FIFA Street marks a revival for Electronic Arts' long-running spin-off FIFA series as it tries to widen the gulf between the annual FIFA simulation entries and the more arcade-like style found in Street. I suppose they meant business when they dropped the number, as this is really the fourth entry in the series but has gone back to just being dubbed FIFA Street.
Overall, it's not a bad attempt at reviving a flagging, somewhat listless series. It's not quite on par with other entries in EA's now-defunct BIG series of sports titles, but I had some fun with FIFA Street, and I suspect soccer fans will get some enjoyment from it. The rule variety is nice; the World Tour segment, which makes up the majority of the single-player content, is fun to play; and the online modes work well enough. It's not a flawless experience, though.
In terms of modes, FIFA Street seems a little light, offering up only Hit the Street (exhibition), World Tour and Xbox Live modes. Hit the Street allows you to pick from a variety of rule types, including Panna, Five-a-side, Futsal, Last Man Standing, and custom matches. These rule types, along with a few others, will also show up in the beefier World Tour mode. In Hit the Street, you can partner up or go against three other players through local play, or you can compete against the computer.
World Tour is where you'll most likely spend most of your time. World Tour divides the gameplay into four stages, starting at the Regional level and ending at the World stage. As the four stages progress, you tackle a variety of challenges and occasionally compete in tournaments. The tournaments are used to figure out your overall standing in each stage, and once you hit the top 10 in overall rankings, you can compete in the finals for that stage. Finish the finals, and you move on to the next stage, even if you don't necessarily come out on top in the final tournament for each venue.
Every competition has three difficulty levels in addition to gear, team and venue unlocks, which are tied to the selected difficulty. Obviously, the great stuff is tucked into the hardest difficulty, but at the medium setting, you'll still unlock a fair number of goods. These goods tie back to the team you create from scratch, allowing you to change outfits, team colors, and individual styles for your roster.
At the beginning of World Tour, you create your team and team captain. You recruit a handful of players, and you can choose to edit their base names and looks. As you compete in other events, you have the option to gather more players, but your team size maxes out at a certain point, so you'll need to be judicious. Once you hit the world stage, you encounter real-life teams and players, so you can finally add recognized stars to your roster.
As you compete and finish matches, you also earn experience for the individual players. This experience translates into skill points, which can be poured into seven different player states, along with unlocking celebration animations, skills and tricks. It's not that the role-playing concept is a bad idea — I love leveling up as much as the next person — but FIFA Street's menu design for team leveling is cumbersome. You choose each player, dump some stat points into him, and then back out to the team menu to select another player. Some loading and saving needs to occur, so when you're trying to upgrade five or six different players, it feels pretty tedious. Amplify that by how often you'll level up in World Tour, and you'll find your patience wearing thin.
Another aspect I didn't care for is that you have to create a team and can't select a real team to play. This is compounded by the fact that you don't encounter real teams until you hit the tail end of World Tour, so you can't add real people to your roster until you've already advanced a number of your own players. It gets tougher to let go of level-30 characters for a base-level, real-world player, as their stats are often not at the level of your user-created guys.
The only real teams you can use in FIFA Street are in the Hit the Streets mode, but if you go online, you're forced to your user-created teams again. You can recruit real players, but I don't think it's hard to understand why someone would want to play as his favorite team instead of a made-up one. There are a number of real-world teams in the game. There are six featured leagues, with a number of teams in each league, and the international teams represent individual countries. There's even a Special Teams category that represents the fictional teams you encounter in World Tour. Why bother including this if your ability to use these teams is remarkably limited?
I was disappointed to find that the online mode is a little light on modes as well. The standard versus section of online play, called Street Seasons, is structured like division play. You've got a number of games to compete in to rank up through a fictitious division. Winning online games moves you up in rank, but there's no way to play a non-ranking game against another opponent.
The only other online mode is the Online Team Play mode, where you can join up to seven other players and take control of a single-player in a four-versus-four match. This mode is pretty fun, but again, not having the option of using real teams is pretty disappointing.
To the online side's benefit, I had little trouble finding matches, and once I started playing, I didn't run into any noticeable issues with lag. There's a certain level of precision involved with executing tricks and shots, so having a near-flawless online experience is a big plus. As fun as the arcade-style gameplay can be, I don't think there's enough meat to the online mode to warrant much interest.
FIFA Street is fun to play. Juggling a ball with your knees and then boosting it over your opponent's head as you run by him to catch it and score a goal looks fun, and it's easy enough to execute. There are an incredible number of tricks mapped to the right analog stick, so much so that it might take a bit of time and patience to learn, but the animations are fluid and detailed enough that you can see the effect you're having.
Every match feels quick and not drawn out, and that also contributes to the arcade feel. The game might not be a visual powerhouse, but the overall presentation is slick, and beyond the team menu complaints, most of the menu navigation is easy to navigate so you can get down to playing matches. Like most EA Sports titles, the soundtrack fits the game pretty well and offers a nice blend of tracks; you also have the ability to manipulate the soundtrack to your liking.
It's a shame that some of the FIFA Street design decisions are a little baffling. A little more emphasis on variety and giving the player the option to choose his teams in certain modes would go a long way toward making this a better experience. Also, fleshing out the online mode into something more substantial would give players a reason to continue playing the game beyond the first month. As it stands, there isn't enough here to warrant a purchase unless you're really hankering for some video game soccer.
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