Less than a year after the release of EA's last venture into the arcade football genre, the prolific publisher has already produced a sequel in NFL Street 2. While NFL Street 2 is every bit as slick of a product as you'd expect from EA's sports division, it's only marginally improved over its predecessor. This iteration has only made a scant few changes to the gameplay, and it really does very little to correct any of the flaws present in last year's--er, make that this past January's game.
As far as gameplay is concerned, NFL Street hasn't changed much over the past 11 months. All the fundamentals, including the style moves, simplified playbooks, and gamebreakers, are back again just as they were before. The biggest change comes in the form of wall moves. These are basically stylish jukes and jumps that can be performed simply by pressing the style-move button and the corresponding juke or jump button while running near a wall. Wall jukes give you a little more spin or bounce as you move past a defender, and wall jumps simply let you leap over the defense. There are also a series of hotspots set across each of the game's stages, where, by performing wall jumps and jukes specifically into them, you'll get a humongous style-point bonus. However, if the defense gets to you first and tackles you into one of these hotspots, they'll get their own bonus.
Outside of wall moves, there's also a new type of gamebreaker move, aptly titled the gamebreaker 2. Now you actually have two gamebreaker meters to fill as you pull off all your nifty little style moves. If you fill the first one up, you can press the appropriate button and send your team into gamebreaker mode for the usual span of a single drive. However, if you hold off and let the second meter build on top of that one, you can do a gamebreaker 2. This move actually wrests control away from you for a brief period and transfers into a cutscene, where, regardless of whether you're on offense or defense, your players will pull off some manner of insane maneuver to get the ball to the end zone. Of course, the standard gamebreakers pretty much guaranteed that your team would score, so now this new gamebreaker simply eliminates any of that doubt.
While both the new wall moves and the new gamebreaker move are neat ideas, they also conspire to unbalance the gameplay. Specifically, the gigantic style-point bonuses you can get by hitting hotspots lets you fill up your gamebreaker meters extremely quickly. This means that unless you're super adept at playing defense, chances are you'll run into at least a few gamebreakers per game, if not more. And odds are you probably aren't super adept at defense, since the defensive portion of this game, just like the first, is mostly an afterthought. The gamebreaker 2 almost seems like the developer's attempt to try to counterbalance this, in that it gives you a reason not to just push the gamebreaker button every single time it pops up. We even ran into a few games where we were able to get a pair of gamebreaker 2s before all was said and done, and we did so without much duress.
Of course, with that said, NFL Street 2 is still a fun game to play despite its imbalances. The action is just as fast paced and over the top as ever, and there's a host of new content to play through, including the old favorites, such as the pickup game and the NFL challenge mode. The NFL challenge mode still operates under mostly the same premise: You take a team of nobody players and put them through a series of challenges against major NFL teams. These challenges might entail beating a team in a game to 24 by only running the ball or by intercepting the ball a certain number of times against a tough passing team. By completing these challenges, you'll earn character-upgrade points for your players that will turn them into an elite street football squad. The difference here is that all of the challenges are played under the guise of a "training period" prior to a tournament against the cream of the NFL crop. You're given 150 days to train your team, and each time a challenge is completed, days are subtracted from your training time. The good news is that you'll have more than enough chances to boost your squad to the hilt before that 150-day countdown ends; the bad news is that it's still a wholly arduous process to do so. Part of the problem with this mode in the game's previous version was that it was terribly long and very frustrating, and that problem still hasn't been fixed here.
There's also a whole other single-player mode in NFL Street 2 called "own the city." Here, you'll create one player and then find yourself face to face with none other than Street 2 cover boy and Pimp My Ride host Xzibit. X-to-the-Z is basically your trainer in this mode, as he introduces you to the world of "underground" street football. Once you pass his exceedingly brief tutorial, you're given the chance to play a number of pickup games and specialized minigames against a bunch of other scrub players. Technically, this works much the same way as in the NFL challenge mode, in that you'll be traveling around, running your way through all the different locations on the map, and eventually "owning" them by beating all the challenges. However, again, just like the NFL challenge mode, it's another semiarduous affair and one that's actually less interesting than the NFL challenge, since you're just playing against randomly generated guys, rather than against actual players.
