Rarely have critics united so biliously against a game brand as FIFA Street. Admitting that you thought last year's debut was a lot of fun earned you the sort of incredulous looks that were once reserved for Abba fans during the height of late '70s punk. But despite every critic in the entire world (except, um, me - don't hurt me!) deriding it as a 'disgraceful load of old toss' it still topped the charts and sold an absolute stack. Surely it couldn't have been that bad?
The over-emphasis on gratuitous trickery over actual football annoyed many, but the real deal-breaker was the presence of one of the most horrifyingly misguided soundtracks you could imagine. Evidently EA realised its greatest ever error and put a lot of things right for the inevitable sequel, but at the same time managed to break a lot of the simple pleasures along the way.
Things have changed so much, in fact, and mostly for the better. Both the look and the feel of FIFA Street 2 couldn't be more different from the original, but in wiping the slate clean EA has made the game an incredible pain in the arse to get into for the first few hours.
Attempting to play the game's main Rule The Street single player 'career' mode in the beginning makes you feel like you've woken up with hooves instead of hands, and that someone's reversed your movement into the bargain. The controls might seem simple enough to start with (the usual: B to shoot/intercept, A to pass, X to cross/slide, Y to show off, right trigger for sprint) but you'll spend much of the time wondering why on Earth your players keep getting stuck in unbreakable animations and falling flat on their arse while some flash git nutmegs them repeatedly.
The original FIFA Street may have wound many gamers up for many valid reasons, but it certainly never handed your arse to you quite so joyously.
Worse still, all these visually impressive but hellishly annoying tricks build up combos for the opposition, allowing them to build up their skill points bar with alarming swiftness. Once at the maximum, players must run back to the middle of the pitch (where a coloured marker awaits) and activate the Gamebreaker. At this point, an icy hue descends on the screen, the sound of a thudding heartbeat ups the tension, and the game grants an opportunity to score an almost unstoppable goal from literally anywhere on the pitch. But your fortunes will take an even greater turn for the worse if they decide to start pulling off tricks en route to goal, with every beaten player counting for an extra goal if it goes in (and one less off your tally). To rub nitro glycerine into your already oozing wounds, if your entire three-man outfield is taken out and a goal it scored, the opposing team wins by knockout. Jesus wept.
Without any hint of exaggeration, this is pretty much the story of our first hour or so with the game, wondering how on Earth we could pull off such superhuman stunts, and how to stop the crazy computer from dishing out so much routine humiliation.
Ragbag are back, woah, woah.
It doesn't help, as such, that your customised player is devoid of any skill to begin with, while your team mates aren't much better either, but at least the game still rewards your in-game efforts with skill points to spend regardless of the end result. Once you've earned enough Skill Bills you can set about improving the five main attributes (speed, shot, power, defence, tricks) and work your way through the many challenges on offer.
But to even stand a chance of succeeding you have to pay far greater attention to the business of being skilful. Merely knocking the ball around the park and trying to play football like a normal human being gets you nowhere - even less so than last year's pretty straightforward version. Essentially the entire game relies upon your mastery of the trick stick (the right stick), in conjunction with the two triggers, and once you start taking heed of the handy video tutorials it all starts to slot into place a little.
In logical fashion you can send the ball through an opponent's legs with by hitting down on the trick stick, or over his head by tapping up while moving towards him, or to his left or right by (you guessed it) hitting the corresponding direction on the trick stick. But to counter these seemingly unstoppable manoeuvres, the right stick also lets the defending player either barge an opponent out of the way or guess which way the attacker is going and block it by hitting the same direction at the right time.