It's fair to say that I'm not - and never was - "street". I did once live on a street called, imaginatively, The Street, but you could say I'm more of an avenue or a lane kind of guy, where "wicked" still means evil, where "bad" still means, um, bad and using punctuation doesn't get me punched in the face by my posse of bitches. But that doesn't mean I have to take some sort of Daily Mail reader-esque nose in the air dislike to FIFA Street. It's actually one of the best things EA's done for ages. Really.
Okay, so the completely-off-his-head DJ-cum-commentator might drive the average sane person to resort to pouring absinthe on their cornflakes to block out his insane ramblings ("on the pitch made of steel" for the love of God. This is not a turntable you feckin' moron!), but forgive EA. They're just doing it for the kids. On da street, innit? They mean well, in a kind of striding-behemoth-on-the-path-to-relentless-domination kind of way. Besides. It's a good game.
No more Amateur Evolution
Somewhere on the road to trying to emulate Pro Evolution Soccer for the past two iterations, FIFA has stopped being the ridiculous goal fest that most people liked it for (while the purists like us scoffed that its simply wasn't "real" or "deep" enough, man). This is where FIFA Street comes in. It magnifies the one-touch look-at-me-I'm-Mr-Incredible-traps-turns-chips it over his man-onthevolley-Goooooooooooal! gameplay that FIFA used to be about and turns it into a four-on-four feast of silky skills, chips, headers and volleys until goals are literally coming out of your face. Or at least you'll be busy booting football pie right into your opponents' mush. It's that kind of game.
Pinching liberally from the excellent structure that NBA Street employs so successfully, FIFA Street first of all tasks you with creating your own player, who you develop right the way through the game's main Beat The Street mode. Being the slightly contrary sod that I am, I went about creating a 6 foot 3 muscle bound freak with chestnut hair and a Hoxton fin haircut for good measure. Not bad at shooting, not so good on the accuracy side or much of a tackler, but pretty nippy. I vowed to turn him into a footballing colossus to tower over the greats. And then promptly got my arse kicked into next week.
Having chosen a squad of eight or so journeymen cloggers (including Norwich City's very own master of mediocrity Thomas Helveg, amusingly) you're then tasked with basically beating rival teams from across the world in suitably street-style venues in Marseille, New York, and eventually even sunny London. Westway here we come! In a simple linear progression system, you fight your way through seven teams of a roughly similar skill level, with the first to five goals winning the day.
It's raining shots, hallelujah
The basics will be familiar to pretty much anyone who's ever grappled with a footy game, albeit with a few novel twists along the way. You could try and play it like a standard game of football, but the chances are you won't get very far. Just passing it around and trying to shoot isn't really what FIFA Street's all about, and although you could quite feasibly rain shots down on even the most modest team, very few of those shots will translate into goals.
As you might expect, FIFA Street starts to come into its own once you begin to experiment with some of the trickery on offer, available via the right stick and a few deft combination moves that make even the most uncoordinated clogger look like a Pele in the making. The chief case in point is the way you can chip the ball direct to a team-mate and deftly hit the shot button mid-air and send a scorching header or volley straight at the goalmouth with barely any effort whatsoever. Get a decent player on the end of it and games quickly turn into the kind of exciting goal feasts that we've long since been deprived of.
But these are just the basics. Where the game really comes into its own is once you start throwing in a few random tricks for good measure to make the spectacle a truly ridiculous feast of fantasy football. It's the very antichrist of PES, and all the better because of it. It's football-based entertainment of the most ludicrous nature, and one where 10-4 scorelines will be the norm rather than the exception. I can't say I'm unhappy about that, either. Both have a place, and EA has finally produced a footy game that plays to its strengths. That of good licensing, great technology and simple mass market playability.
Tricks and flicks
But random tricks are just that, and not all that reliable. The real skill is knowing how best to use the right analogue stick to pull off some audacious move, from rebounding the ball off the boards back into your path, to nutmegging, to little jinks, and so on. With even the ability to taunt your opponent in some style, it's like one of those crazy sportswear ads made real. And that's the point.
The more you get to know how to pull off such tricks in succession, the more the game rewards your skillful play. Fill up your combo meter and the game effectively grants you the opportunity to fire off a virtually unsaveable super shot. Holding down both triggers and unleashing a thunderbolt slows the game down to enhance the tension, and then BOOM. Back of the net.
One of the excellent design decisions that keeps you playing even when you're being really really rubbish is the way the game awards you skill points regardless of whether you win or lose. During the game you build up skill points for all manner of trickery you might successfully (or more likely accidentally in the early stages) pull off, not to mention putting the ball in the back of the onion sack. The fact that it's not the result that necessarily counts towards your rewards makes up for the crushing disappointment of letting a 4-1 lead turn into a 5-4 defeat.
