EA really are in an enviable position in the industry. They've got the licences, they've got the franchises, they've got the game engines and they've got a fair few talented people working in their offices. Quite where any of those people were when FIFA Street was being bungled out the door is anyone's guess because given the Street template, the FIFA engine and talent that obviously resides at the company (look no further than the NBA Street franchise for evidence) this game is an unpolished and unfortunate release.
The basic premise follows EA Big's Street template of taking professional athletes out of the stadiums, into the favelas and council estates of the world and bestowing upon them super-human tricks and skills in the style of NBA Jam and NHL Hitz. The emphasis is as much on style as it is on scores and the strategy is kept to a minimum as two cut-down teams take each other on in competitions ranging from a simple quick game to a more detailed franchise mode.
'even newcomers can perform nice looking moves in a matter of minutes'
Out of the box, this game does a pretty decent soccer rendition of the Street series' gameplay. It's easy to pick up, the graphics are okay, there are enough game modes to keep people happy for a while and, most importantly, the games are fast and reasonably fluid. The controls are well planned - leaving the face buttons for passes and shots, while the right analogue stick is designated as the 'Trick Stick', where different directions unleash a different move that you can use to round an opponent in a one-on-one situation. This gives you immediate access to a wide range of tricks and even newcomers can perform nice looking moves in a matter of minutes.
FIFA Street actually tones down the tricks to some extent which helps keep the game flowing - there's no waiting for protracted animations to finish - but equally disappoints slightly when you're expecting some of the flair and excitement of its Street cousins. There's a fine balance between the practical and the flamboyant and EA haven't quite got it right here. They haven't got the well-designed controls to respond particularly well either, which is odd considering its older brother, FIFA 2005 manages just fine. Perhaps it's the smaller environments that show up the problems or perhaps it's another case of the game being a rush-job, but either way, it's frustrating when you ask a forward to shoot a first-timer and they end up trapping the ball because the controls were too sluggish to respond or you ask a player to turn on a dime and they take that fraction of a second too long, meaning you lose the ball in the process. This might not seem so obvious in a one player game but in multiplayer, where everybody is that little bit sharper than the AI, the game quickly becomes a farcical tackle-fest in the middle of the arena.
The franchise mode, which sees a user-created team taking on all comers in the streets of ten worldwide locations, works well for the most part but is held back by slightly samey play. The main problem is that you start out taking on teams of your own stature and as you improve your team by earning skill points from games and signing new players the other teams around you get better too. This has the plus point of meaning that at no point are you ever getting thrashed or giving a thrashing because your team is much worse or much better than the AI's, but it has the downside of making all the games feel the same. Throw into the mix environments that are all much of a much-ness and the game gets old pretty quickly. The lure of new players and improving your own created characters is enough to keep you going for a while, but considering you can pay as most of the best players in the friendly games, the incentive wears thin after a while.
So where does this leave FIFA Street? Well, it's not an awful game for sure. There's fun to be had here, even if it is somewhat limited, and there's definitely the basis of a decent series underneath all the ropey implementation. Despite its many problems the game has sold remarkably well, topping the UK sales charts for three weeks in a row; perhaps EA can tap into the mind of the average gamer far better than we give them credit for. If this review seems overly harsh then it's only because, given the experience in the publishing giant's development offices, it's a shame to see what could have been a great game ruined by a lack of polish and a hurried release. At least they've managed to rush it out in time to coincide with...wait...erm...some kind of freestyle soccer tournament that I've missed?