In the world of FIFA Street, soccer isn't just about scoring more goals than your opponent; it's about humiliating your opponent at every opportunity. FIFA Street 3 from EA Sports Big pits teams of both contemporary and classic soccer stars against each other in matches played all over the world, taking in some unusual locations that have an impact on the gameplay along the way. The action is fast-paced and fun for a while, especially when you pit your skills against other players', but the single-player options are very limited and the absence of a team-building career mode is disappointing.
FIFA Street 3 makes a great first impression; the menus are slick, the licensed soundtrack of more than 30 songs is a perfect fit, and the colorful cartoon art style works really well. Well over 200 soccer stars appear as playable caricatures in FIFA Street 3, and they look great running around the game's seven different locations. There's no end-to-end camera option from which to view the action unfortunately, which is fine if you're used to playing traditional soccer games horizontally, but odd given that it was the default view in FIFA Street 2. Locations in FIFA Street 3 include a beachside parking lot, a playground, an oil rig, and a Tokyo rooftop among others, and each of them offers a slightly different experience. Every playing field in FIFA Street 3 is enclosed by walls or fences of some kind, but because those walls and fences vary so much in height and design, they impact the gameplay. The ball is less likely to go out of play if the field is enclosed by tall walls with no windows cut into them, for example, and you can bounce the ball off walls and fences to perform some unorthodox tricks and passes.
There's no shortage of spectacular moves to perform in FIFA Street 3, but you might be surprised to learn that the game actually downplays these in favor of realism for the most part. Few of the tricks that you perform using the right analog stick would look horribly out of place during a regular soccer match if they were performed far less frequently, and it's really only while in gamebreaker mode or when running up and along walls that some of the moves border on unbelievable. With that said, FIFA Street 3 fudges its ball physics pretty frequently. It's not nearly as noticeable as it has been in previous entries in the series, but there are definitely occasions when the ball appears to have a mind of its own and seems more concerned with making a trick animation work than with behaving convincingly. The same can be said of players falling victim to tricks, since they're sometimes required to spread their legs apart or even stumble to the ground for the canned two-character animations to work. The tricks look good, but it's frustrating to have one of your players be taken out of your control just so he can get beaten.
Unlike previous FIFA Street games, the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of FIFA Street 3 don't award you points for performing tricks or for beating opponents. As a result, there are no matches in which the winner is determined by the number of trick points scored. This is unfortunate given the lack of variety on offer here, because while there are some different rules you can play by, your objective is always to score more goals than your opponent. Matches in which you can score only with headers or volleys, or in which gamebreakers aren't permitted don't really do enough to keep things interesting for long, and matches without time limits can be painful if you're up against tough opposition. For example, matches typically last between five and 10 minutes, but the final match of the single-player street challenge mode--in which you have to score eight gamebreakers against a team of classic all-star players--took us almost 45 minutes to win.
If you're playing FIFA Street 3 solo, the street challenge mode is the only option you have other than setting up individual matches. Rather than being sorted by country, the players in street challenge mode are grouped into teams that are themed after their play styles, their builds, and even by the brands that they're affiliated with. You can unlock 25 of these teams as you progress through the mode's 30-plus challenges, and then they're available for use in multiplayer games. The difficulty curve in street challenge mode is nigh on perfect, though even the artificial intelligence of the toughest teams you come up against can be exploited to some extent. Having your defensive players pass the ball around among themselves at the back while your opponents' gamebreaker bar ticks down and only one of them attempts to retrieve the ball is easy to do, for example.
Multiplayer competition is where FIFA Street 3 is at its best. Both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions support up to eight players online, and on a single console they support four and seven players, respectively. Multiplayer options include all of the same match types that feature in the street challenge mode, as well as a fun "playground picks" mode in which both team captains take it in turns to choose a player from the same national squad to form their five-man team before kickoff. When playing online there's also a "world challenge" mode in which results from players using the 18 national teams featured in the game are used to generate a league table of sorts. Searching for opponents online rarely took us more than a few minutes, though using the filter to find players of a similar skill level often just presented us with a message stating that no matches could be found. Very few of the matches that we played suffered from any lag, and even when they did it wasn't enough to be detrimental to the gameplay.
In case you're wondering about the differences between the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of FIFA Street 3, there really aren't many. The PS3 version's player models have jagged edges where their Xbox 360 counterparts are pretty smooth, and we noticed a couple of stutters in the frame rate on the PS3; but they're essentially the same game. The Xbox 360 version features achievement points, of course, and to earn the full 1,000 you'll have to prove yourself in street challenge mode, online, and against at least one other player on the same console.
FIFA Street 3 plays a more enjoyable game of street soccer than any of its predecessors, but the lack of anything resembling a career mode with player and team progression really hurts the single-player experience. This year's game ultimately marks an unfortunate victory for style over substance, but at least it was a close contest.