FIFA Street review: A brilliant reinvention of a tired series
16th Mar 2012 | 08:54
FIFA Street is EA putting the brand right after three instalments of arcade assery. An apology if it were. It's still frivolous football, putting skills, spectacle and instant satisfaction at the forefront, but this time it's closer to the current, brilliant FIFA. You know, the one with the Impact Engine, keen player likenesses, and both boots up old rivals PES' ageing backside.
Despite fantastical moves that demand instant slow-mo close-ups, this curbs close to street football culture. Gravitas subbed for grassroots. That means less silly scorelines or studs-up lunges Red Card Soccer-style (though you can turn off fouls), and more real locations and game types. Licensed leagues means the sight of Chelsea against Marseille under a bridge, compete with ambient cries of "Ave it!".
Think FIFA 12 by way of basketball. Pitches are congested and tackling isn't the focus. Matches can have between two and six footballers, and game types take both the scoring aspect, and making your opponent look a douche, into consideration. Five-a-side is all about the goals, Last Man Standing loses you a man after scoring - lose everyone to win - and Panna Rules pits two against two, props a tiny goal at each end and asks you to build points through footwork. Scoring banks them, but an opponent's goal ends the combo. In all cases, it's gloriously liberating to unshackle from the pomp of the game, though the extensive skill list requires frequent trips to the control menu.
Ariel skills, juggling, and the over 50 new moves feel satisfyingly grounded - there's nothing here an actual pro couldn't pull off. Like FIFA 12 the right stick is still widely used, but everything's easier to pull off. A rainbow flick, for instance, is a case of flicking back and forward on the right stick, and launching the ball into the air to set up juggles, crosses and flick-overs is just an RB/R1 press away.
There are brand new mechanics to accomodate the focus on skillful play. Holding the left trigger faces you towards an opponant's goal, and wiggling the left stick drags the ball like a hockey puck - useful to bait defenders before putting it through their legs or over their heads. Guard against this yourself by closing your legs with LT/L2, though your movement's slower as a result. On top of this, LB/L1 puts stylish flourishes on shots and passes, for those willing to risk completely missing their mark.
Sitting alongside your bread and butter skills are ludicrous moves that only Ronaldo-calibre players (that's thin Ronaldo, not fat Ronaldo) can pull off - moves like falling to your hands and kness and heading the ball into a vacant net, fake shots and passes, overhead kicks and diving headers, and head keepy-uppys. You know, just for the hell of it.
This same skill system, however, and the propensity to get absolutely deadly with it, might just turn the FIFA faithful off. The last few main series instalments have always had tricksy opponents who'll infuriate by triumphing in 50/50 balls, turning their back and legging it if you get too close, and playing it along the back four. But FIFA Street will test your patience and takes showboating to a new level.
Simply put: it can infuriate you. Players will treat you like an onlooker in a ball and cup trick, sidestepping and feinting and nonchantly shrugging off your lunges, even though you swore you nailed the timing. And if you do get a foot in? Because pitches are so small, it's pot luck whether it falls to you or not.
The same rules apply to you, of course. To faciliate all that skilling, you're hardly easy to tackle yourself. Space and pace - two aspects not crucial here. You're always crowded and speed is useless when there's nowhere to run. It's just something you have to get used to.
And you will, in World Tour. This is shorter than FIFA's typical career, more an arcade challenge consisting of regional, national and global rounds and taking about a week to complete. It is, however, every bit as compelling.
RPG levelling of your team is the hook. It encourages standout performances, with victories, wonder goals or even a dinky bit of skill giving you points. These can be used to build up your players' attributes - speed, dribbling, shooting - as well as unlock ever-increasingly ridiculous moves and celebrations.
Starting out with zero attributes may go against the flair and philosophy of the game, with even the most basic moves, the closed-legs jocky for instance, taking multiple matches to unlock, but World Tour is structured to play through more than once. How else are you going to afford that air guitar taunt?
They might start out skill-less, but it's easy to foster a bond with your collection of misfits.You can build each from the ground up, from hairstyle and height to team name, kit colour and crests. Winning special matches even allows you to nab an opponent's captain as a sort of prisoner of war. There's a strong and constant sense of progression here, and the sight of local heroes slowly becoming world-beaters is a rewarding one.