If you've never witnessed some of the amazing footage of street soccer players showing off their tricks, check it out on YouTube sometime. The guys (and girls) have skills that are truly phenomenal: the depth of control seemingly defies physics, their flair is almost artistic. Actually, these athletes are more performance artists than anything. I played soccer a lot growing up, and I've tried to pull off some of the more rudimentary techniques... and almost ended up injuring myself. Seriously, it was frustrating. But it looks so cool! If nothing else, those failures made me realize the insane amount of practice involved in honing these techniques. So having the chance to create my own "Simon" in the new FIFA Street and pretend like I was capable of pulling off some of these moves was an empowering feeling... I just wish the learning curve wasn't so high that I still felt the same frustrations.
The basic game mode is the standard exhibition matches called 'Hit the Streets.' This mode allows you to try all the different varieties of street soccer out there. From your standard indoor soccer five vs. five, to park tourneys with weird rules like "Last Man Standing" (score a goal, lose a player), to panna rallies (nutmegs and beats earn points), and futsal (no walls so you have to watch your passes, very popular in Brazil). All the different ways to compete are present, pick your team and have at it! You can even create your own custom game where you get to choose specifics on everything from whether or not there is a goalkeeper to if you go to extra time or not.
Then there is the 'World Tour' mode, which works in correlation with "My Squad." This is where you find the meat of the game. You begin by creating your avatar and country of origin. You can even import your player from FIFA 12. I, for one, am grateful for this! From there you start by playing in the park with your mates, then build a team from the ground up and compete in local events with your created character as the captain. You can pick and choose your attire for both the players themselves as well as the team uniforms for official events. Everything escalates from there: regional, national, and finally international tournaments await you! Different types of street soccer are the basis for certain tournaments, but each one has gold, silver, and bronze difficulty levels. Each difficulty level has a corresponding un-lockable addition to your wardrobe.
If you're the type who loves player creation, FIFA Street is a riot. You can edit players on your squad at any time, as well as import created players from your friend's team. After mucking around for half an hour I had a team comprised of myself, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, with a diminutive Yoda as my goalie, all reasonable facsimiles of themselves. You also get to create your own team crest and uniforms, right down to the color scheme. As much as I hate to admit it, half the fun is in playing dress up, especially after you unlock brand names.
I really like the structure of the World Tour mode; it sort of has an RPG feel to it. You gain points by pulling off moves, beating players, and scoring goals. Those points translate into experience that you ultimately use to level up your players. Leveling up means you can distribute points across a variety of stats (standard fare like shooting, speed, passing, dribbling, etc.) as well as unlocking new skill moves. As you compete across the different tournaments, you even have the opportunities to trade out players for those you have vanquished. I loved this "taking a scalp" approach, but sadly their stats are set. After a while you realize you're better off leveling up your own players. However, the one problem I have with this set up is that you don't garner points for good defense or goalkeeping, which seems limiting to me. You need to have a well-rounded skill set to be a complete player.
But how does the game actually play? FIFA Street was made by the same team that made FIFA 12, and they are using the same tech. The Player Impact Engine (which allows for realistic physical contact between players) and the Precision Dribbling mechanic (allowing far greater control over the ball at your feet) are both present and make a huge difference. You can't run through a burly defender if you're a quick, spritely striker. You'll get knocked on your butt... just like in real life. Naturally that is what they were going for: you need to have the skills to get by!
And it's in utilizing those skills where FIFA Street both shines the brightest and frustrates the most. You have an amazing number of tricks at your disposal to embarrass the opposing team. Pulling them off takes practice, quick thumbs, and focus. When FIFA Street gets it right, it really gets it right. When you nutmeg some fool so badly he falls on his ass, well, it's incredibly satisfying. I'm known for scaring the neighbors because I'm constantly yelling at my TV during proper matches, and I was up off the couch pumping my fists after a well-worked goal or a particularly smooth beat. I love it when sports games elicit the same raw emotions as watching the real thing.
The problem with FIFA Street lies in the implementation. The controls are fairly effective, but simultaneously surprisingly complicated with a high learning curve. The tools are there to pull off some mind-boggling tricks, but pulling them off intentionally seems to be more luck than anything. I was trying to do a flip-flap (look it up) and ended up rainbowing (look that up as well) the ball over the defender's out-stretched leg. It was frickin' sweet, I actually uploaded the highlight... but it wasn't what I had been trying to do at the moment. It's pulling off these tricks consistently that is the problem. I know this is probably operator error, but I lost the number of times I yelled at the TV, "That's not what I was trying to do!!!" I actually tried to practice in the 'Practice Arena' (something I hardly ever do), although that mode felt very tacked on and strangely ineffectual.
This practical application of such a complicated control scheme is also dealt a blow when playing on harder difficulty levels. I like to consider myself pretty good at soccer games, but trying to complete the 'Gold' level challenges can be immensely frustrating. I don't often rage quit... but I found myself rage quitting often. The problem is not just the difficulty curve, it's more that you sometimes feel cheated by the computer. You know the drill: their offense is invariably immaculate and their defense almost seems to be able to preemptively predict your moves. No one likes getting served, but it's especially maddening when you are left with that horrible feeling of impotence, like nothing you do will change the outcome. Of course, that's what street soccer is all about - humiliating your peers!
After a while I decided to swallow my pride and try a lower level. It's nice that you can always go back and replay each challenge over and over again... without having to worry about a predetermined time frame like a set season mode. Then I realized what I was doing: level grinding... again, just like a proper RPG. I'm a huge fan of this sort of thing, but I practically wound up with blisters on my thumbs. At this point it occurred to me, FIFA Street might well be a surprisingly accurate simulation of real life. This is just the sort of thing that drives these athletes out there in the real world... practicing for hours upon hours to get just a little bit better! In an age of instant gratification (especially when it comes to video games), it's nice to see persistence rewarded. But sadly, that satisfaction didn't outweigh the frustrations for me.
As we've come to expect from EA Sports, the soundtrack is both appropriate and awesome. The on field chatter does get a bit repetitive and annoying though. Graphically, FIFA Street left behind the more stylized, cartoonish style of previous incarnations in the series for a more realistic tone. The animations are for the most part spot on. Considering how complicated some of these moves are, that is a feat in and of itself. However, it's not always perfect. The 'Player Impact Engine' works well most of the time, but at others it looks completely unnatural. I encountered several moments where the animations seemed to fast-forward like it was trying to catch up. I also had some moments where the game lagged, slowing down to a complete stop in some instances. That could be a real issue for those taking their squads online.
I'm aware I've probably come across as being overly negative in this review, but I think it's just because I'm such a huge football nut. It's not that FIFA Street is a bad game per say, but I don't think it works nearly as well as it should. The fact is that FIFA Street was designed specifically for a small percentage of gamers; namely those with the same fanaticism I have. I don't see this appealing to anyone who isn't a diehard footy fan, but then I can't see anyone who isn't a diehard footy fan buying this in the first place. So consider this a warning to temper your expectations football fanatics: FIFA Street is worth playing if you can get past a slew of minor annoyances and some sore thumbs.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of FIFA Street provided by Electronic Arts.