A lot has changed in the football genre since EA released FIFA Street 3 back in 2008. The mainline FIFA franchise has enjoyed an impressive transformation over the past five years and, consequentially, has knocked former champion Pro Evolution Soccer from the top of the league. It’s telling, then, that the latest FIFA Street comes without a number attached; this is a reboot built upon the foundations of the established FIFA format. But does it perform a bicycle kick or score a humiliating own goal?
Unlike previous entries in the series, FIFA Street is a simulation of urban football. Gone is the Mario Strikers Charged-inspired design, and in its place is a much more grounded experience influenced by the many Nike commercials of the past 15 years. The game is still all about showboating and skills, but in a much more realistic manner, making the moments where you seemingly defy gravity and physics feel even more satisfying. While the mainline FIFA series is all about moving the ball into space, FIFA Street is concerned with you beating the players directly in front of you, with new tools at your disposal.
Most notable is Street Ball Control, which allows you to bait and tease opponents from a stationary position. Pulling L2 allows you to roll the ball around your feet, forcing defending players into tackles. It’s from this situation that you can sprint past committed opponents using the R2 trigger, beating players by manoeuvring around them, or by performing a panna or nutmeg. Other player-beating methods include the ability to juggle the ball and lift it over an opponent’s head (setting up a scorching volley) and other tricks.
As in so many other EA Sports titles, the right stick is your weapon in FIFA Street. Numerous tricks are assigned to Street Fighter-like combinations, allowing you to weave your way in and out of opponents like Lionel Messi caught in heavy traffic. Simple forward flicks prompt basic step overs, while left-and-right motions result in more flamboyant tricks like rainbow kicks. The game also includes a flair modifier, which adjusts your shots and passes when you hold the L1 button; FIFA Street is all about scoring the perfect goal, so you’ll often find yourself attempting rabona spins to finish off a one-on-one rather than simply side-footing into the corner.
The grace of the gameplay is accentuated by the game’s animation system. FIFA Street repurposes FIFA 12’s impact engine to dynamically recreate the physicality of the sport. Some collisions look comical as a result – clearly the technology is still in its infancy and requires work – but they give the game a much more realistic feel.
The divisive jockeying system from FIFA 12 also returns when you’re in defence, and makes more sense in the smaller arenas of FIFA Street. But while the mechanic is well implemented, your options when attempting to thwart an attack are severely limited elsewhere. You’ll spend much of your time attempting to push players out wide and time a poke at the ball while an opponent effortlessly strokes it about. Given the wealth of attacking options on offer, you never really feel like you have the tools to defend against them.
It’s not an altogether bad thing; defence is a much less important component of FIFA Street as the game adopts a basketball-like pace, but it’s a shame that EA Canada couldn’t come up with a more satisfying system off-the-ball, especially considering how fluid it is when you’re on it.
You’ll spend the bulk of your time with FIFA Street in the World Tour mode. This follows the rags-to-riches formula of most other sports titles, but approaches it in an interesting way. You’ll create a squad of at least six players that rise through the street football ranks from their home county (or state) right through to world domination. The squad creation system is clearly designed around having a laugh with friends, and that’s accentuated by the fact that you can download the created players of people from your friends list. It’s pretty easy to build up an office or college squad based on various cliques.
You can customise your squad in a variety of ways, including creating a custom crest, team name and kit. As you play matches, your players will earn experience points and level up. You’ll then earn unlock points which can be spent on developing your player’s style and unlocking tricks. It’s basic RPG stuff, but it’s successful in creating a sense of attachment to your team.
Throughout the World Tour mode you’ll participate in a number of events, from tournaments to one-off matches. Because FIFA Street isn't based on a single football rule set, there are new styles of play. You can choose standard 5v5 and 6v6 matches of course, but other modes intrigue: Panna sees you bank points for tricks; in Last Man Standing you lose one player for each goal you score, and Futsal removes the arena boundaries, requiring more precision with your passing and shots. The game also features a pretty robust custom match creation suite, which gives you quite a lot of creative freedom.
While the World Tour Mode is enjoyable in and of itself, its combination with the online experience is what’s most impressive. Tournaments can be played against real players online, utilising FIFA’s lightning fast matchmaking system to get you into the action as fast as you would against the AI. While this ups the challenge, the thrill of playing against real opponents is hard to beat, especially when everyone uses their own custom created teams.
World Tour mode also attempts to download the squads of your PlayStation Network friends into the game, allowing you to play against “real” creations rather than the game’s default squads. Of course, as you progress into the latter stages of the campaign, you’ll start to happen upon real teams like Barcelona too.
There are a wealth of arenas included in FIFA Street, many of which are based on locations from the real world: Venice places a pitch on top of the city’s famous canals, while Shanghai sees you compete on top of a skyscraper. All of the environments are colourful and wonderfully detailed, and there’s a good variety between indoor and outdoor arenas that add to the sense of discovery as you uncover them.
If there’s an area where FIFA Street goes lacking, it’s in the sound department. The soundtrack is appropriately hip, but irritatingly so, and it’s used to fill much of the soundscape without the inclusion of commentary. To add to the feel of the street format, EA’s recording thousands of lines of dialogue which are called out by the players to add an authentic feel. The problem is that the dialogue itself is all gratingly staged, and there’s way too much of it. We appreciate that communication is an important part of football, but it all feels a bit forced. Thankfully the problem is diminished as you progress to bigger arenas that have larger crowds and (in some cases) announcers that provide limited commentary on the action.
FIFA Street delivers a successful complement to the main FIFA series, and that is its greatest achievement. Focused and ultimately unique in flavour, the game’s trick-driven gameplay provides a welcome twist on the standard soccer simulation format. While its urban tone can be a little grating, the consideration put into the game’s attacking mechanics make it a surprisingly deep and replayable package. And while there’s still room for improvement in the title’s defence and trick systems – the repetition of specific skill animations can give the game a bit of a mechanical feel – it’s a compelling stopgap that manages to wrongfoot the faults of its shallow predecessors and serve up an experience sturdy enough to stand up on its own.