Out of context, the name FIFA Street, presents a myriad of intriguing possibilities. What many of us wouldn’t give, for example, to see the amateur dramatics wing of football’s governing body putting on their own version of Sesame Street, with Sepp Blatter dressed up as Big Bird (or something that rhymes with ‘bird’) and Michel Platini as Mr Snuffleupagus’ French cousin, Monsieur Stuffy-up-himself.
Sadly, the possibility looks less than likely. Although, if you’d have predicted a few years ago that they’d be staging a World Cup in Qatar, many would have suggested you’d been out in the sun for too long.
Certainly, out of context is exactly how EA would like you to take this latest run out for their urban soccer series. Despite this being the company’s fourth attempt at chiseling out a niche for Street, the key point of importance is that it’s the first fully developed since FIFA 08 – the watershed moment for the full FIFA franchise when it began its metamorphosis from carefree arcade kickabout to supreme, turf-scorching simulator.
The knock-on effects of this violent swing in FIFA’s philosophical compass are clearly evident in this new FIFA Street, and result in no less dramatic of an improvement too. The problem with past games in the series was that they were always too simple, too shallow. Far too quickly, they made the miraculous become mundane and their flippancy with the source material meant they lacked that very commodity valued above all others on the streets: respect.
FIFA Street tackles all of these issues head on; studs up. Helmed by key members of the FIFA 12 development team and built on a bedrock of realism formed from key elements of that game’s painstakingly constructed architecture, it succeeds in accurately mimicking the hustle and bustle of actual urban football.
The FIFA 12 Impact Engine handles moments of contact between players with a believable, if sometimes slightly excessive, physicality, while the Tactical Defending system is vital to the non-committal approach needed to contain opponents. FIFA Street 3 also included more grotesquely distorted figures than a Glasgow Rangers’ tax return. By contrast, player models here look accurate while animations are naturalistic and as refreshingly fluid as your isotonic beverage of choice.
Basically then, EA Canada have finally taken street football and done it properly. But while the underlying methodology and mechanics may now be almost identical to those employed in FIFA, what results puts FIFA Street at totally the opposite end of the footballing spectrum.
The reason for this is that, while achieving success in 11-a-side football is very much a group activity, here the route to almost every goal is an individual one. While we’ve all been lectured a thousand times over by domineering sports teachers that there’s no ‘I’ in team, there is an ‘M’ and an ‘E’, and in FIFA Street they’re very clearly capitalized.
Winning here is about commanding the spotlight. Victory comes not from intricate egalitarian passing moves, but establishing superiority through self-aggrandisement; dispatching opponents in one-on-one confrontations with a mixture of psychology, skill and swagger.
These individual duels usually begin with a tentative standoff, one player dexterously manipulating the ball, trying to bait his opponent in to an ill-advised lunge before making it disappear from under his nose with a deft slight of foot, a graceful swerve of the body or an extravagant flourish of balletic ball control. There’s more than a little of the magic trick about the entire process. A Harry Houdini escapology act performed with the necessary Va Va Voom to excite the YouTube generation.
Conjuring up all these moves, from basic step overs to cheeky nutmegs and outlandish ball juggles, requires mastery of the game’s bespoke Street controls. An impressive repertoire of skills that’s superior in both size and showboating-factor to those in FIFA 12 and FIFA Street 3.
Centred around holding the L2 button to shepherd and shield the ball from opponents and pulling off tricks with various prods and pirouettes of the right analog, the Street controls manage to capture the kind of finesse of motions urban soccer demands. It’s a system distinctly reminiscent of those that have given fighting games their longevity. In fact, if Capcom and Namco hadn’t already put pen to paper on their pugilistic exchange program, FIFA Street could easily have been Street Striker X Tekken.
Another winning combination comes in the form of FIFA Street’s various different match types. In a more superficial title, these could easily have amounted to nothing greater than a shallow pool of footballing mini-games, but here, they add so much more than mere novelty value. The best ones, such as Panna – where both teams rack up points for specific tricks until one team scores, cashing in their total and making the other team lose theirs – and Last Man Standing, add a wholly new tactical dimension beyond that in the standard 5-a-sides you’ll also find here.
They also help to emphasise the global diversity of the street soccer sub-culture, something the rest of the game does with a generously generic approach to differences in national play styles and a wide range of venues from the beaches of Rio to a Tokyo rooftop. Unsurprisingly, the urban atmosphere has also been polished with a marketing man’s sheen. Graffiti is artistically tasteful, players never swear and there’s no threat of knife crime or petty theft – if you’re after the latter kind of action, FIFA 12’s Ultimate Team is apparently the place to head.
FIFA Street’s main World Tour mode does an impressively thoughtful job of charting your rise from your home hood to global street stardom; creating or importing your virtual pro, recruiting an initial crew and then building a more talented and experienced squad as you progress through different regional, national and international competitions. The occasional need to grind and the fact that many tricks are initially locked do present niggling challenges to your progress but they don’t even come close to preventing World Tour from being a success.
Online all the game’s best features are closely linked to FIFA 12. There’s a Seasons mode, complete with promotion and relegation up and down the various leagues; FIFA Street’s own take on online Virtual Pro matches where everyone just controls one player each, and incorporation of the EA Sports Football Club, linking your levelling here to any you may have done in FIFA 12.
There are a handful of other small issues. A.I. player movement isn’t always the most considered, and while EA have done well to adapt goalkeepers to things like balls ricocheting off walls, the smaller pitches mean you do get to see more of their eccentric side.
Overall, though, FIFA Street is a series that’s matured. In finally finding the sweet spot between flash and fundamentals, EA have delivered a game that’s more than good enough and unique enough to warrant its continued existence. The fact that it’s not normal football is the biggest reason FIFA Street will probably always be a super sub rather than a first team starter. But soccer-wise, there’s nothing else in its neighbourhood.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 3 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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