I am not a talented footballer. Anyone who has ever seen me on the field of play will tell you that I’m not a Lionel Messi so much as a Carlton Palmer; effortlessly turning basic football skills into the greatest of chores. I send the simplest of passes three yards either side of my target, my first touch is so ineffective you would think my boots were made of dolly mixtures and the last time I got a shot on target I was downing vodkas in Derby city centre.
Struggling with such rudimentary football necessities should make me quake in fear of a game like FIFA Street, a game all about outclassing and humiliating your opponents on the pitch or in the car park. A reboot of the previously-successful franchise, FIFA Street is the flashy, flamboyant alternative to EA Sports’ long-running and critically-acclaimed FIFA series.
As soon as you kick a ball in anger for the first time you notice that the overly arcade-heavy gameplay of last-generation FIFA Street has gone completely in the reboot. No longer will you see Cristiano Ronaldo jumping twenty foot in the air to scorpion-kick a ball into the bottom corner of the net, nor will you find Lionel Messi (who has evidently handed in a transfer request at Konami and jumped ship to the main rivals) running up and down a wall to beat a defender. Thanks to a physics engine copied and pasted straight from the main FIFA series, FIFA Street is a much more realistic (and as a result, a much more challenging) experience than its PlayStation 2 predecessors.
The key to FIFA Street is learning and unlocking new tricks and skills and using them to beat opponents on the pitch. Each time you “beat” an opponent you earn “skill points” and these can be used to unlock new tricks or level-up your created player. You are given a basic set of skills to begin with, from standing on the ball to knocking it through your opponent’s legs (no shouts of “NUTS!” from the excited crowd this time around) and you are expected to earn the more flamboyant moves as you progress.
Skills are a lot harder to successfully pull-off than they were in previous FIFA Street games. Whereas in the 2005 original you could press a combination of buttons to perform an extravagant move and beat your marker with ease, this year’s release requires perfect timing and precision. Holding down L2 allows you to stand with the ball and encourage the defender toward you but it requires more than a little press of the left analog stick to knock it past him. You must wait until the defender commits to a challenge or makes a mistake and time your move to perfection. This ensures that successfully beating an opponent is both challenging and satisfying in equal measure.
That isn’t to say there aren’t niggles and frustrations within the gameplay itself. If you want to flick the ball over your opponent’s head for instance, you may well find your player refusing to chase after it or seeing the defender make an epic, albeit completely glitched, recovery to prevent you from continuing. Being tackled or failing to pull off a skill move is expected in a game where timing is of the essence but seeing the game’s physics engine inexplicably working against you several times a match becomes extremely exasperating.
Gradually, as you unlock more skill moves and level up your player, getting the ball past your opponent becomes easier and you might be looking to increase the difficulty, say, from “easy” to “medium”. But the gulf in challenge between each difficulty is extreme to say the least and this makes for a largely frustrating transition for the player. Defenders become immune to tricks, goalkeepers are nigh-impossible to beat and attackers are deadly enough to find the bottom corner of the net nine times out of ten. If you feel like moving up a difficulty level in FIFA Street, make sure you prepare thoroughly lest you be “schooled” by the AI.
The game modes in FIFA Street are a standard affair. As with every FIFA game the option for a quick friendly match is available but the real challenge lies in World Tour mode. Taking your ragtag team of hopers and dreamers from the graffiti-covered backstreets of the East Midlands to the multi-thousand-seat arenas of the world stage is as generic-yet-satisfying as you would expect. Beating the opposition on each difficulty unlocks new arenas and clothing for you to enjoy but becomes weary once you’ve beaten Generico FC for the umpteenth time.
EA Sports promised a wide variety of match types in FIFA Street and they did not disappoint. The standard 5-a-side is available but you can also play 2-v-2 Freestyle, Futsal, Panna Rules, Last Man Standing or even create a game with your own rules. Whilst traditional games like 5-a-side or Futsal still retain the old adage of scoring more than your opponent to win, the more unorthodox games like Panna and Freestyle reward entertainment and require each team to reach a certain number of “skill points” before their opponent. Each game brings a different challenge to the fray and requires players to perfect their skills in each mode in order to advance.
The graphics are as polished as you expect from an EA title. Each real-player’s likeness is accurately-rendered and the urban settings are superbly created and uniquely atmospheric. The music is fun and upbeat, with EA thankfully largely ignoring the growing dubstep scene in favour of techno and garage hits (instrumental versions of which play over matches and add nicely to the atmosphere, which for the most part consists of Wade Barratt sound-alikes shouting “WE’VE GOT TO TRY HARD, TRY HARD NOW” and “NIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICE”).
As I mentioned, I am not a talented footballer. But despite my lack of real-life skill, I can’t help but enjoy FIFA Street’s simplicity. It doesn’t try to be as faithful to the real game as its acclaimed FIFA counter-parts but nor does it overdo the arcade aspect to the game, allowing for a pleasant sense of escapism and realism at the same time.
With that said, there are issues within the game that cannot be ignored. The World Tour mode feels somewhat unfinished whilst the in-game issues with the physics engine cannot be ignored, particularly when they occur several times a match. But the biggest issue lies with the difficulty system and the huge gulf between each challenge mode. I’m not exaggerating when I say you would be wise to spend a good few hours between difficulty changes learning the ins and outs of the AI thoroughly before you continue.
FIFA Street is a fun game and will keep you entertained, but the overbearing problems it brings with it prevent it from taking its place alongside its 11-a-side cousin.