The original FIFA Street was EA Sports Big's initial attempt at marrying the licensed roster of EA's FIFA series with the arcade sensibilities of the underground street soccer scene. While the fan reaction to the original was on the tepid side, the development team behind the second game in the series took it as a challenge to improve upon what was, admittedly, a pretty solid concept. Those improvements have come in multiple forms, as we've had a chance to see during our hands-on time with FIFA Street 2.
First and foremost among the upgrades in FIFA Street 2 are the controls. Much like the original, Street 2 is still a trick-heavy game, with players racking up fancy trick combos and taunts in order to earn gamebreaker opportunities that can blow a game wide open. Unlike the last game, you're more in control of the tricks in Street 2, and the number of available tricks has increased dramatically. In the original, you could press the right analog stick in one of four directions to pull off fancy "beat" tricks that would get you around the defender. With Street 2, tricks can be pulled off by pressing the right analog stick in any one of eight directions, essentially doubling the number of tricks available to you right off the bat. Trick combos can be built not only from trick to trick, but also from pass to pass, letting you rack up huge point totals between multiple players and earning gamebreakers that much faster.
The most important trick tweak this year is the addition of manual juggle tricks. You've seen the videos of supremely skilled soccer players bouncing the ball between their feet, up to their shoulders, and head, all while pulling off crazy twists and spins. In Street 2, you'll be able to pull off these kinds of tricks by initiating the "juggle" mechanic in tandem with the left and right triggers and the right analog stick. It sounds complicated, but it's actually quite simple. To initiate the juggle on the Xbox, for example, you simply hit the Y button and hold down the left trigger. To pull off fancy moves, you hold both triggers down and trace the right analog stick along prescribed paths, some of which feel very similar to the haymaker punch controls in the Fight Night series. You can even move your player along the pitch while he juggles.
Once again gamebreakers play a big roll in the game. Come now, you didn't think you'd have a Street game without gamebreakers, did you? All of the tricks, combos, taunts, and juggles in Street 2 come with points that earn you gamebreakers. To the game's credit, gamebreakers play differently in FIFA than in any previous game in the Street brand. You still need to earn a set number of points to earn a gamebreaker, but once the gamebreaker is available, you'll need to run to an illuminated spot on the pitch to collect it (while also having possession of the ball). From there, you have two options. You can simply take a shot at the goal, which, if aimed properly, will pretty much guarantee a score, or you can try to beat defenders with the ball in your possession. Beat one defender (and score a goal, of course), and you'll not only earn a goal, but you'll also subtract one from your opponent's total. Beat two defenders and score, and you'll earn two goals. If you manage to juke all three of them and find the back of the net, you win the game outright, regardless of the score. To the system's credit, if you are defending against a gamebreaker, you do have the ability to steal the ball from your opponent, you just need to pay attention to do so.
While Street 2 is an arcade-style, offensive-minded game, the developers at EA Canada have taken steps to improve the defensive controls as well. As on offense, you use the right analog to pull off defensive shoves and tackles, but there's an added element of strategy that the producers liken to a fighting game's countering mechanic. While you're on defense, if you press up on the right analog stick at the same time an attacker executes an "up" offensive move also on the right analog stick, you'll immediately steal the ball. If you guess in the general vicinity of his offensive move (say pressing up and to the left after the attacker chooses an "up" trick), the play will result in a free ball that either player can chase after.
Another important addition to the Street 2 lineup is the ability to play as the goal keeper, and we're not just talking stopping shots. You can actually bring the keeper out of the box if you wish, giving you a crucial extra attacker during those times when you really need the score. Just make sure you keep possession of the ball, or that one-goal deficit can easily turn into two.
Game modes in Street 2 include friendly, rule the street, and skills challenge. A friendly is simply a custom single-player match, where you can set the teams (from a set of 20 national teams, as well as a few special clubs), your starting lineup, the location you wish to play (with international locales such as Brazil, Germany, Amsterdam, London, and Rome), and the exact type of rule set you wish to play with. It's here that you can choose the level of difficulty, as well as specific rules, such as the maximum number of goals needed to win and the color of the ball you wish to use.
Rule the street mode is the game's career mode, one that will be familiar to anyone who has played a Street game before. The idea is to create a player from scratch and then take on teams from all over the world on your way to being the best of the street soccer best. As you defeat teams, you'll be able to recruit players to your team and deal with the conflicting egos that come with such amazing soccer skills. You'll also earn skill bills, which you can spend to improve your player attributes, or to unlock cool apparel, new venues, and FIFA players and legends.
The final game mode in Street 2 is the skills challenge, and it's essentially a ball-juggling competition. Each player in the skills challenge takes turns pulling off juggling tricks, and the player with the most points at the end is considered the winner. During a skills challenge session, you'll have the opportunity to pull off freestyle tricks. You'll also be challenged to pull off a series of increasingly complex strings of tricks that will require a sense of rhythm that is vaguely reminiscent of Dance Dance Revolution. Frankly, we don't see ourselves spending too much time in this mode, but it's certainly an option for those who are looking for a diversion from the action on the pitch.
Visually, Street 2 still has the gritty underground look that was so appealing in last year's game, along with a number of new venues and pitch types to play on--the sandy shores of Barra Beach, Brazil, comes to mind as an immediate standout. Player models are long and lanky-looking, and the trick animations are a lot of fun to watch. The biggest change this year is the default camera angle, which has moved from the traditional sideline view to an up-and-down, end-to-end look that will likely be favored by us Americans who love to play those other type of football games. For those who prefer the more traditional point of view, you'll be able to choose it in the camera options menu. On the audio front, Street 2 looks to provide a cosmopolitan mix of tunes from all over the world--from Latin beats to Eurocentric drum and bass, and a good mix of styles in between.
With 20 national teams, more than 10 playable venues, and 300-plus real-life soccer stars to play as, FIFA Street 2 will certainly not lack for content. Will the game deliver on the promising concept that was found in the first one? We'll know on February 28, when the game is due to hit store shelves. Expect to see our full review as soon as the game is released.