Helveg: you're history
Once you've banked a decent amount of points you're faced with an agonising decision which can really make or break your progress. A safer, but longer term bet is to spend your skill points on upgrading your player's five main stats in whichever way you see fit, but that takes a fair amount of time to really pay off. A quicker, but ultimately riskier route to improving your chances of winning games is to play one of the challenge matches featuring a real-life international player, beat them and add them to your squad while disposing of one of the dead wood.
But although you can pick up Rivaldo for free, after that you're faced with paying an entry fee in order to be able to challenge them. Lose and you kiss goodbye to thousands of hard-won skill points, and it's back to having to playing kick-abouts to earn the points all over again. A tricky balancing act, that.
A similar principle applies to the cup competitions that appear in each country's challenges. Enter cup, pay entry fee, win three matches and scoop the big prize, or go out and lose out. Both are an excellent dynamic, and adds a fair degree of tension to matches.
Eat my goal
The learning curve is pretty much spot on, too. While you'll probably start off spanking teams within an hour or two of picking up the game, it's soon fairly evident that you'll have to work harder than settling into typical FIFA patterns of finding the exploits and repeating them ad-nausea. Sure, I did well once I worked out that merely chipping the ball up for your aerial wizard to head home was a sure fire tactic, but trying that on any team with a clue resulted in them laughing in my face. And going up the other end, nutmegging me (again) and firing in a scorcher with a leg like a traction engine. Ye cannae change the laws of physics, Jim.
Fortunately, EA hasn't simply churned out a 'mini FIFA' with the same player models of old. In fact, the visuals here are among the best EA has come up with for a footy game, with - for the first time - full 720 progressive scan support that delivers an incredibly rich picture quality that looks nigh on next-generation compared to its overly blurry old FIFA engine. Now can you see why we're slightly exasperated with Microsoft's whole desperate push to bin Xbox and move to next-gen? There's clearly much more left in reserve for this capable machine. Just a pity you can only get the progressive scan stuff out of the American version. Ah.
The character models in particular mimic their real life counterparts with exceptional ease. Once you've got the likes of Rivaldo and Crespo on your team the zoomed-in view of the game really lets you see that it's them out on the pitch. The necessity of three outfield players really shows off the game in a good light, and native widescreen support helps deliver an excellent view of the proceedings.
It's only when the otherwise impressive replays highlight a few animation or ball connection glitches that the whole suspension of disbelief is let down a notch, but it's a small point. Mercifully you can just skip through these pretty quickly anyway.
So annoying, crew
A very large minus for the audio work, though, which is just a scary abomination. It's like EA's less hip and happening 'crew' up in Canada did a straw poll of the marketing execs and had the wacky idea that having some pirate radio DJ shout nonsense throughout the game to a backdrop of urban 'choons' would capture the essence of what street football is all about. What a load of cock. If I want to be beaten about the face and neck by this kind of thing I've got about 75 pirate radio stations that do all of that for free. I don't need a full priced videogame forcing this stuff down my throat. It's indicative of who EA imagine this will appeal to, but yet really very insulting and presumptive to a breathtakingly patronising degree. How to alienate millions of potential purchasers part 478. If I wasn't such a tolerant soul that's used to having calculated marketing exercises thrust upon me by EA, I'd tell them to stuff their game where the sun doesn't shine and move on. But it happens to be a good game, which would be far more appealing if it didn't sodomise the player's ears with a red hot poker. Jesus.
[Note to EA: Next time, you really should consider catering for more than one tiny sub sect of popular culture. Maybe consider, ooh, I dunno, asking the age and music taste of the player beforehand, or putting up some sort of disclaimer that reminds the users that they may not want to be ritually partronised while they're busy playing an otherwise entertaining videogame. Or I could just mute the audio, but that'd be giving in.]
Moving on. As it happens, FIFA Street also makes for a fine multiplayer game, but EA has dropped the ball a little. After the joy of the network gaming support of FIFA we're a little disappointed that FIFA Street only bothers with four-player offline multiplayer. The prospect of online leagues and cups would have added greatly to the overall value of the package. Maybe next time. As it stands, though, this could well be the post pub game to end them all.
At the end of the day, it's enjoyable, Ron
FIFA Street does what a lot of 'extreme' football games have been promising to do for ages. Sega Soccer Slam and Red Card did a pretty decent job a few years back, but the neat structure, slick playability and the benefit of having access to all the world's star players makes for a surprisingly compelling take on the sport. If you can take the world's most annoying commentator and want a footy game that lets you leave you opponent wiping football pie off his disbelieving face, then it's a worthy purchase.