You may remember Fifa Street as a series in which double-backflip overhead kicks, stupidly loud power-meters and literally unstoppable shots at goals ruled the roost. Back then, as with the majority of ‘arcade’ sports games, Fifa Street was fun in bursts (short bursts) but quickly lost its appeal as it devolved into a race to earn power-ups; resulting in a processional formula in which almost every match was the same.
This re-launching of the series takes things in a different direction. The emphasis is still on performing skills and tricks that result in broken ankles and utter humiliation for most of us, but this is street football as it’s played in real life.
Not the kind of real life street football most of us have played a part in, mind you. This is the kind of real life as demonstrated in those fancy Nike adverts of professional players playing under that bridge, in which Rooney and Henry battle it out with tricks that would see John Terry or Robert Huth take your legs out if attempted in a Premiership game.
The best thing about this new direction is that it works. It works as you imagine it should work, and it stays enjoyable over long sessions.
Matches are split into a wide variety of types that require different tactics and offer markedly different experiences. The game closest to ‘standard’, and the one most people will likely gravitate to, is five versus five played out in a walled arena where the sides can be as useful a tool as any of your team mates.
Pitches come in different sizes, but in general, they’re too small to use standard football tactics of through balls, crosses and deft one-twos. The key in five versus five matches, as with most of Fifa Street’s modes, is to master the trick system. There are an enormous amount of these tricks to learn, so much so that even now (after two weeks of play) I’m still finding new additions and new ways to employ those I already know.
From flip-flaps to neck stalls to rainbow flicks, there’s no shortage of feet-on-ball feats of agility to get your head around and admire. All the tricks can be adapted and tweaked depending on how you link into them – for example, tricks differ depending on whether you’ve just flicked the ball into the air, whether it’s balancing on your back or whether you’re standing still or running at an opponent.
Linking these together in either a solo run through the opposing team or by switching the ball around your own team is tremendously satisfying and urges you on to score that ‘perfect’ goal. Things are so much better thanks to the fact that a semi-realistic approach is being taken; it makes each trick and each great goal seem truly special, whereas in previous Fifa Street’s that sense of accomplishment quickly wears thin due to the simplicity of the gameplay.
Thanks to using the same engine as Fifa 12, having flip, flap and flick is beautifully smooth and expertly animated.
Tricks are not always easy to pull off, they require the correct timing, positioning and input dexterity. Not only that, but not all players are as competent in certain areas as others. If you’re harbouring dreams of being able to score with Brad Freidel after making light work of the entire Barcelona team then think again. Freidel is a goalie and he’s only good in goal. Just like Rio Ferdinand is a defender, Xabi Alonso is a distributing midfielder and Drogba is a talented finisher.
Making use of each of your players’ abilities is essential to success, adding a very welcome element of depth and making your team selection process meaningful. Of course, put the ball at the feet of Messi or Ronaldo and they can do pretty much anything…
By concentrating on the flair and gifts of players in possession, defending does suffer by comparison. Getting the ball back is often more a matter of performing a lucky interception then it is a crafty defensive move, but if you play it safe and get men behind the ball you’ll get possession back before you’ve given away too easy a chance.
The best way to do so is to get one-on-one with an attacker and think of it like a beat ’em up: you watch his movements carefully before sticking a leg in at the exact right moment. Go too early and you’ll be left chasing. Still, as I said, tackling is a little clunky and can result in some inconsistent collisions and bewilderment as the perfect timing has failed to yield the expected results.
Then again, to play devil’s advocate, this game is about demonstrating the flair of the ‘street’ game so was always bound to be skewed towards the offensive elements.
Alongside five versus five are six versus six matches, which actually change things quite a lot thanks to the clogging up of free space caused by the extra man. Then you’ve got ‘Panna’ matches which reward you for performing fancy tricks and capping them off with a goal; the biggest haul of points coming from the ‘Panna’ itself (read: nutmeg or knocking the ball through your opponent’s legs).
The most interesting match types, though, are Last Man Standing and Futsal. In Last Man Standing you’ll lose a player every time you score, with the objective of being the first player to lose all of their players. There’s a tiny goal with no goalie and things get more frantic and desperate as you weigh up the advantage of scoring with the disadvantage of being left with a single player. It’s a great mode when played together in local multiplayer – especially if you’re in a position to easily knock your opponent’s controller out of their hands.
Futsal could hardly be more different, a recreation of a real-life variation of football in which teams of six face off on small pitches but with bigger goals and without walls that keep the ball in play. These matches provide more rewards for those utilising ‘normal’ tactics but there’s still no chance of breaking down your opposite numbers without at least a few tricks; the pitches just aren’t big enough to carve them open.
String all of those match types together, add player creation/customisation options, and you’ve got your career mode. Break those matches down and pit two or more players against each other and you’ve got multiplayer, which is – due to the showboating, over-the-top nature of proceedings – where Fifa Street really shines.
It’s difficult to overstate just how much of an improvement this year’s game is from what has come before. By removing the automatic goals, power ups and other ‘gamey’ elements, Fifa Street puts your own skills front and centre. If you lose it’s because you deserve to lose, not because the other team suddenly earned a magic shot.
Frankly, Fifa Street should have always been like this. Joga bonito.