Developer: EA Big
Release Date: February 22, 2005
Okay, I know that, on paper, soccer is the number one sport in the world, enjoyed by more fans globally than any other. I know that soccer fans can be rabid, going as far as multiple deaths occurring in the stands on several horrifying occasions. I know that there is a subtlety to the full game that is allegedly very compelling, and I know that I can't watch more than two minutes of it without wondering when Brandi Chastain is going to take off her shirt. Even when she's not playing. On the positive side, I do remember Pele as being more than just the "black guy with the weird accent in 'Victory.'"
That being said, once again EA Sports, the juggernaut of the virtual sports gaming world, has stepped up to the plate, scored a touchdown and shot a hole in one. Sue me, I don't know any soccer catchphrases beyond yelling "GOAL," and taking about 45 seconds to do it.
Released under the EA BIG sub-category, usually reserved for extreme and/or fantasy sports, FIFA Street 2005 for the Xbox console is a great little game with a lot of depth, once you get going.
The game is presented in a style with which players of the highly successful NFL Street series will be familiar. You have small teams of big stars playing in alleys, on beaches, and in the street. I can only assume that these guys are big stars. Frankly, with the exception of that Beckham guy, I wouldn't know a professional soccer player if I ran over him. Of course, after I ran over him, I'd probably find out.
Scaling down the sport to a four-on-four clash makes this soccer game lightning fast, and its mantra of "no rules, no refs" adds a certain brutishness that NFL fans like me really love in a sport. The flow of play is actually more akin to the speed of hockey, as opposed to the comparatively leisurely pace of full-scale soccer. Quick and flashy passing will rule the day, and there are more tricks available than in Heidi Fleiss' little black book
Controls are basic and easy to learn, the A and X buttons perform low- and high- passes respectively, the B button shoots the ball at the goal, and the Y button selects a random trick for you. These tricks are used to fake your opposition out of their shin guards and open you up for that perfect shot. Once you have seen a few of the tricks performed via the "random" button, you'll be ready to pull them off manually with the right analog stick. There are a massive number of tricks at your disposal, depending on your distance from the defender, the direction of the right stick and the use of the left shoulder button. Chaining these tricks together adds points to your combo meter which, when full, allows you to make a devastating shot, guaranteed to either score a goal, or knock anyone who is unfortunate enough to be in the way, flat on their butts. Cool stuff!
As far as the actual mechanics of gameplay are concerned, that's about it. The rest is up to you. Don't despair if this seems a bit much for you to pick up right away because there is a nice tutorial that will take you through it all.
After a few hours of playing this game with a pseudo-NFL kill-'em-all mindset (and parenthetically getting my butt handed to me), I started to see the light. As rookie quarterbacks often say, "The game slowed down for me." This refers to that point where there are no longer just bodies flying everywhere, but you see the patterns, the openings, the lanes… It's nice, man. Real nice.
The trick moves are great for opening yourself up, and the quick passing lets the offense shift pretty much "on-the-fly." Once you get those gamebreaker goals happening … sweet.
As far as the look is concerned, we have another huge EA winner. The character modeling is par excellence, the arenas look great, and the replays are off the hook! While there are, I must admit, a few little collision routine problems where the ball seems to graft onto your kickers' foot, overall, these replays always look like something off of the Argentinean version of ESPN's SportsCenter.
The audio portion is also flawed, but really good, nonetheless. Your announcer is a Rastafarian-sounding dude who loves the game, and definitely pumps up the volume for you. Musically, it's a World Beat affair, with heavy emphasis on the southern hemisphere. Sound effects are also well produced, especially during the slo-mo replays.
Depth of play isn't left by the wayside, either. You can opt to play a quick game, using any of the predetermined teams, or you can delve deeper. Starting with a single player that you can customize a la most EA titles, the beginning of an entire "Rule The Street" dynasty can begin.
In "Rule The Street," you start with a ragtag group of kickers, and take them, one match at a time, to the top of the Underground Soccer world. Beating teams in gambling matches will add better players to your roster and up your reputation. During each game, points are awarded for tricks, goals, beats, and more, and those points become "skill bucks" that you can spend to improve your own character, as well as buy upgrades for your squad. Trust me, you'll need these upgrades, for the further you progress, the more dastardly the opposition becomes. You may also use your skill bucks to buy new shirts, shorts, shoes, sunglasses, etc., to further customize your squad exactly the way you want them.
Besides the single game mode, "Rule The Street" also offers single-elimination tournaments that yield more prize bucks and trophies. Winning these tournaments unlocks more areas to play in. In FIFA Street, you will traverse the globe, kicking balls and taking names.
Here is where everything falls apart. Why in god's name is there no Xbox Live support? It's only four-on-four, for crying out loud! We've been playing Madden with 22 onscreen players at once for years!
In the final analysis, FIFA Street is a great-looking, good-sounding, easy-to-pick-up arcade-style sports title, featuring good depth of play and almost infinite customizability. I'm still scratching my head over the lack of multiplayer options, but don't let that stop you from having a blast with an otherwise stellar title from EA. It kicks, dude!
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