Reviewed: March 31, 2006
Released: February 28, 2006
A few years back, SEGA quietly released a gem of a game called SEGA Soccer Slam. Overlooked by the American masses, panned by the American media, and relegated to bargain bins all around the USA – Soccer Slam was a smash hit in Europe for it’s arcadey take on the world’s favorite sport, and for good reason; the game rocks. Those of us who picked up five-dollar closeout copies at Target really got our money’s worth.
Knowing the success of SEGA’s game, as well as their own EA Big “Street” series, EA decided to apply the same formula to their long-running and wildly popular FIFA soccer franchise.
The initial attempt – last year’s FIFA Street – was not received well by the media, so it came as somewhat of a surprise that EA was giving the series a second chance. Thankfully they did, because FIFA Street 2 is a real blast.
No surprise, FIFA Street 2 takes the same over-the-top approach of EA BIG’s blockbuster series of arcade-styled sports games like NBA Street and NFL Street, and pits up 4-on-4 (including goalies) footie matches in some very interesting international venues. The name of the game is style and there’s a ton to be had in FIFA Street 2.
In an overall view of the gameplay, the opponents are very challenging and the matches are very exciting. We all know that EA has an affinity for good AI – they have been making sports games for longer than anyone can remember.
The game has a plethora of modes – from simple pick-up styled “Kick-Arounds” to full-fledged tournaments, and even a skills challenge mode – all using the real-deal international soccer stars and their respective teams.
For sure, the most interesting mode would have to be Rule the Street, in which gamers are given a fairly extensive character editor and allowed to create a player of their own to rise through the ranks of the city streets, and onto the big leagues. During the progression of which, gamers are challenged to accomplish an increasingly difficult series of goals (no pun intended).
The main problem with any EA Big (or even and EA Sports game for that matter) game on the Xbox is the convoluted and confusing control schemes that tend to come packed within. It’s painfully obvious that EA Big’s games are developed with the PS2’s four-shoulder button configuration in mind, and then adapted over to the two-trigger Xbox configuration.
As a result, a substantial amount of the PS2 versions’ oft-reported intuitive feel and fluidity gets lost in the translation, and Xbox gamers are left fumbling about for a few hours before the input/output really begins to make any sense. And FIFA Street 2 is by far one of the best – or worst – examples of this phenomenon.
Virtually unplayable at first, even seasoned FIFA fans will require a few hours to sort out the complex combinations of triggers, face buttons, and analog sticks motions that make up the expansive library of moves in FIFA Street 2. And when I say complex, I mean really, really complex.
Pulling off moves in the NBA and NFL Street games is a walk in the park compared to the FIFA offering – which often requires the gamer to initiate and maintain complicated ball-juggling maneuvers to combo up trick points prior to pulling off special moves. This juggling is kicked off with a press of the left trigger and the Y button, and then maintained by moving the right analog stick in a variety of different pre-defined sweeping motions.
The problem with an system like this is that often the analog signal seems to get crossed or overlapped between different moves, resulting in a general feeling of disconnect between what you are inputting and what you are seeing onscreen. It is not necessarily detrimental to the overall gameplay per se – passing and scoring are still as fun as ever – but it becomes more effective to simply stick-mash some random combo rather than actually try to piece together defined moves. In the end, it leaves a rather cheap feeling to the game.
Passing and shooting are standard FIFA fare, with ground passes assigned to A, lob passes with X, and shooting with B. Turbo is on the right trigger, and in concert with the right analog stick (again with a variety of sweeping motions) special dribbling moves and jukes, or “beat” moves, can be pulled to further raise your combo. There are some truly exciting moves to be had, like flipping the ball over the player’s back and into a power-up header on goal.
True to the EA Big form, filling your trick meter will bring up a GameBreaker segment resulting in some truly over-the-top scoring situations. Unlike the NBA Street games that have you initiating your GameBreakers with a combo of buttons, FIFA Street brings up a predefined spot on the pitch (field) which must be crossed by the ball handler.
Once a GameBreaker is initiated, the action snaps to slow motion for a segment of time, in which the ball handler can juke and weave his defenders on his way to the ultimate nearly sure-thing shot. And best of all, if during the segment the ball handler can completely beat out each of the three defenders using his mad skills (after which they sit on the ground), then the GameBreaker goal will count as a total knockout – eliminating the defending team regardless of the prior score. This becomes very important in later stages of the Rule the Streets mode, when you will be required to pull off some fairly impossible challenges – like scoring four GameBreaker goals against a top-ranked AI team – where you can knock out the task in a single GameBreaker run rather than the half hour or so it would take to build the necessary trick points for four.
On the flip side, if the defending team steals the ball and either runs the GameBreaker time out or score during the slow motion, then the GameBreaker is negated. Obviously, this can really come to your benefit in the special “GameBreaker Events” in which only GameBreaker scores are counted.
