Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A thinking man's review of FIFA Street

The end of my personal life
FIFA video games have not been the solar center of my life since the late 90's, but it is fair to say they've been a prominent planet orbiting in my solar system. I found the series through FIFA '98: Road to the World Cup, and I can still hear Blur's Song 2 echoing through the chambers of my memory, see the 32-bit engine attempting to carve out a decent facsimile of Roy Lassiter as I dos-a-cero'd Mexico before I knew there was a dos-a-cero. I'm sure my reaction to playing this game, if I ever get my hands on it again, would be inappropriately weepy.

Having been a FIFA acolyte since the earlier days, I was naturally intrigued when EA's first Street iteration popped out in 2005. It would never replace the full 11 v 11, but as a supplement? Sounds perfect. But it was a flawed game and received lukewarm reviews throughout cyberland for its lax development and unreal physics engine. EA went over the top arcadey and failed. The next two releases, Street 2 and 3, the latter of which was absolute trash, were doomed by similar problems. It was Street ball, but it didn't really feel like soccer.

Into the breach last week stepped FIFA Street. It is a complete reboot of the brand, utilizing the same team behind FIFA 12, a majestic game that topped FIFA '02 as the best in history (in my books). The developers wanted to go grittier and more realistic, a task they were suitably prepared to do judging by experience.

With a week now to jink around with Street, I feel appropriately introduced to the game and some of its nuances. As a student of the tactical side of the game, I've always found FIFA to be the epitome, but the elusive prospect of a proper Street franchise has always been incredibly alluring. Let's see how they did.


This hasn't always been FIFA's bread and butter, but FIFA 12's horizontal menu screen was a fantastic addition, proving this team knows what it's doing. So it shouldn't surprise that Street's seamless menus and appropriately attuned segues are top notch. I like the feel of the autosave. It removed the hassle of saving and allows you to switch between the various game modes with a flick. Your World Tour progress is always up and waiting, and the ability to acquaint yourself with the trick engine in a free flowing setting at any time is a welcome addition. Imagine my surprise that, when my team began its journey in the freestyle tournament in Barcelona, a beautifully rendered 10-second cut scene on the city pops up to usher me in. Well done.



This may come down to personal preference and on which side of the divide you find yourself in the FIFA/Pro Evo debate, but I like the FIFA player models best. The fluidity of the skill movements isn't perfect, and you'll see some strange animations when players tangle, but the environments are well rendered and the atmosphere at the various venues worldwide seem to appropriately mirror their real-life counterparts. At this point in the video game cycle, where rumors of next-next-gen consoles are beginning to slip out, we know the limits of the systems. Pushing the system specs has been done, and we've seen about everything there is to see. So it's about control now, and FIFA knows its niche. It helps that FIFA 12's looks have been farmed out, which includes proper kits for EPL, La Liga and MLS teams.



This is easily the most complex and important issue when dealing with any Street game. EA has struggled for half a decade to nail the balance between the realistic and the over the top, with results varying between "that looks about right" to "is this soccer?" There are moments in Street when I've exclaimed triumphantly and moments when I've grumbled frustratingly. It's a weird swing, and few games have wilder ones. As I previously mentioned, player physics is the hardest thing to get right — momentum is of crucial importance and something very easily flubbed. Street has gotten most of the physics right, but there are occasions that will make you tear out your hair. I spent a maddening 25 minutes in a simple a 5-a-side freestyle game (on hard, mind you) before I hit the requisite 2,500 points. I appreciate that it's supposed to be hard on hard, but it's nearly impossible to pull off any trick moves at all on this level. Yes, it ramps up the satisfaction when you do pull it off, but aren't games supposed to be fun? By around minute 15 I just wanted the game to be over. By minute 20 I was cursing anything and everything.

That's not to say it's not a mostly fun game, because it is. On the medium level especially. Leveling up your created samba dancer (I made my dude a long-tressed American with Messi-like footwork... realistic, right?) is satisfying, and poaching street artists from other sides is a nice perk. Moving through the various tournament and game types is a fun endeavor that will take you through the homes of the world's best street players. And the trick list is extensive. When you successfully pull off a Ginga tic-tac into a double step-over that concludes with a reverse rainbow over your defender's head that leaves him grasping at straws, you'll feel like a boss. Here's a 12-minute session with mo-capper Jayzinho. Yes, all of these moves are in the game, believe it or not.

The thing that infuriates me most about this game is the defending, which, I realize, was always kind of the point. On hard, the CPU will have little trouble dancing around you and generally making your defender look stupid. Meanwhile, your CPU teammates are usually lackadaisical and require you to take charge. At times, thanks to a collision engine that doesn't always operate as it should, the defender and attacker enter this weird tango where the ball is in limbo beneath their four feet before one player inexplicably exits the scrum with the ball. This happens rarely, but when it does you'll want to wing your controller at the nearest wall.


In summation, this is not a game without its flaws. The defending can be cumbersome and ponderous, while frustration levels can reach dangerous highs if the game's collision engine decides to slight you. But I can't fault the programmers for making it a challenge on higher levels, and they've certainly amped up the difficulty here. But I've been left with a generally positive taste. The switch to a more authentic soccer feel was clearly the way to go, and if you're a FIFA nut like me, Street should provide hours of entertainment.

Overall: 8.4/10

- Will Parchman


dikranovich said...

when im playing defense on fifa, 90 percent of the time im holding the second defender button. then while the second defender is on man with the ball, i come in for the steal.

isnt this a pretty standard technique? are you saying on world class setting the attacker just dribbles right through you?

Will Parchman said...

That works fine in FIFA, even though you may get cursed out by online opponents for cheesing.

It's a different dynamic in Street. The game is played with fewer players on drastically compressed battlefields, so the developers took strides to make it harder to just run up and steal possession. The dribbling engine is different, which allows for more skill moves in tight spaces to circumvent quick take-aways and punish lazy challenges.

This mostly works, but like I said, it comes with its drawbacks. The defending engine was revamped as a one-v-one endeavor, so there is no help button. You're on your own, and if you get beat by a skill move, tough cookies.