Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
From the stadia to the streets: EA Sports' latest footballing extravaganza scales down the grandiose drama of a Sky Sports Saturday that we saw in FIFA 12, to focus on the balletic nature of organised "street" football in a series reboot for one of EA BIG's flagship franchises, back in the day. FIFA Street started well as a series, before devolving into a mess of cartoonish button mashing, and this game is looking to inject a certain sense of professionalism back into proceedings.
The starting point for that, has been the development of the game around the FIFA 12 engine. This means that players look, move, and react more realistically than they ever did before, that Wayne Rooney's in-game face will shatter mirrors just as easily as his real visage, and (most importantly) the Impact Engine is back.
Though tweaked and improved in patches, one of our biggest criticisms of the Impact Engine in FIFA 12 was that players would occasionally find themselves falling over one another, miles away from the ball, dry-humping in a heap on the floor. Whilst falling over for no good reason at all is a staple of top-flight football, it's not something you want to see in a videogame.
The Impact Engine actually works fairly well in FIFA Street, players feel solid, and over-extending a player in a tackle, or a simple lack of balance, can lead to your trickster ending up on their bum. Size matters, too, with aerial flicks unlikely to beat towering players, and smaller footballers having to rely on quick footwork, and speedy acceleration to jink past defenders, as they simply bounce off taller adversaries.
On these smaller pitches, with reduced squad sizes, the game does handle slightly differently to its larger sibling, with close control the order of the day, as you'd expect. That said, the array of deft flicks and rotations of the right stick required to produce the majority of the skills in the game, along with their left bumper modifiers, is largely similar to FIFA 12. Stroking the right stick sideways will have the player in possession do the same with the ball. Half sweeps lead to flip-flaps and roulettes, with a quick back-forward flick gifting a rainbow kick.
Close-quarters manoeuvring is conducted with the left trigger. Holding it down stops the player in possession, and allows for multi-directional stationery ball control. This proves particularly useful in attack. If, for example, you find yourself faced squarely with an opponent, using the "Street Control", as it's called in-game, can help keep the ball out of the reach of defending limbs. A deft push forward, combined with a tap of the sprint button, or the execution of a skill move, and your player will glide past the confused defender. It can also be used quickly to change direction, halt a risky sprint move, and tempt a defender forwards. At the start, you're constantly trying to set up little one-on-one battles around the pitch. As you progress, you learn to factor Street Control into a more fluid game.
But it is a fairly stop-start experience, at times, particularly considering that defending appears to have been something of an afterthought. Misjudging a tackle can be just as punishing in FIFA Street as in FIFA 12, with players often stuck for a second or two in compromising positions as their opponents sail on by. Additionally, skill animations often result in players colliding for no good reason, with the lack of spatial awareness and recovery times seemingly out of proportion in some cases with the absurd level of ball (and body) control you're afforded in attack. The old FIFA foible of having to pre-empt animation times and relinquish control is frustrating.
Worse still, the defensive AI leaves much to be desired, with players responding more to the position of other players rather than the gaping chasm of scoring potential that is your now open goalmouth. This isn't really an issue so much when you have a dedicated keeper, but even in perilous circumstances, there's no one holding the line. Running after a loose ball is often slightly problematic too, particularly when player switching seems to be rather erratic. Too many times, a loose ball was lost because instead of switching control (or even maintaining control) to the nearest player to the ball, it'd go elsewhere.
To be fair, these little issues don't do a huge amount to mar what is, in actual fact, an impressively slick, and rather different experience, and EA Canada have had a good stab at trying to inject a little variety into proceedings with the different game styles. 5-a-side and 6v6 are simply self-explanatory, scaled down versions of the beautiful game in enclosed environments. Futsal is a little more hardcore, with no walls, and fouls disallowed. Panna rules see 2-on-2, with player beats, pannas (nutmegs), and trickery banked and added to your tally should you score. Needless to say, if the opposition scores, you get nothing. Last Man Standing sees teams of players losing a member each time they score, the goal being to be the first team to have all of their players leave the pitch.
The World Tour combines all of these with little rule variations to keep things interesting, with three difficulty settings, and the ability to take certain rounds (5v5, 6v6) online. You create a team at the start, fleshing out your 10-man squad with default players or your own creations. Playing through World Tour then unlocks further kit and customisation options for your squad, with an RPG-lite skill system allowing you to splurge experience points on attributes, celebrations, and increasingly acrobatic skills. It's highly addictive, and the developers have done a good job of providing incentives to push onwards, but it feels like the game's centrepiece.
Which is a shame.
The AI issues in FIFA Street are rendered rather redundant when playing with a friend, and the game really comes into its own when playing with a friend or, better still, three other friends. But the lack of variety available in multiplayer isa real shame, particularly when you consider the depth to the online modes to be found in FIFA 12. Although the division system returns - which sees you move up and down depending on how well you perform in 10-match seasons - there are only 5-a-side and 6-a-side matches available, and it would have been nice to see a little more ambition in some of the online modes. Furthermore, the integration of Autolog-esque features into this seems a little half-hearted, with no real challenge integration, or social incentives.
So it is that FIFA Street comes across as something of a mixed bag. The features that have been carried over from FIFA 12 work well, but that transition feels a little unfinished. This is a game that manages to add new depth to an incredibly shallow franchise, but still feels a little undercooked, with the slightly underwhelming suite of game modes proving to be a stark contrast to what we now expect from the FIFA brand. This game offers good pick-up-and-play accessibility, but there's a question mark over longevity, and it simply doesn't have the long term appeal of its grand sibling - neither on the field, nor off it.
Also, not one match I've played has been set on an actual street. Or a park. I wanted jumpers for goalposts, dammit!
- Good fun with a friend
- World Tour provides some compelling, diverse hours of gameplay
- Slick in attack...
- ...But weak in defence
- AI somewhat erratic
- Not a huge amount of content, particularly online
The Short Version: FIFA Street is a good game, providing a fresh take on a crippled franchise. But it doesn't quite go far enough. The foundations are here for a cracking accompaniment to the FIFA brand, but it's a shallower, and less satisfying experience than it's big brother, both off and on the pitch.