The first NFL game available for the PSP is EA Sports Big's NFL Street 2 Unleashed, a port of the publisher's arcade football sequel that hit consoles late last year. The "Unleashed" in the title would seem to refer to some of the alterations made to this version to make it stand out from its console counterparts. So you'll find some new minigames, fewer signature style moves, far less of the hip-hop spokesman Xzibit, and some fairly horrendous load times. The addition of the new minigames, along with the already impressive roster of modes found in the console versions (all of which are here, pretty much completely intact), does make for a pretty enticing package. Furthermore, the gameplay ultimately holds up. Still, this game will likely be most appealing to those who didn't already bother to pick up NFL Street 2 on other console platforms, as there just isn't enough new here to really set it apart.
The fundamentals of Unleashed's gameplay are essentially the same as the console versions, but with a couple of tweaks. All the basics, including the style moves, simplified playbooks, wall moves, and gamebreakers, are back again and are just as they were before. The in-game action feels fast, stylish, and occasionally a little too easy. The same issue found in the console versions, where it was just much too easy of a task to rack up style points and amass multiple gamebreakers throughout a game, is still prevalent. So if you want a real challenge of any kind, you're going to need to up the difficulty from the get-go. Apart from this caveat, however, the gameplay is solid. The controls using the PSP's analog stick, and even the D pad, feel quite good, and the overall responsiveness of your players is excellent. The one compromise that had to be made in the name of making the game work on the PSP is that you'll ultimately find fewer of the token style moves available to you than were available in the console versions. As there is only one available trigger button for the style-move mechanic, there's less availability for variance in the style moves. It's actually not that big of a deal, though, and you probably won't even notice the difference.
All the major gameplay modes featured in NFL Street 2 on consoles are included in Unleashed, including the NFL challenge mode and the "own the city" mode. The NFL challenge mode still operates under mostly the same premise as that of the original NFL Street: 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. 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 previous versions was that it was terribly long and very frustrating. And that problem still hasn't been fixed here.
In the own the city mode, 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. Although unlike in the console versions, the Mr. Black Bruce Willis doesn't lend his voice here and is instead represented by a static image and text. 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 the NFL challenge mode in that you'll be traveling around, running your way through all the different locations on the map, before eventually "owning" them by beating all the challenges. However, just like the NFL challenge mode, it's another semi-arduous affair...and one that's actually less interesting than the NFL challenge, because you're just playing against randomly generated guys rather than against actual players.
The remaining 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 multiplayer, both ad hoc and party mode styles. The minigames were definitely the most interesting aspect of NFL Street 2, though they didn't all work in execution. Unleashed actually includes several new minigames to add to the roster of ball-catching contests and "kill the guy with the ball" games. For instance, there's a new contest where you take a player and run him through an obstacle-filled alleyway, jumping and juking past stacks of tires, fences, and such. There's also a dance contest. No, we're not kidding. There's an honest to God dance contest. It's essentially just a memory-type game, sort of like Simon, where you have to match another player's movements and timing. That one's pretty dumb, but the rest of the minigames, including the holdovers from the original, are all pretty fun. And what makes them even better is that you can play nearly all of them via the multiplayer modes.
When playing via Wi-Fi, you can play head-to-head against a friend with another PSP. You can play a quick game, a pickup game, or one of a few available minigames (dance contest not included). The Wi-Fi play seemed to work quite well, though we did note a bit of slowdown in this mode that wasn't there in other portions of the game. The party mode is a way for up to four players to get together to play some of the minigames on one PSP. It's just your basic "pass-and-play" kind of thing, and if, for some reason, you're really desperate to play the dance contest against other people, you can do so here.
All told, NFL Street 2 Unleashed is certainly not light on content, most of which is pretty enjoyable. However, there's one prevailing issue with every mode that does serve to bring down the overall experience some: namely, the load times. In between each and every game or minigame you play, you'll have to wait anywhere from 20 to 30 seconds for it to load up. If you're just playing a quick game, this might not be as much of a problem for you. But if you're trying to play through something like the NFL challenge mode, which requires you to play a lot of brief challenges that don't take more than a couple of minutes to complete, these heinous load times can really break up the pacing, therefore becoming downright frustrating over time. The loading doesn't totally wreck these modes, of course, but it's definitely a hindrance.
Graphically, Unleashed looks nearly as good as its PS2 counterpart, which actually is really saying something. Apart from a few blurrier textures and less-detailed faces, the in-game visuals actually look pretty great, as a whole. Everything is bright, crisp, and colorful, and apart from the ad hoc mode, Unleashed seems to run at quite a consistent frame rate. The one area that suffered a bit in translation is the audio, of which there is significantly less when compared to the console version...though in some ways, that's a blessing in disguise. All the sound effects and soundtrack songs from the console games made their ways into the PSP version, but none of the voice work did. While the soundtrack is still pretty weak, the lack of generally annoying player chatter is hardly anything to weep over, because it was easily one of the least appealing aspects of the console games.
NFL Street 2 Unleashed may be one of the least altered, if not the least altered, of all the console games ported to the PSP. And that ultimately works both for and against it. Graphically, it's tough to argue with a game that looks just about as good as its PS2 counterpart, and it's great that the same long list of play modes made it into this version. However, if you've played NFL Street 2 already on consoles, there's not a lot of reason to rush out and buy this one, because none of the new content is really all that enthralling. Ultimately, Unleashed is best served to those diehard NFL Street fans who absolutely want to play football on the go, as well as to those who didn't experience the original NFL Street 2 on consoles. If you fall into either of these categories, the game is certainly worth a look.