Let’s just get this out of the way right now. Having not even bothered with the Street franchise after the first FIFA Street game hit in 2005 – and passing altogether on FIFA Street 3 — I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of a fourth effort bringing the series out of retirement and back onto the streets. So you can imagine my surprise after popping in the disc and finding a game that was actually — well, you know, pretty damn good.
Now, I don’t know exactly what FIFA Street has being doing during its hiatus. I personally like to think that it underwent four years of relentless montage-filled training sessions with makeshift weights, excessive grunting, and daily runs up an imposing mountain’s summit, a la Rocky IV. But random eighties reference aside, FIFA Street is definitely the reboot the series needed, but more importantly, the one fans wanted.
As any gamer will tell you, the real nexus of a great video game lies within how well it controls, and that counts for double with sports titles. It doesn’t really matter how pretty a game’s graphics are, or how many features it packs in. If the controls are off, the entire experience suffers. Thankfully, FIFA Street ditches the over-the-top, feathery control scheme of its predecessors and delivers a solid romp similar in many ways to the core gameplay found in FIFA 12, which just so happens to be a really good thing. Players handle well. Tricks are performed with a combination of the right analog stick, and it takes a good degree of timing and practice to channel your inner Lionel Messi and know what move will leave that oncoming defender in your wake.
Speaking of Messi, as you can see, the diminutive Argentine graces the game’s cover. You probably already know that the Barcelona forward has long been the poster boy for rival Konami franchise, Pro Evolution Soccer, so EA snapping up the best player in world and its rival’s mascot is somewhat of a double coup.
While FIFA Street shares similar gameplay mechanics with FIFA 12, that doesn’t mean you can play the game like its older brother. With FIFA Street, a real emphasis has been placed on taking your opponent on –offensive or otherwise – and making that deft tackle, slick move, or penetrating pass. After some time on the ball, it’s clear that FIFA Street’s movements are both subtle and deliberate. Think of FC Barcelona’s signature tiki-taka style, characterized by short passing and an emphasis on possession play, and you’ll be right at home. Longballs and througballs are simply not very effective. That all makes sense considering the game is played on a much smaller pitch.
On top of a complete gameplay overhaul, FIFA Street goes under the knife and receives a much appreciated facelift. Gone are the cartoony graphics and unstoppable super-goals of yesteryear. Players look and feel like true representations of their real-life selves. Everything is here, from Cristiano Ronaldo’s boyish good looks to Wayne Rooney’s chiseled mug that only a mother could love. To shamelessly borrow from Men’s Wearhouse CEO George Zimmer, “you’re gonna like the way this game looks. I guarantee it.”
Keeping it real
With the series focus shifting to a much more realistic tone, it might seem like the core of what makes street soccer so exciting and fun has been lost in the process. Not so. While realism is indeed the recipe of the day, the shift actually invites an experience that is much more awe-inspiring. All the tricks you pull off in FIFA Street are all real – making them all the more impressive. No exaggerations, no embellishments, no samba-colored haze flying out of your backside. There is just something intrinsically more satisfying in nutmegging the ball through your opponent’s legs and blasting past the keeper than vaulting 20 feet in the air and performing an impossible bicycle kick
World Tour is where you’ll embark on your single-player experience. Here you have the option of creating a new Virtual Pro — or importing a saved one from FIFA 12 — as you build your team and compete across the globe. Each successive win sees you earning more skill points for your team and enabling your player to ‘purchase’ new tricks.
World Tour serves as a nice mixer of sorts, and consists of all of the game’s various modes. You’ll start out small, playing your matches locally, then move on to other competition that spans the globe. The locales are refreshingly varied, too. You’ll play inside smelly gyms, on the rooftops of Shanghai, and even in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. What’s more, the different locales demand different approaches to your strategy. For example, the goalmouth featured down in Brazil is different in size to the one found in Shanghai. The same goes for pitch size. A bigger pitch gives you more space to work the pass, while a smaller pitch will require you to be more mercurial with your on-field endeavors. And while the locales are varied and fun, they never really quite offer that heightened sense of drama a packed Santiago Bernabéu or Old Trafford give off.
On top of the main single-player experience in World Tour, the game offers both 5-a-side and 6-a-side tournaments. Care for an even more realistic experience? Check out Futsal mode where referees and fouls are added to the mix. Panna mode encourages gratuitous use of the trick stick to rack up points and school your opponents, which are then added to your team’s score once you bag a goal. Panna is particularly exhilarating because, once you’re opponent manages to score before you, they take away any points earned from your total. Scoring — but, more importantly, scoring with style — is key here. Lastly, and perhaps appropriately so, is Last Man Standing. As its name suggests, the winner here is the team with players left in the game. Each time you score your opponent loses a team member and vice versa.
Apart from the solid visual, excellent gameplay, and a wealth of modes, part of what made FIFA 12 one of the most successful sports games of all time is the ability to create and nurture your Virtual Pro from a relative nobody to a world class phenom. One of my favorite aspects of past FIFA titles is the level of customization I had with my player. Everything from Nike boots, Adidas kits, and Puma gear is here for you to ramp up your Virtual Pro’s style and wardrobe. And, while it’s purely cosmetic in nature, your inner fashionista will dig it.
Taking FIFA Street to the, ahem, online streets is where the game really shines. Playing against the computer is all well and good, but it’s way more fun joining up with your friends and taking on the best the online world has to offer. EA has always done a great job with FIFA when it comes to online play. Virtually every game I played online handled well, with no real latency problems. And while I would really like to be able to blame erratic servers and lag for my numerous defeats at the hands of players half my age, I can’t in all good consciousness bring myself to do so.
FIFA Street is not without its issues, though. While the controls have been thoroughly retooled, they’re still nowhere as deep as FIFA 12’s. While it’s great that both FIFA 12 and FIFA Street share similar engines, the latter doesn’t always translate well into the compact nature of the street game. Players collide and clip together on occasion, and goalkeepers often behave erratically, leaving you scratching your head and plotting some virtual reprisal back in the locker room.
In addition, team selection isn’t as inclusive as FIFA 12’s. All the big teams from the major European leagues, the MLS and a selection of international teams are present, but fans of clubs from Eastern Europe, Central and South America, and Asia will be disappointed. Although you can unlock all-star teams from these regions as you play the game.
If you’ve played past entries in the franchise you’ll know that realism has more often than not taken a backseat to exaggeration , but with FIFA Street, EA has taken a different (read: better) approach. The game looks fantastic and the control aspires to levels of greatness never seen in past Street titles. While you won’t find the level of depth that EA’s marquee FIFA franchise includes, you will find an overwhelmingly fun experience with a varied amount of games modes that provide a welcome break to the typical FIFA experience. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a great sign of where EA is looking to take the resurrected franchise. If you’re looking for a fun and accessible sports game to play, look no further than FIFA Street.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by EA)