The first FIFA Street wasn't very good; however the second game was much-improved and was a lot of fun. EA is looking to build on that momentum with FIFA Street for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game isn't due out until some time in 2008, but we've already gotten our hands on it twice and it's shaping up nicely.
If FIFA Street looks a tad familiar it's because it uses a modified version of the NBA Street engine. However, the games don't look exactly the same. The players in FIFA have are more like caricatures of their real-life counterparts with exaggerated body types and facial features. Even from the far off gameplay camera it was easy to figure out who players were. The game we played pitted England against Brazil so it was easy to recognize Rooney, Lampard, Gerrard, and Terry on the England side and Kaka, Ronaldinho, Gilberto, and Robinho for Brazil. All star players are broken down into one of four categories: Tricksters have mad dribbling skills; finishers can perform especially athletic diving headers and bicycle kicks; playmakers are super accurate with their passes; enforcers have the ability to perform some brutal tackles.
Though this is the third game in the series the developer has decided to simplify the controls to make sure the game remains accessible to newcomers. Using the face buttons you can pass, shoot, and juggle the ball. The juggle button is pressure sensitive. This allows you to keep the ball low with light taps and bring it up to your head with harder presses. If you press the left trigger while juggling you can hold the ball where it lands--your thigh, on the inside of your foot, or even on your back between your shoulder blades. From this position you can shoot or pass the ball. You can even receive passes and immediately begin juggling them, moving down the field without the ball ever touching the ground.
Since this is an arcade-style game you'll be doing a lot of one-on-one moves. These too, are simple. You tap the right stick to perform small moves and hold it for a bigger move. Dribbling is context sensitive, so if you're near the wall you can dribble off of it and even run up it, backflip, and head the other way. You'll also be able to counter defensive moves--a nice bonus when you're playing someone who does nothing but slide tackle. If you're really feeling saucy you can deliver a ball right off your defender's groin, gather the ball and continue on your merry way. As the developer promised, the controls were easy to learn and we were nutmegging fools and scoring off bicycle kicks within a matter of minutes.
Not only are trick moves a great way of breaking down the defense and getting the ball down the field, they're also how you fill the game breaker meter. You'll earn points for every move, but you'll get more points the closer you are to your opponent's goal. Game breakers power up your entire team, making it near unstoppable for a brief period of time. You can extend this period of dominance by performing tricks while the game breaker is activated.
EA wasn't ready to talk about how many players would be in the game, nor how you would put your team together. They did indicate there would be an online component to the game, but declined to give details.
The game's brighter, more vibrant look extends to the many locales we were able to check out. The riverside field was actually on a bridge surrounded by a low wall and a wrought iron fence in what looked a lot like London. The samba pitch, which had a Brazilian feel to it, had clay instead of grass and was surrounded by a large concrete wall covered in graffiti. Another field was located in a parking lot right next to the beach. What stood out most about this level, other than the fact that it was right near the ocean, was the sand that would blow across the parking lot. If you've ever been to the beach on a windy day you know just what we're talking about. Two other locations we were able to check out were a nighttime level where the pitch was high atop a Tokyo skyscraper, and another was in a shipyard.
Each field will have unique features that affect gameplay, too. For example, the high walls of the samba field will allow you to perform passes off the walls behind the goals. This is not possible at riverside because the ball would go over the low fence. Even the game's music adds to the atmosphere, reacting to the action on the field in real time, so when you get a game breaker it speeds up. To be honest, we were so focused on trying to score that we didn't notice it too much. But maybe that's a good thing.
Try as we might we couldn't get EA to nail down the release date in more detail than "sometime in 2008." While it's disappointing not to know when exactly to expect the game, it's good to know the developer is being given the time to finish the game. It's coming along nicely, though, so hopefully we'll see FIFA Street sooner rather than later.