Also available on: Xbox 360
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
FIFA Street has been on a hiatus since 2008's forgettable third instalment. But like a mid-table club benefiting from the investment of a wealthy sheik, the latest street footballing release has been handed over to EA Canada, the team behind the excellent FIFA 12. With a solid foundation to build on, FIFA Street has the potential to shoot up the table, and thankfully, while not as deep as its annually-updated bigger brother, FIFA Street is far more Messi than messy.
Forget tactical defending, managing the finer aspects of your team and dealing with the media, FIFA Street takes the action away from the stadiums and into the parking lots, five-a-side pitches, beaches and playgrounds. It's not quite jumpers for goalposts stuff, but it's still a far cry from anything you'd expect to see from the main series. The emphasis is on short, fast-paced games, where flashy goals and fancy tricks replace patient play and slow build-up.
Generally speaking, players will face off in three-minute five-a-side matches on concrete and indoor pitches. Most concrete and indoor pitches are surrounded by walls, which can be used to play spectacular rebound passes to teammates, regardless of which way you're facing. The bumper buttons and analogue sticks, meanwhile, are used to perform a wide variety of tricks, which are rewarded with style points, helping players to level up and unlock new items.
As you can imagine, the increased emphasis on tricks leads to some pretty spectacular individual goals. One of the easier moves to perform sees players chip the ball over an opponent's head, spin and volley in the corner of the net. It looks great. The gameplay engine feels very similar to the main FIFA series, albeit with less focus on defending. FIFA 12's excellent physics engine remains in place, however, ensuring that the action feels solid and players move and interact more realistically.
The authentic player physics are complimented by a grittier, more realistic visual style. Gone are the strange (and slightly creepy), uber-skinny character models from the previous release, replaced with generally well-realised and recognisable footballers from the world's top leagues. The game's locations, meanwhile, are hugely varied and impressive to look at. Whether playing in a car park in London, or against the backdrop of the Venetian waterways, there's always something new and unique to look at.
In addition to five-a-side, there are a number of alternative rule sets that help add variety to the in-game action. Futsal resembles a scaled-down version of regular 11-on-11 matches, replacing walled-in environments with traditional boundaries. Although initially concerned that the ball would trickle out of bounds every few seconds, Futsal retains the game's fast and flowing pace, although greater care must be taken when picking passes and taking shots.
While Futsal moves towards more authentic soccer rules, Panna goes in the complete opposite direction. This mode is all about tricks. Performing tricks adds bonus points to the bank, while scoring goals cashes them in or resets the opposition's total to zero. Played in two-on-two environments, the goal is often unguarded, which adds a constant sense of danger, especially if the opposing team has 12 points in the bank and is threatening to score and cash in. It's not a mode that you'll want to play too often, but it's exciting when you do, especially as one trick-heavy passage of play is the difference between winning and losing.
Other modes see opposing players eliminated with every goal scored, or matches played indefinitely until a specific score is reached. The main way to get your kicks, however, is coming up with the most elaborate way of putting the ball in the back of the net. In terms of depth, FIFA Street features a World Tour mode, which while a little shallow, integrates online play seamlessly into the action.
Starting with a customised character - which can be imported from FIFA 12 - players meet up with in-game friends to take on local rivals, before branching out into regional, national and ultimately, global tournaments. The presentation is typically "street", with text messaging and emails the preferred way to organise games. There is a deep customisation element, complimented by a vast array of unlockable footballing gear, such as tracksuits, boots and hoodies.
Players also unlock more moves as they progress, which makes World Tour a good place to learn your trade and perfect the techniques unique to the game. The sense of accomplishment is slightly diminished by the constant levelling up, while higher difficulties turn your teammates into vegetables, which feels like a slightly cheap way of increasing the challenge. There is little tactical or strategic depth, other than picking the team and deciding what kind of formation to use.
In fact, after a relatively short period of time, FIFA Street fails to pose much of a challenge. This is why World Tour's online integration is most welcome. After qualifying for tournaments, players can choose to play against the computer or online opponents. Playing online adds a greater level of unpredictability, and, much like the real thing, elevates tournaments above your run-of-the-mill matches. Granted, you can always try again if you fail, but defeat is always a very real possibility against human opponents, which makes it more exciting.
While FIFA Street doesn't have the depth of its annually-updated bigger brother, the latest release is a much more rounded product than past iterations. For the most part, the developers have succeeded in combining the sparkle of street football with the fundamentals that make the beautiful game so appealing. FIFA Street is an enjoyable spinoff with more than enough tricks up its sleeve to warrant a purchase.
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