FIFA Street utilizes the Player Impact Engine found in FIFA 12, which relies more heavily on the physics of players and the ball instead of using only animations. It's a good starting point for a game that, compared to other FIFA titles, spotlights soccer tricks more than ever. The end result, however, turns into a "FIFA lite" of sorts, with shoddy action frighteningly reminiscent of the problematic FIFA 12 demo.
With smaller courts, fewer players, and closer camera angles, the Player Impact engine shows more flaws than in FIFA 12. Players fall all over one another in unnatural ways in every match. Trying to trick the opponent with a panna move -- where one player kicks the ball between an opponent's open legs before skirting around them to retain possession -- often leads to the two players awkwardly bumping into one another and stopping for a brief moment. There were also a number of times where my goalkeeper would simply fall down when fighting for possession against an attacking opponent.
That's just the beginning, as gameplay issues are endless. Attempting to tackle an opponent while on defense is rarely successful. When failing, your player gets stuck in an odd animation where they stick their leg out and twist their body, as if they can't decide whether to fall over or start breakdancing. When you successfully kick the ball away from an opponent, there's a fair chance your player will stop in their tracks after detecting a collision that might have never happened.
It's distressing to see these flaws break up the action on a regular basis, as the flow of moves is otherwise excellent. Tricks are easy to learn and difficult to perfect, but always look spectacular. Holding the left trigger while moving the left joystick enables "street ball control," where players pivot with one foot while moving the ball around with the other as a means of luring defenders to one side. Using street ball control while carefully selecting your tricks and movements results in great combos. Rainbow-ing a ball over a defender never gets old, as long as the game's engine behaves itself.
Along with the engine, the AI has its own share of problems as well. Defenders are too sensitive to their teammate's locations on the court. In one case, while attempting to steal the ball from an opponent near my own goal, I pulled close enough to the goal that my goalkeeper opted to run away, presumably under the assumption that my player was taking over as goalkeeper (based on default dynamic player tactics). That left the net wide open for a ludicrously easy shot. The frustrations don't end, as the game will also occasionally change the player you control on the court automatically. That's fine if a player on your team touches the ball, but in many cases the game switched me to a player without any discernible reason, often to my dismay on defense.
While the game oozes with style and really shows off a different kind of soccer than your typical FIFA, it feels empty. I found myself spending the most time with world tour mode, in which players put together a squad of 10 footballers to take down teams across the globe. As you use your squad in all game modes, which can be composed of downloaded players that your friends create or even real-life soccer players you encounter, your players gain experience points and can upgrade their attributes or unlock different skills and celebrations.
You have to unlock the closed leg jockey, for instance, a move where players put their legs closer together to defend against the standard panna move. It's a little odd that this particular move is locked for players at the outset, but eventually your players will begin looking and behaving more like pros (when they aren't falling over for no reason, of course). Still, winning matches in world tour mode to unlock gear, venues, players, and attribute upgrades is addictive.
Each mode offers different challenging matches with varying rule-sets for squad or a number of licensed football clubs. These modes provide some versatility, ranging from a standard five-on-five futsal match to a two-on-two match that requires players to accumulate points by gracefully dribbling around their opponents before scoring a goal. Again, however, there aren't many modes to play around in.
FIFA Street's online offering seems focused on playing with friends (notably with online team play and party modes), while the core experience of playing against strangers is found in the online seasons mode. In this mode, players are limited solely to five and six player-per-team matches, and there's no way of filtering through opponents based on their skill level. With only one mode available for taking on strangers, FIFA Street's sense of emptiness is amplified, especially compared to FIFA 12. And, frankly, with such an enormous variety in skill level between players, it's alarming to see a multiplayer system in which you aren't able to filter opponents. In 2012, FIFA Street's online options stink. For what it's worth, my experience playing online was smooth, with no apparent lag or frame rate issues.
Regardless of the points where FIFA Street shines, it suffers from too many buggy player animations. After seeing EA Sports do magnificent things with FIFA 12 -- cleaning up a majority of these same issues in its engine so that players weren't always falling over for no apparent reason or stopping dead in their tracks -- FIFA Street comes off as a disappointment. I would hope that with some tuning, there would be more of the great moments FIFA Street can offer. Spinning around an opponent is fun enough, but the lack of of variety in game modes leaves you hanging after a few trips to the court. The latest FIFA Street could be the foundation of a great game down the line; it just isn't one now.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of FIFA Street, provided by Electronic Arts.
Mike Suszek is a freelance writer and producer of the Modern Game Player podcast (which you should check out!), contributor to 4thString.com, avid sports fan, and games, tech and pop culture junkie. He can be found ranting on Twitter: @mikesuszek
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