Platform tested: Xbox 360
FIFA Street, the latest offering from EA Sports, is a football game where football is not as we know it. A world free of offside traps, five-man midfields and boring 0-0 draws, where every player is capable of the most mouth-watering skills – but some are more capable than others. Where flicks and tricks matter as much as goals, and sometimes matter more. Where the usual FIFA gloss has been stripped away, leaving a game that looks as distinctively different as it plays.
Gamers of a certain age may remember the five-a-side mode of FIFA ’98: Road to the World Cup, a small and immensely fun distraction tacked on to the main FIFA game. FIFA Street is that writ large. Formations, tactics and defensive strategies count for little – the onus is on flashy step-overs, spins, twists and turns. But it is not simply a button-mashing random experience. In fact, the more care you take with the controls the more success you will have. Timing is key. The right push of the directional control bamboozles the opposition, while pushing the acceleration button can send you speeding away into space. FIFA Street is a game that looks superficial but the more you delve into it, the more complex – and more fun – it gets.
That is not to say that FIFA Street is completely devoid of tactics or strategy, however. There is just enough of both to avoid the game becoming repetitive quickly, and each match lasts just a few minutes in any case. And exploring the different skills available and how best to execute them is challenging enough, not to mention the various types of game on show. They range from the self-explanatory Five-a-Side mode to the less obvious Panna mode, where tricks count the most as a spectacular move can be rewarded with the equivalent of five or six goals, and a more perfunctory effort registers just the one. Then there is the downright treacherous Last Man Standing challenge, where two teams of four face off and lose a member of their team for each goal scored, meaning every match ends 4-3 and the further in front you go, the more difficult the match becomes. It’s a mindbender but riotous fun.
Futsal is the nearest FIFA Street gets to actual football. A Five-a-Side match but with enough rules to keep things civilised – free-kicks, penalties, corners and kick-ins, each missing from Five-a-Side mode – a futsal match is the most competitive action in FIFA Street but, vitally, retaining the freedom for the requisite skills, it’s so entertaining you wonder why you bother with the 11-a-side, 90 minute stuff when there is futsal in the world. That said, both Futsal mode and Five-a-Side mode can get frustrating if the opposition dominates possession – it may be against the spirit of FIFA Street but perhaps EA should consider introducing a two-footed lunge button in the next edition, for those moments when you’ve had enough of some fancy dan opponent making you look a fool.
If the balance between fun and competition is tilted firmly in the direction of the former, then EA deserve praise for striking the right mix in terms of presentation. FIFA Street lacks the gloss of FIFA ’12 but that’s the point – there are no shiny stadiums to play in, but a collection of different arenas, ranging from car parks to training grounds. And the option to play in your team’s training gear is entirely appropriate – full kits are available but there is something more than a little incongruous about playing five-a-side in full sponsored shirt, shorts and socks, but for anyone who wants to do so the choice is there. Graphically the game lacks the sheen of FIFA ’12 but not so much that it’s ugly, and the toned down appearance and mannerisms of the players fit nicely with a game that tries to feel rawer than its belt and braces cousin.
FIFA Street transports the player to a fantasy world where football is played for the fun of it, but manages to retain just enough competition and depth to keep you coming back for more. Highly recommended.