Available on Xbox 360, PS3 (reviewed)
Something strange appears to be happening at EA Sports: a brand so many gamers associate with play it safe, by the numbers annual updates is suddenly taking risks. While the predictable 2013 versions of Tiger Woods, NBA, NHL, Madden NFL , FIFA and the rest are still doubtless on the way, we now have our second attempt in a month at rebooting a franchise, and here the thinking is every bit as fresh and innovative as it was with the excellent SSX.
You see, FIFA Street has finally stopped trying to be an arcade FIFA. It’s ditched the simplified gameplay, the cartoon graphics, the overblown effects and the crazy special moves of previous versions. Instead, it’s something close to a simulation of how football is played outside the monster stadiums and giant arenas, in small towns and big cities around the world. Admittedly, the players are a lot more skilful than your average Sunday five-a-side champ, but this is football at a level we can all relate to.
FIFA Street runs on a modified version of the FIFA 12 engine, but the general look and feel is both familiar and different. The locations are tarmac courts, car parks, sports halls, outdoor courts and rooftops, the players dressed in tracksuit tops, T-shirts, shorts and trainers. With walls on each side and no referees play goes on almost regardless of what happens, making for a faster game with fewer interruptions. And if conventional FIFA is about building up waves of attack to create opportunities, then FIFA Street is a smaller, tighter game, heavier on reflexes and ball skills than on open play and strategy. It’s a game that demands close attention.
The difference exhibits itself In the controls. You’ll still run, pass and shoot in FIFA Street, but you also spend a lot of time using the new ‘Street Ball Control’ system to move the ball around your body, the R1 button/right bumper to juggle the ball in the air, and the right analogue stick to trigger a range of special trick moves designed to make you look good and the guy marking you look stupid. Sliding tackles are out of the window, and now defence is much more about close marking – to the point of harassment – and well-timed interceptions. Don’t have the ball? Grind your opponent down until you do. Have the ball? Lure them in, make a break, and make the most of every opportunity.
Were it just a straight five-a-side game, there’s a chance that FIFA Street might get old fairly quickly, but EA Sports has been smart here, setting up matches in a variety of game styles. There are incredible tense two-on-two Panna games, where you earn extra points by beating an opponent in the air or on the ground or by kicking the ball through their legs, and bank them when you score. It’s not just about getting the ball into a pint-sized net, but about humiliating the competition while you’re at it. There are similar three-a-side freestyle games, where tricks turn into points and points go on the scoreboard every time you score.
There are Last-Man-Standing games, where with each goal scored you lose a player, and the winner is the first team to lose their last man. There are Futsal games, where the sidelines and touchlines reappear and the goals get bigger, taking FIFA Street as near as it gets to standard FIFA. Each variant has its own particular feel, and you’ll end up loving some and – maybe – hating others. Either way, the game keeps feeling fresh and exciting.