As for the defensive controls – they are downright miserable. EA has tried to incorporate the Hit Stick style of defense, and it just doesn’t work out well in FIFA Street. As any FIFA veteran will tell you, tackles can easily be maintained and managed using the face buttons alone and messing with the tried-and-true decade-old formula is a mistake.
Anyone who has played a lick of FIFA can easily thread the needle with a button-pressed sliding tackle, and swiftly pluck the ball from an oncoming opponent. Why then EA Big decided to change it up on FIFA Street and put in a clumsy, context-sensitive analog stick system is beyond me. And, although EA Big still allows tackles to be performed with the X button, it is a context-sensitive mechanic as well, automatically deciding which tackle animation to run based on proximity to the ball handler.
Even after hours of play, I found it nearly impossible to gauge whether I was going to get a sliding tackle, a standard tackle, or even just a simple nudge for my efforts with the analog stick or X button. And usually, the game seemed to pick the defensive move I wanted least – often inflating the opponents trick meter as they “beat” my defenders in circles when a simple sliding tackle would have taken the ball. Still, a word from the wise – stick with the button, the results are more consistent.
As speaking of the beats, there are way too many times when the AI ‘s offense runs circles around the human-controlled defenders, leaving them stuck in irritating loops of beat moves. When this happens, the defenders continually fall on the ground, slowly return to a stand, only to fall down again – even if the ball handler isn’t playing off of the downed player. It’s as if a human-controlled defender finds himself anywhere within the radius of a beat move in progress, then he absolutely must go down. I found it easier in these cases to simply switch control over to a distanced player and wait out the spectacle, rather than smash my controller to bits.
Visually, FIFA Street 2 is the epitome of hit-or-miss. The pitches look absolutely phenomenal – with broken and cracked concrete, sloppy mud, even dust and reflective water effects, all packaged in very believable background scenery representing a large number of the soccer-loving countries worldwide. From the slums of Mexico and Brazil to the Walletjes of Amsterdam, the scenery is very solid overall.
However, the characters’ motions are stilted and glitchy, and lack fluidity as they switch from canned animation to canned animation. And as for the animations themselves – they are entirely too long-winded and dramatic than they really should be, with players collapsing to the ground simply because a ball got through their legs or something equally as silly.
Worse yet are the defective bits, where the balls pass through downed bodies or characters are seen running into walls nonsensically. Obviously, collision detection is an issue with FIFA Street 2 – which seems awfully strange considering the lineage of games that bore it.
Admittedly, I am a bit of a music snob – but I would have to say that at this particular moment in time, FIFA Street 2 has the best soundtrack of any game this side of Grand Theft Auto. Maybe I liked it so much because it features an as-yet-unreleased song by my favorite band of 15 years, the Flaming Lips – but also because it featured an awesome international blend of everything from South American Salsa to Eurotrash to UK Drum-and-Bass and back to the garage rock band of the good old USA.
And for the first time in an Street game, the DJ/announcer didn’t totally irritate. In fact, the EA Big radio banter was actually interesting and educational – simply giving background information on the bands and players themselves, rather than simply shouting stupid street lingo about the action onscreen.
As for the in-game play, the sound effects were very tight – with believable sounds to represent the different surfaces and structures that make up the playfield. In real life, shoes skidding on cement sound different than on dirt – and FIFA Street 2 does a great job of capturing these subtle differences in the game. Other cool details include the sounds of Vespas whizzing by, and awesome chain-link fence smashes.
Sadly, when you strip any of these Street games down to their cores, they are all too shallow to keep a gamer interested for long, once all of the tricks have been exhausted. What seems like great fun at first, quickly loses its charm once you’ve completed your millionth panna, and suddenly you realize you are just going through the same old motions – trying to get to the next GameBreaker so you can quickly knock the opponent out.
Thankfully, EA Big included the sweet Rule the Street mode, which keeps challenging players to perform bigger and better feats. This constantly changing landscape really keeps the game from falling victim to its own mediocrity, as the standard play can become quite tiresome.
But while it lasts, FIFA Street 2 is a great deal of fun. If only the game featured online play or some other reason to play it beyond the Rule the Streets mode, it would be a no-brainer. But, hey – for $30, it’s a pretty darned good time.
While definitely not for every gamer, FIFA Street 2 is a very solid entry into the realm of arcade sports and fans of the genre are sure to have a good time – once they get a handle on the control scheme, that is. I would suggest running through the tutorials (hidden under the Options menu) right off the bat.
And, while SEGA’s Soccer Slam was definitely a more accessible and playable game – and a heck of a lot of fun – I would have to say that I prefer the more realistic and grittier approach of FIFA Street 2.
And yes, I know that the other game media is lambasting FIFA Street 2 in their reviews – but I am not sure they are giving the game its proper due. I, too, started out very much disliking the game for its clumsy controls and awkward mechanics. But once I took a step back, really watched the tutorials and worked on my timing, it all began to click. Now, I’m a full-fledged FIFA Street 2 addict, glued to the screen until the wee hours of the night.