Hot on the heels of NBA Street V3, which was released earlier this month, comes FIFA Street--EA Sports Big's first attempt at applying its successful "Street" formula to the most popular sport in the world. Like its NBA and NFL counterparts, FIFA Street offers a highly stylized, over-the-top version of the sport on which it's based and sees soccer's most famous players competing in locations far less glamorous than the stadiums that they're accustomed to. The game they're playing, on the other hand, is straight out of a Nike commercial, and it places as much emphasis on humiliating your opponents with flashy moves as it does on scoring goals. The result? FIFA Street is a soccer game that boasts far more style than substance and has more in common with the FIFA games of old than it does with FIFA Soccer 2005.
The first time you play FIFA Street you'll be encouraged to create a custom player for use in friendly games and in the "rule the street" career mode. The customization options are somewhat limited, but there's no reason you shouldn't be able to create a player who bears at least a passing resemblance to you if that's your goal. Once you've settled on your custom player's physical appearance, you'll be allocated 2000 "skill bills" (FIFA Street's currency) to spend on upgrading his attributes, which include speed, shot power, shot accuracy, tricks, and tackling. Your player will be pretty useless at this point, but that will change once you start progressing through the career mode and earning more skill bills.
FIFA Street's version of soccer is a four-on-four game played on pitches that are, predictably, daubed in graffiti and that really don't look like anywhere you'd want to be alone after dark. Matches are played either to a time limit (including the traditional halftime swapping of ends) or until one team scores a predetermined number of goals, the default setting being five (most matches last anywhere from two to 10 minutes). Since the pitches are all enclosed and there's no referee, the only time there's any kind of pause in the play is when a goal is scored, at which point the unfortunate goalkeeper will get the ball out of his net (assuming that he has one on the pitch in question) and roll the ball out to one of his teammates to get the game under way again. The lack of stoppages makes for an exciting and fast-paced game at times, which is unfortunately a lot more than can be said for the players' artificial intelligence.
Though the players in FIFA Street are all able to perform fancy tricks at the push of a button or two, they can basically be divided up into two categories: dumb and dumber. The outfield players are dumb. They're slow to move forward when their team is on the attack, they rarely bother to chase back and defend their goal when they lose possession of the ball, and, worst of all, they frequently stand still with their legs wide open just so that opposing players can perform the most humiliating of all "beats" on them, the nutmeg. The players' behavior is made all the more frustrating by the fact that even when you're controlling one of them (as indicated by a red icon at the player's feet), you'll often be relieved of command (as indicated when the red icon turns gray) so that said player can participate in what is effectively a two-man animation of your opponent making a monkey out of you. You'll learn to deal with it by quickly assuming control of another player and sending him in for the tackle, but the fact that a player you're in control of can effectively be taken from you before you even have a chance to try to gain possession of the ball with him is frustrating nonetheless. The goalkeepers, we're sorry to report, are dumber still. They rarely show much interest in the ball until it's inside their own six-yard box or is flying toward the goal, and although they're capable of making quite miraculous saves a lot of the time, they'll often concede goals that are so weak that they barely qualify as shots on target. It's not their fault, though; they're the victims of FIFA Street's outfield players' combo system.
If its only function were to award you skill bills and reputation points (which unlock additional players and items of clothing as you progress) based on the number of tricks you manage to string together, the combo system in FIFA Street would be great. However, it performs another, far less agreeable function as well, which is to improve your scoring chances if your shot, no matter how lame it is, is taken at the end of an impressive combo. Since it improves your scoring chances, the combo system does a good job of encouraging you to perform the tricks that make FIFA Street what it is. What's unfortunate is that your combos appear to adversely affect the opposing goalkeeper rather than temporarily enhance your striker, resulting in goals that are clearly the keeper's fault, and which are neither convincing nor gratifying. Given the nature of FIFA Street, you'll score some spectacular-looking goals, but they are rarely as satisfying as those in more traditional soccer games.
Spectacular-looking but not particularly edifying goals are something that FIFA Street has in common with EA Sports' earlier soccer games. Another is its lack of believable ball physics. Realism isn't what the Street games are about, of course, but when you find yourself playing with a ball that can move on its own and that often appears to be tied to a player's boots with an invisible piece of string, you'll find your suspension of disbelief pushed to its limits. The ball's abnormal behavior is noticeable at all times during gameplay and is invariably highlighted by the brief replays that follow every goal.
FIFA Street does have a few redeeming features, by the way; the controls are easy to pick up, some of the trick animations are excellent, and the cleverly structured career mode (in which you'll unlock new locations and players for your team) would no doubt prove quite addictive if the actual gameplay weren't so repetitive. The game's star team option, which lets you assemble your dream team using any of 250-plus real players from 16 countries for use in friendly matches, is also a nice feature, though it's made less interesting than it might have been by the fact that the only information available to you on each player is a single number between 1 and 100 denoting the player's overall skill and an icon representing his strongest attribute. Because of this, you're unlikely to consider the vast majority of players for a place in a team comprising only four positions, and there's a strong chance that you would find yourself playing against a near-identical squad were you to pit your star team against a friend's star team. FIFA Street's shooting system (which lets you place the ball in a specific part of the goal using the left analog stick--via a small diagram that appears at the bottom of the screen) is also worthy of mention, not only because it works well, but because we wouldn't be surprised if a similar feature finds its way into an upcoming FIFA Soccer game.
Most of the players in FIFA Street are instantly recognizable, although they don't look as lifelike as their FIFA Soccer 2005 counterparts. The different locales that you'll find yourself playing in are also easy on the eyes and boast plenty of background animations (pedestrians and various vehicles mostly) that help to bring them to life. FIFA Street boasts minimal but mostly realistic sound effects, an only occasionally irritating and often quite entertaining commentator, and an eclectic selection of music from around the world that, even if it's not the kind of stuff you would usually listen to, definitely adds a lot to the feel of the game.
Differences between the three console versions of FIFA Street are few and far between. The GameCube controller can make certain actions trickier to perform than on the Xbox or PlayStation 2, and it also looks less cultivated than the other two games. The Xbox version is undoubtedly the best looking of the three, and it also boasts much shorter loading times, although loading times on the PS2 and GameCube are no cause for concern.
As the first entry in what will almost certainly become a series, FIFA Street is disappointing, but it is definitely a better game than the sum of its parts. It's not a difficult game to pick fault with, as you've probably gathered, but it can also be fun for a short while when played with the right people. Should you go out and buy a copy? No. Should you keep an optimistic eye out for a FIFA Street 2 announcement in the future? Definitely.