‘Authenticity’ and ‘realism’ are not buzzwords one would typically attach to EA’s Fifa Street series. First realeased back in 2005, the three editions of Fifa Street that found their way onto store shelves across the world were more concerned with gravity-defying tricks, hip-hop soundtracks and arenas that wouldn’t look out of place in Amsterdam’s red-light district. Authenticity and realism were nowhere to be seen.
However, it was those two exact words that were being thrown around with reckless abandon during our hands-on session with the game last week at Gamescom. This particular outing for Fifa Street (due Q1 next year) aims to provide a faithful recreation of street football as it’s played… well, on the streets. That means double back-flips, unstoppable power shots and leg snapping tackles are out and Fifa 12’s impact engine, a reworked trick system and fouls are in.
Just as happened to the main Fifa series a few years ago, it seems that Fifa Street has finally provided itself with some much needed direction.
While the demo we played was still very early development (pre-Alpha, in fact) the signs are already positive. The focus on style and panache that the series is known for is still very much in place, only this time the manner in which it’s executed and visualised is markedly different. One on one attacker versus defender clashes are the order of the day, with the player in possession utilising a tweaked edition of Fifa 12’s skill/trick system to befuddle and humiliate their opponent/s.
By holding the left-trigger, attackers will stop and control the ball neatly between their feet. You can then use the right-stick to execute all manner of dizzying tricks to wrong foot your defender and put him off balance; once beaten it’s a case of passing, shooting or slamming on the sprint button before they regain their composure and get back into position. Defenders can use the left-trigger to ‘lock-on’ to attackers, resulting in them facing the attacker at all times and setting them up for a well timed tackle. Dive in and at the wrong time and you’re liable to get skinned or nutmegged by a skilled player.
Supposedly there is more than twice the number of tricks than will be included in Fifa 12, although how these are dished out to players of varying ability and size is as yet unknown.
Accompanying the ‘lock-on’ controls are the same short pass, long pass, manual pass and shoot buttons we’re used to in Fifa. Also included is a variation on Fifa 12’s ‘flair’ modifier which, by holding the left-bumper, transform regular passes and shoots into all-guns-blazin’ Luis Saurez-esque feats of foot-to-ball coordination (yes, I’m a Liverpool fan). Gone though is the through-ball option; thought to be too effective in the confines of a mini-pitch it has been replaced by a clearance button which launches the ball out of the danger area at all costs.
As with street football in reality you can interact with the walls of the pitch, allowing one-two passes to oneself, fancy through balls and the ability to press up against it to protect the ball from opponents. Like fouls, this particular feature wasn’t fully implemented in the build we played so it’s difficult to judge its impact on gameplay at this point. However, if it works half as well as wall play does in EA’s NHL series then there will be complaints from me.
Players can initiate games as personal as 1vs1 or as traditional as 6vs6 (and everything in between). There are options to customise games as you see fit i.e. only scoring for successfully beating defenders with tricks or playing with miniature goals and no goalie.
Most interesting of the game modes though is the inclusion of Futsal, a form of football officially recognised by FIFA which has had its own world cup competition since 1989 (Brazil has won four of the six tournaments so far). Futsal is a 5vs5 game (including goalies) played with a smaller ball with less bounce, forcing an emphasis on skilful, ground-based play. There are also no side walls, the resulting throw and kick-ins presenting new tactical options with which to experiment with.
Frustratingly, Fifa Street’s Futsal has yet to appear in playable form but anything that brings previously unseen real-world variations of the beautiful game to the world of videogames is okay in my book.
Right now there are no concrete details on which licensed teams and players will be included. According to lead designer Gary Patterson (a veteran of the main Fifa series), the team at EA Vancouver are still trying to work a balance between allowing you to play as real players while retaining the realism of the sport. Patterson explained that the problem with licensing derives from the fact that if you have one licensed team then you have to have to include the whole league to which that club belongs.
Patterson also hinted that there would be a wealth of online features similar to those in Fifa 12. Online team play is “probable” but the ability to play as the goalie is unlikely – Patterson saying that the required change in camera angle “doesn’t feel right” for the sport. We’ll keep our ears and eyes peeled for more online details as they appear.
Given the pedigree of Patterson and his team at EA Vancouver, the newly focused direction and the impressive nature of the gameplay at this still early stage, things are looking promising for Fifa Street. Being the moody cynic that I am, I went into the Fifa Street meeting with little to no expectations given the sub-par offerings of previous games in the series. Happily, I came out optimistic and eager to play more.
Then again, being a Liverpool fan, I’ve always had a thing for style.