The "own the city" mode is also the most blatant example of another problem Street 2 hasn't corrected, and that is its contrived sense of style. NFL Street simply didn't come off as very "street," at least not in the way that worked for its NBA counterpart, and NFL Street 2 is no different; in fact, it's almost worse. The "own the city" mode has a very silly notion of what "underground street football" is all about--not to mention the fact that Xzibit, of all people, is your supposed guide through all of this (though he rarely makes any appearances at all). Even outside of the "own the city" mode, there are so many other little contrivances from the last game that ring true here, like the lame names of the moves that earn you style points--such as "movin' tha' chains" and "west coast"--and the silly outfits that the various NFL players wear to try to make them all look like varying degrees of hip-hop stars. The whole stylistic aspect of the game still feels like it came out of a marketing meeting gone bad.
The remaining game modes in NFL Street 2 consist of a gauntlet mode, where you go up against every single team in the game in succession; a separate mode where you can play the assorted minigames from the "own the city" mode in a multiplayer or single-player capacity; and online play. The minigames are definitely the most interesting aspect of NFL Street 2, though they don't all work in execution. These games range from a simple ball-catching contest--where four receivers try to catch three balls at a time, and the winner is the receiver with the most catches--to a version of the old schoolyard favorite, "kill the guy with the ball" (also known by some more-offensive names, which we won't mention here). Again, they're all neat ideas, but they don't all work. The "kill the guy with the ball" game, for instance, has you running up and down the field, racking up points as you dodge tackles, and not having much in the way of obstacles that will get in your way. There is still definitely fun to be had with each of them, though, and what makes it even better is that you can play many of them online.
Speaking of online play, Street 2 marks the debut of the series on Xbox Live, and happily, the Live play seems to be just as good as the PS2 online play. We played through normal games, pickup games, and minigames on both platforms using consumer-grade broadband connections, and we had no lag problems whatsoever. The one interesting thing we did notice was that we couldn't access certain lobbies from the get-go. This seemingly had something to do with our player ranking online (which was understandably low, considering we'd just started playing). Due to said ranking, we couldn't access any lobbies save for the general lobbies (meaning anyone from any ranking could play) and the beginners-only lobby. This limitation makes a degree of sense, as it gives the better players a place to call their own. However, for those that are already good, it might be a little annoying to have to build up a rep before you can join up with your fellow ballers.
The only other aspect of NFL Street 2's features that bears mentioning is its shop mode, which allows you to spend credits you earn throughout the game on assorted unlockable clothing items. Licensed Reebok sneakers, gold and platinum chains, and throwback jerseys are just some of the many items you can unlock and use to deck your players out. How meaningful this aspect of the game is really depends on how interested you are in customizing players, and if you are interested, then there's plenty of stuff to unlock.
As far as presentation goes, NFL Street 2 really does nothing to differentiate itself from the last game. The graphics engine looks to be basically untouched, with roughly the same player models, environments, and visual effects all tagged, bagged, and shoved into this game with no alteration to speak of. This isn't to say that the game looks bad at all. Quite the contrary, actually. All the hits and tackles still look brutal, the player models all still have a neat, exaggerated look to them, and generally, it's a good-looking game overall--just not as impressive as the first game. The three versions of the game look good on their respective platforms, with the Xbox version predictably looking slightly better than the other two. Overall, the Xbox and PS2 versions of the game are pretty much directly on par with one another. However, the GameCube version is definitely a step down, since it lacks the online functionality, which is one of the most appealing aspects of the game as a whole.
Like the last NFL Street, Street 2 features a soundtrack that mixes hip-hop and rock, though the mix here is far less thematically consistent and just not very good. Artists like Sum 41, Drowning Pool, Planet Asia, and Xzibit all lend tracks, but only a scant few of these songs even sound like they really belong in the game. Again, there's no consistency to the soundtrack, and it mostly just feels hacked together. Also like the last game, the few bits of dialogue present in Street 2 are mostly made up of lousy taunts and one-liners, none of which are clever, funny, or worth listening to. Thankfully, the in-game sound effects are still good, even though most of them seem recycled from the previous version.
Overall, NFL Street 2 is a good enough game, though barely anything has changed. It doesn't feel like it has been rushed, since it isn't buggy or broken in any way, but there's definitely a lack of proper maturation here that hinders the overall product. Unless you've never played the original NFL Street and you're intrigued by the concept, there's not really any singular, captivating reason why you should rush out to get NFL Street 2, as people who already played the original will be all too familiar with what the sequel presents. And, if you were one of those who played and enjoyed the original, you should probably rent Street 2 first, just to see if some of the few new things it offers really are enough to warrant a full-priced purchase.