FIFA Street 3 makes an excellent first impression. After spending a few minutes with the game and admiring the flashy moves and caricature representations of some of the best footballers in the world, it's easy to believe that EA has created the first great FIFA Street title. But while first impressions count for a lot, it's how you feel after a few hours and days that really counts. Sadly FIFA Street 3's potential comes crashing down to earth far too quickly - a bit like Newcastle United.
The Street series of games is all about taking a popular sport (in this case football) and stripping it down to its basics, while putting more emphasis on the most attractive elements. So with football you obviously remove fouls and off-sides, put five players on each team and let them perform the most ridiculous tricks imaginable. Real football pitches are obviously discarded too, replaced by where the cool kids would play football. So FIFA Street 3 sees you playing in locations as far away from proper football pitches as possible, such as an oil rig, a beach, a street and a rooftop. More pitches will be added via downloadable content after release.
If EA's goal with FIFA Street 3 was to simplify football so much that anyone could play it, then they've succeeded, but it has come at a great cost to the gameplay. Your team can be made up of four different player types: Tricksters, Enforcers, Playmakers and Finishers. They are pretty self explanatory and allow you to perform different moves and be more effective in certain areas of the pitch. Enforcers are good at tackles for example, while finishers quite obviously shoot more accurately. It doesn't have the positive effect on gameplay that you might expect though.
I dabbled with teams made up of players of various types and experimented with different combinations, but the gameplay remained pretty much the same no matter what choices I'd made. It's relatively simple to pass the ball about, but whether or not you score from a shot seems to be almost entirely random and team-mates are rarely able to get into the best positions for crosses. During one 30 second period your team-mates might get into great positions for deadly headers and volleys, enabling you to score at will, but you can also go for five minutes or more without anyone doing anything to help you out.
In the end scoring and winning comes down to who can activate their Gamebreaker most often. By performing tricks (all handled by the right analogue stick) your Gamebreaker meter fills with yellow. Take a shot at goal and this yellow turns blue, effectively locking it in. Lose possession without locking it in and the meter will start to drain. Thankfully when playing against the AI you can run around at the back and perform tricks and flick the ball into the air (Y/Triangle) at will, almost without any pressure. Once you then have a full bar and activate your Gamebreaker most shots will go in and you can score two or more goals before the time runs out.
Challenges have been part of FIFA games for some time now, but in FIFA Street 3 the Challenge mode is the core of the game. To begin with this is fine, with the game setting you challenges based on how you score goals or the number of goals you need to score. So, you'll have to score five headers or volleys, or score 3 goals during Gamebreakers, and so on. The problem is that this is basically all you do throughout all the challenges. You play against different teams and you can choose to play as any team you've unlocked, but the challenges get repetitive far too quickly.
It's all pretty disappointing really. At times you can have some fun, certainly when playing with some friends (local play for four players on 360, seven on PS3 and four online) but it doesn't take long to reach the game's skill limit. In an attempt to add some variety EA has included a playground-style take your turns picking players game mode, but it's little more than a gimmick and not really deserving of its own place on the main menu.
In terms of presentation EA has done a good job. FIFA Street 3 is built on the NBA Street Homecourt game engine, so that means a smooth 60 frames per second at 720p and 30 frames per second and 1080p. The locations are all nicely detailed and it's fun to see how each footballer has been modelled (we always pick Peter Crouch and Wayne Rooney if they're an option, just because of the way they look). The soundtrack isn't bad either, fitting well with the style of the game. For Xbox 360 Achievement addicts it's also worth pointing out that FIFA Street 3 hands them out very quickly indeed.
FIFA Street 3 is going to sell tonnes of copies no matter what anyone says about it, but that doesn't stop it being a real disappointment as a game. When I played it a few months back it had huge potential, but after spending some prolonged time with the game its flaws are all too obvious. It looks great and has more character than any sports game I've ever played, but its gameplay is too shallow and unrewarding to provide long-term entertainment. While the real FIFA games are progressing nicely towards a potential leading position, the Street spin-off simply can't find its feet.