What binds them together is a more technical, skillful approach to the beautiful game.
Much of the trickery on offer is facilitated by a close-control shoulder button. Grip this and it plants you facing the goal with the ball trapped under one foot. From here you can quickly shift the ball backwards and forwards, or from left to right, giving the defender a peek in the hope that he’ll make a lunge. It’s at this point, if timed correctly, that you can make your move.
The most basic interaction available to you is to flip quickly from standing to sprinting, knocking the ball past your opponent. More deftly executed examples can result in a nutmeg, or “panna,” where you slide the ball between your opponent’s legs. Perhaps the least visually impressive of your moves, pannas are nevertheless a showy exercise in timing and skill.
They ain't half as showy as some of the other stuff you can do, mind. There are also a multitude of scoops, flicks, feints, pirouettes and amusingly named tricks to pull off. Performed with increasingly complicated analogue stick combinations, these are not only spectacular, but also chainable, meaning that you could conceivably move from one end of the pitch to the other in a blizzard of skillful pyrotechnics.
It’s in this way that the game has garnered comparisons with the likes of Street Fighter. It’s an apt description. While passing the ball around to make space is a perfectly valid approach, the meat of the game is spent in one-on-one confrontations, with a number of ‘special moves’ at your disposal to defeat your opponent.
"Messi: unstoppable as always."
Similarly, FIFA Street also offers up the balance of accessibility and depth on show in the best fighting games. When you start playing you’ll perhaps have access to a handful of moves, some of which you’re likely to happily stumble upon as you flick the analogue sticks around in an approximation of button-mashing. You can have fun with the game like this, but as you grow more accustomed to the intricacies of the system, a whole world of possibilities opens up to you.
Less assured, however, is the defending. FIFA 12’s Tactical Defending system is at the heart of it, in which you can contain and jockey a player with the touch of a button, before choosing the right moment to stick out a foot and nab the ball. The distinction with FIFA Street is that there’s no slide tackling and most confrontations are largely static.
So while the attacker has a great big toy box of tricks and maneuvers to bamboozle you, as a defender you have only your big toe and timing. Make your lunge at the wrong time and you’re likely to end up embarrassed. Indeed, even if you do time a move correctly and knock the ball away from the attacker, they’ll often be able to scramble back to retrieve it before you. Considering that the odds are stacked against you anyway, it’s an annoyingly frequent occurrence.
Built up around the core gameplay is a World Tour Mode, providing a number of tournaments and one-off matches for you to compete in, online and off. These matches are spread across a number of different rule-sets, focusing on games of straight-up five-a-side, six-a-side and Futsal. The latter of these is the officially recognised iteration of street football and as such features fouls, unlike the other games.
As you progress from local competitions through to world championships, your customisable team of players will rack up XP points, earned from executing the game’s moves. These can be spent on unlocking further moves and celebrations, or pumped into abilities like athleticism and dribbling. It’s a decent system.
"Don't look at the red shoes! They'll burn your eyes out!"
During your journey to the top, you’ll also rack up a fair few of the game’s achievements, many of which come from progression. As you can choose to play each tournament either online or off, much of the pain is lessened. There is one particularly brutal achievement, however, called “Online Dominance.” Good luck getting that one.
That’s not a major issue though. The real frustration is that World Tour focuses on the least interesting aspects of the game. Because as fun as the straight-up matches are - and trust me, they are fun - it’s the more creative game modes that offer the most excitement. In these matches, FIFA Street’s trick, skill and XP system becomes more than just the icing on a nice game of five-a-side. It becomes vital to your success.
This is best exemplified by Panna Rules. In this mode you get points for moving past, or “beat”-ing your opponents; one for a standard beat, two for an aerial beat and three for a panna. Only when you score a goal do you bank these amassed points and clear the unbanked points of your opponent.
Now, not only does this make an understanding of the tricks and skills in the game essential to victory, it also offers up a tantalising risk-reward system. Do you continue to rack up the beats for mega points and risk conceding a goal, or do you score frequent, low-scoring goals? The choice is yours. It’s probably the best game type in FIFA Street.
Freestyle matches - another highlight - do a similar thing but give you an XP points target to reach. The first team to get to the set number of points via banked XP accumulations wins. In this game type the fairly dull XP progression system suddenly comes alive.
But, unfortunately, these games modes - along with Last Man Standing (score a goal, lose a player, first team with no players wins) - feel more like side missions to World Tour’s main campaign. What’s more, there seems to be no way to simply dive in online and have a quick, one-off match of these game types. And that’s a shame because they exemplify everything FIFA Street is about.
Yet despite these issues, FIFA Street is still an astoundingly fun game. EA Sports can often be accused of holding back in titles of this sort, knowing that they have future iterations upon which to build towards a final goal. Not so here. It’s not perfect, but it’s an assured and entertaining experience nevertheless.
The varied soundtrack fits the style of the game well. Early, local matches with just spectator noise and player shouts give way to larger audiences and announcers, offering a fitting sense of progression.
Player models look and act the part, while the variety of different locations are nicely modelled. A couple of venues obscure play with odd colours and ill-placed fences, however.
Great fun and a riot in local multiplayer. Defending needs work, but FIFA Street’s all about the crazy skills and outrageous goals. In that regard, it nails it.
World Tour is solid, offering a decent sense of progression and variety. However, the decision to sideline FIFA Street’s most interesting game types is baffling.
Mostly progression-based, which thanks to World Tour’s approach does not depend on online wins. There is a small handful of creative additions, however.
More than just something to tide fans over as they wait for FIFA 13, FIFA Street has an identity all of its own. It deserves a place in any football fan’s collection.