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Review: 'FIFA Street' takes winning formula from the grass to the pavement

Fun, fast-paced soccer title gets back to fundamentals in a brilliant series reboot

By Dave Gilmore

10:37 AM EDT, March 21, 2012

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"FIFA Street"
Developer: EA Canada
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Score: 9/10

It is not surprising that "FIFA Street" is a great game, given its parentage. "FIFA 12" is the highest achievement so far in EA’s quest to rule the world’s game, and "Street" has inherited the core DNA and formula for enjoyment that makes even non-soccer fans recognize "FIFA 12" as a great gaming experience.

In the mid-’00s, the "FIFA Street" series existed not as an offshoot of the main 11-on-11 game but as a standalone, "NBA Jam"-style game that you had to like soccer to enjoy. You also had to suspend your disbelief and admit you were playing a fantasy rather than a depiction of reality.

This reboot strives for the authenticity that the main "FIFA" games captures, only the authentic world represented is not the lush, green pitches of Wembley Stadium and the Bernabeu, but the parking lots, turf arenas and dirt patches where most of the world actually plays its soccer.

By employing "FIFA's" main engine, "FIFA Street" checks in with strong player depictions, good physics and the overall feel of something that could potentially be real. Obviously, with the amount of technical prowess and unending stamina the players display, it’s a heightened “shoe commercial” reality, but it still lets players into a world you can imagine existing in the cooler neighborhoods of your local metropolis.

This melding of authenticity (real players, no flaming soccer balls) with stylization (amped-up skill levels, exotic locales) makes for a fun experience. There are lots of goals to be scored, which keeps the casual player engaged. Hardcore soccer fans will find the ability to bounce a pass off a wall or add extra flair to their dribbling addictive.

Fittingly, control makes or breaks a game such as "FIFA Street." Your basic 11-on-11 soccer match is as much about tactics and teamwork as it is ball skills, but "FIFA Street" rightly places the focus on being able to wizard the orb around, over and through your opponents.

Taking the already strong control scheme of "FIFA" (which is easy enough to pick up) and tweaking it for the street works here. Performing a trick is easy to get the hang of. The moves are intuitive, and don’t require a phone book-sized Prima guide to reference difficult combinations.

The game is not without its on-field quirks. At very low skill levels, players move awkwardly and make puzzling movements, especially the goalies. Since there is no “out of bounds” in most game modes, just a concrete wall or fence, the game sometimes has trouble and locks a computer player in the corner temporarily, as he struggles to emerge from one of those dastardly 90 degree angles.

While "FIFA 12" is indeed an incredibly strong game, "Street" frees soccer from the rigidity of atmosphere that may keep a casual player away from the series’ flagship through open and enjoyable customization. One can spend hours simply creating your fictional team’s crest and uniforms, and that’s before getting into the details of your team members. The make-it-your-own spirit expands to basic gameplay mode as well, with many variations and rules available to tailor the game specific to how you play it on the street.

"Street" makes an audacious choice with game audio: Every player has a voice, based on their nationality and a few different pitch types. It’s clear that a lavalier mic was hooked up to a player during a semi-real street game and the players were told to chatter it up. For a couple of minutes, this provides an authentic feel, as though the players are actually communicating with one another, asking for passes and taunting opponents. After a while, it gets repetitive and grating.

"Street" can get repetitive unless you like to play online. Building up a squad and customizing your trick arsenal is a fun experience in World Tour mode, but the gameplay can be a grind. There are different types of tournaments to mix it up, varying scoring rules and how many players are on each side, but ultimately, the rhythm of your experience isn’t going to vary a ton.

Speaking of online game modes, EA made a bold decision in not allowing FIFA-licensed players and clubs in the online experience for "Street," curtailing a recurring trend in "FIFA" matches where every opponent chooses Barcelona or Manchester United. Again, borrowing from "FIFA," EA's popular EA Sports Football Club is back in "Street," recognizing there is no need to reinvent an already robust and popular online experience for soccer fans.

And that's what's refreshing and fun about "FIFA Street." It's the things that make "FIFA 12" such a great game, but transmuted in such a way that it gives casual and hardcore soccer fans another spiritually — if not technically — authentic experience.