When FIFA Street was released in February of 2005, the game boasted far more style than it did substance, offering a gameplay experience that was as flawed as it was flashy. Nevertheless, when we reviewed FIFA Street we alluded to the fact that we'd very much like to see its problems addressed in a sequel at some point. Now, one year later, EA Sports Big has done just that. FIFA Street 2 is far from perfect, but it improves upon its predecessor quite significantly and can be enjoyed solo or with up to three friends.
Like the first game, FIFA Street 2 sees you taking control of a four-man soccer team and competing against similar teams composed of both fictional street players and recognizable stars of traditional soccer from all over the world. You'll beat your opponents not only by scoring goals, but also by humiliating them with beat tricks, ball juggling, and taunts at every opportunity. The controls for all of these moves are surprisingly uncomplicated on all three console platforms, and the fact that no console's controller noticeably outperforms another's is definitely noteworthy. The PlayStation 2 controller's large number of well-placed buttons is the most naturally suited to FIFA Street 2's large number of moves, but we found that the GameCube's right analog (or "C") stick made performing high-scoring tricks while juggling the ball slightly easier than on other platforms. The Xbox controller is a jack-of-all-trades where FIFA Street 2 is concerned, but worthy of a mention is the fact that EA Sports Big resisted the temptation to employ the badly positioned black and white buttons.
One of the reasons why FIFA Street 2's controls are so intuitive is that the right analog stick is used so well. When you have the ball in your possession, flicking the right stick in any direction will cause you to perform a trick in that direction and, when applicable, to try to get past an opponent while doing so. Pushing the right stick up, for example, might flick the ball over an opponent's head, while pushing the stick down will often result in a nutmeg--the most humiliating of all beat moves, which involves putting the ball through an opponent's legs. The nutmeg is known by many different names around the world, and like many organized street-soccer contests (and the whole of Holland), FIFA Street 2 often refers to the move as a panna--a Surinamese word that literally means "to destroy." In the aforementioned "Panna KO" contests, putting the ball through an opponent's legs is enough to win a match, regardless of how many goals have been scored. FIFA Street 2 doesn't place that much emphasis on any single move, but it is possible to win a match at any time using the new and improved gamebreaker system. When your opponents have the ball, you can use the right analog stick to perform sliding tackles and, if you push it in the right direction at the right time, to counter their beat moves.
FIFA Street 2 boasts a number of different match types, and you'll have to master all of them if you want to progress through the game's "Rule the Street" career mode. Some matches will simply task you with scoring more goals than the opposition, but others focus entirely on trick scores, award you points for nutmegs, or count only gamebreaker goals. Gamebreaker goals can only be scored after you've performed enough tricks to fill up your gamebreaker energy bar, and beating opponents en route to said goals will increase the number of points that they're worth and even subtract goals from your opponent's scoreline. Lose possession of the ball during a gamebreaker, though, and all of the tricks that you performed while filling up the energy bar will have been for naught. This risk-versus-reward system works extremely well, although the fact that you can cancel out goals scored by the opposition means that a match you might expect to last around five minutes can easily last a lot, lot longer if the two teams are evenly matched.
The first thing you'll have to do when starting a career in FIFA Street 2 is create a player for yourself. The editing tools available to customize the player's physique and face are quite comprehensive, and you'll also find lots of licensed clothing to choose from. You'll have a finite number of "skill bills" to spend on your player's speed, shot, tricks, defense, and power attributes at this point, but you'll earn more every time you play. The tools that you'll use to customize your team's home pitch are far more limited, unfortunately, comprising only a very small number of aesthetic options and none that impact the size and shape of the playing areas or goals, for example.
Initially, you'll spend your career time playing in "kick about" matches with random players, but once your player's rating reaches 40 (out of a possible 100) you'll become a team captain with your own squad of players. As the team captain, you'll get to choose which members of your squad get to play each match as well as spend skill bills on improving their attributes. You'll also have to concern yourself with keeping all of your players happy, which invariably means either paying them a bonus to retain their services, or being forced to choose between two players who have had a falling out. These management duties might not sound like they add much to the game, but if nothing else they ensure that you're unlikely to have an identical team to your friends if you decide to pit them against each other. If you manage to win certain matches during your time as team captain, professional players will ask to join your squad, though accepting them will often mean forcing one of your existing players to sit games out on the bench or, worse still, to leave your team completely.
After the team-captain phase of your career comes an "underground" phase in which you attempt to lead your team to glory in prestigious street competitions. And then, when your custom player achieves a rating of 85 or more, you get a chance to represent your country in the "international" phase. The Rule the Street mode certainly offers a decent amount of longevity, but we should point out that even the numerous match types on offer do little to prevent the action from getting repetitive, even by sports game standards. The problem is that none of the teams in the game play a different style of street soccer--they simply play the same game with varying ability.
The other problem with FIFA Street 2's action on the pitch is that, regardless of how uncomplicated the control setup is, players can sometimes feel unresponsive. This is often because their services are required in a two-man animation that sees your guys falling over (and taking far too long to get back up again) or spreading their legs so they can get nutmegged. Although this isn't nearly as prevalent a problem as it was in last year's game, the CPU does occasionally like to beat your same player over and over again, making it almost impossible for you to intervene. The intelligence of the goalkeepers has improved since FIFA Street, although their behavior can still seem erratic at times, because it has more to do with whether the shots they're facing are coming at the end of an impressive trick combo than it does with how good the shots actually are. The new option to take manual control of your goalie during a match is perhaps one of the most significant new features, although we found that it was best used sparingly.
Another significant new feature of FIFA Street 2 is the option to play matches using an end-to-end (vertical) camera rather than a sideline (horizontal) camera. The default (and in our opinion, best) camera is end-to-end at midrange, and there are also "close" and "far" cameras available for both perspectives. The absence of a midrange sideline camera is as inexplicable as it is unfortunate, since any of you who prefer to play from left to right are essentially forced to watch the action either from a great distance or from much closer than is ideal. If this were a game about Goldilocks stealing porridge from three bears, she'd be forced to choose either "too hot" or "too cold"--there's no "just right." Regardless of which camera you opt for, you'll find that it's prone to zooming in and out to afford you a better look at some of FIFA Street 2's impressive trick animations and such. It's quite distracting, though, because the camera movements are very sudden, and occasionally get so close to the action that it's difficult to see where your players are. It's a shame that the camera in FIFA Street 2 tries to be so clever, because it really isn't necessary--the players, environments, and trick animations look good on all three platforms.
The audio in FIFA Street 2 is also quite good, with decent sound effects and player comments being complemented by an eclectic selection of around 50 music tracks. The game's music is organized into three distinct "radio station" selections by default, each boasting equally inane chatter from a DJ in between tracks. Thankfully there's an option to create your own tracklist quickly and easily, and given just how varied the soundtrack is, you should have no problem finding at least handful of songs that you like.
With four difficulty levels and plenty of players, locations, tricks, and items of clothing to unlock, one of FIFA Street 2's most noteworthy features is that it's as much fun to play solo as it is with friends, which often isn't the case with sports games. There's certainly still some room for improvement here, but FIFA Street 2 plays an entertaining game of street soccer, and the fact that this game is so much better than its predecessor certainly bodes well for the future of the series.