Developer: EA Big
Release Date: February 22, 2005
Electronic Arts' venerable Street lineup of arcade revisions of sports titles is expanding yet again, this time to the underappreciated (in the United States, at least) sport of football, or, as we call it here in the States: soccer. EA began by testing the waters with the awesome NBA Street, and expanded with a sequel to that game and a new series based on (American) football, which was also a success. Another couple of sequels later, and we've got a new sport being thrown into the Street grinder. But is soccer's fit with the street image really as smooth as it needs to be? After all, basketball is the only sport with the right kind of urban reputation that would make a street version seem applicable. Then again, the NFL version was almost as much of a success, so why can't soccer do the same?
Honestly, it cannot; FIFA soccer is just a little too stuffy, a little too straight-laced, and clearly, the developers felt the same way. Of the entire Street lineup, FIFA fares the worst in all aspects, especially gameplay. Compared to the gaming juggernaut that is NBA Street Vol. 3, FIFA Street urinates itself in fear at the mere mention of the game of its peer. Lately, the non-Madden EA Sports lineup has been scoring quite a few slam-dunks, but this game is not one of those releases. NBA Street has style. It has smooth and intuitive - yet deep - gameplay. Its severely handicapped FIFA-branded cousin, however, is little more than a wrecked shadow of the father of the Street lineup. The basic concepts of NBA have been transplanted to soccer with little thought, and the end result is a malformed mish-mash of a game that is definitely not Worth Playing.
Being a part of the Street lineup, FIFA Street does not carry the rules of a regulation FIFA soccer game. The rules are instead constructed around the indoor rendition of the sport: three-on-three, fast-paced action. The Street spin is nothing more than the usual M.O. of these games, focusing on building up your player's trick meter, eventually pull off a Gamebreaker, and watch your man dance about and do various flamboyant moves with the intent of insulting your opponent. For basketball, this works extremely well. Since the days of NBA Jam, it has been clear that the dunk is a prime opportunity for ridiculous showboating, and, in fact, serves little purpose outside of such. But it just doesn't work as well here; the natural rhythm of soccer isn't the same as basketball, and for the most part isn't the appropriate sport to apply EA's idea of "street" gameplay. In short, soccer isn't basketball, and applying b-ball attitude to the game will never have the right "feel."
The result is a game that does not play much like soccer at all. Instead, this game of football plays more like American football. Players will spend more time slide-tackling and gaudily flipping their way towards the goal than playing anything that feels like a game of soccer at all. Excuse me for comparing a Street game to a simulation-inclined peer, but when you play a game of Winning Eleven, you have to learn to play a game of soccer, to study the strategies that go past simply getting the ball into the goal. Yes, FIFA Street is an arcade game, and thus should not be compared to a game likeWinning Eleven, but most critics would agree that a proper arcade game requires two properties at its core: simple controls and profound depth. The latter has been ignored here. Players will perform better after mastering the selection of silly tricks, but to do so takes little time and thought at all, leading to some of the most unsatisfying soccer matches one is likely to play in a soccer videogame. To contrast, NBA Street Vol. 3 contains robust gameplay despite the inclusion of an array of tricks. That game succeeds by placing value on other skills that must be mastered by the player.
The clinch in every Street game is supposed to be the Gamebreaker, a bar that fills up based on player actions. In the spirit of a good arcade sports game, it is meant to be an unrealistic device to turn the tide of the game in a moment's notice. In the NBA game, it rips points away from your opponent's score and tosses them over to your side. In FIFA Street its punch is rendered flaccid. Time is slowed down to trendy Matrix-esque levels, giving players a better chance at scoring a goal. That's it. It's hard to see games being "broken" by such a maneuver, but there you have it.
Street fans might be able to squeeze a little more playtime out of the game by playing through its Career Mode, where players can build characters' skill points up and unlock new clothing items to decorate them with. Sound fun? It would be - just like it has been in every Street game - but playing game after repetitive game becomes terribly grating, thanks to the aforementioned paper-thin gameplay.
The game does not look as bad as it plays. That still leaves quite a bit of breathing room for complaints. The worst of it is the shoddy animations, which seem to have been motion-captured deftly, but the programmers did not follow through with the same level of workmanship. Animations awkwardly jut from one to the next with either no pause, cheapening the look of the game, or too much of a transitional break, harming the gameplay. It's 2005; programmers the world over should be used to dealing with balancing animation and gameplay by now.
The models and textures themselves are simply average. Nothing leaves an impression, nor is there anything too artistically appalling. This is easily the worst-looking member of EA's entire sports lineup, but still not bad looking. The polygon count could have stood to be upped a little, however, as the small arenas and lack of crowds should have left the modelers some breathing room.
Street games are meant to be different. Unrealistic. Simple. Playable. For that last category, FIFA Street fails. For the rest of the categories, the game achieves them with an incredible lack of grace. The game is different, as it covers a style of soccer gameplay rarely presented in videogame form, although this time through a silly marketing filter. Simple in that players really can pick up and play it, although they will be hard-pressed to find much fun here. And as for being playable, well, the game is such a bore than most gamers would prefer to let this one rot in the closet than pull it out for another go in their 'Cube. Passable graphics and its place in a revered series might attract gamers to this game, but don't be fooled: FIFA Street totes a gargantuan bag of tricks, but it is little more than a one-trick pony.
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