This FIFA Street reboot is basically a videogame adaptation of the high school lunch time soccer sessions I used to engage in on my school’s grass tennis court. Yes, the moves are far fancier than anything my friends could pull off, none of the arenas use benches as makeshift goals, and at no point during FIFA Street will you come dangerously close to smashing the ball into the face of passing maintenance staff. But the excitement, the adrenaline, and the celebration of just how fun it is to kick a ball around have all been translated.
Far removed from 2008’s FIFA Street 3, this new take on the series expertly mixes together the arcade punchiness of NBA Jam and the fine control and tactical play of FIFA 12. This is pick-up-and-play taken very seriously, with a basic control scheme that anyone can learn in a single match and a deeper set of tricks and moves that will take far longer to master.
Aside from your standard passing and shooting you’ve got Street Ball Control, activated by holding down the L trigger and moving the left stick around. This makes your player shift the ball around from a stationary position, shielding it with your body, feigning a move, or –- best of all -– tapping it forward through a defender’s legs for a ‘panna’, or ‘nutmeg’. Juggling the ball is a simple matter of tapping the right bumper, which is enough to open up some beautiful aerial plays. Bouncing the ball over an opponent’s head and smashing it on the rebound past the keeper is unspeakably satisfying.
Individual performance is often prioritised over making full use of your team, which is especially noticeable in online ‘Team Play’ matches, where everyone controls a separate player. There’s a tendency from most players to be greedy in this mode, and I encountered quite a bit of lag, but it’s still maddeningly fun.
In the single-player World Tour, a lengthy campaign that involves playing through a gauntlet of different play styles and tournaments, the game’s trickier techniques are locked from the start. Tricks are controlled by the right stick, but the game has a levelling system that is used to upgrade stats and unlock tricks for each individual player on your team, meaning not all your players will have access to the same tricks in a match. Unless you remember exactly who can do what –- which you won’t, because there are heaps of tricks -– it can be hard to learn and use tricks effectively. This is frustrating, although it becomes less of an issue once you’ve levelled up quite a bit. Defence options are also a tad limited, with only one tackle option, a jockey command and the ability to put your legs together to prevent getting ‘megged. The game is far more enjoyable when you’re on the attack, but then that’s almost always the case in sports games.
Although it initially feels a tad slight against the might of FIFA 12’s content, Street is packed full of different ways to play. Different rules and team sizes can drastically change the style of play. Futsal, an indoors variation, plays like a small-scale version of regular soccer, while other modes like Last Man Standing (you lose a player whenever you score a goal), Freestyle (based on ‘skill’ points earned by pulling tricks rather than goals), and Panna (extra points are awarded for goals if you pulled off certain moves on the way there) all make you approach the game differently. They’re all great fun, in their own unique ways, although the occasionally crappy friendly AI is more noticeable in games with fewer players.
It almost goes without saying that the game is all but essential if you live in shared housing with other gamers, or play multiplayer regularly. Online play is fun, but it can’t beat being in the same room as your opponents, and a player with no experience is still more than capable of accidentally doing something cool by slamming away at the right stick.
While the mainline FIFA series is capable of consuming your entire life, FIFA Street is more likely to simply steal away your weekends. It’s a companion piece, not aiming to draw in a whole new audience, but rather offering fans of FIFA something a bit different from the annual update they’ve come to love. It’s another triumph for EA Canada.