IGN Review of FIFA Street 2
Over the past few nights I've found it difficult to face the oncoming doom. See, I've been assigned to review FIFA Street 2. Scratch that, I asked to review it. After the monstrosity that was the original FIFA Street, I felt it my obligation to see if EA had redeemed itself with the sequel. If redemption is equal to the amount of tricks one can pull off in a given soccer game and not having the worst announcer in the history of videogames, then EA at least isn't going to hell.
As a reviewer, one must face his personal horrors. Mine was confronting the idea of reviewing FIFA Street 2. I love soccer and have played it all my life, and so getting the opportunity to play any soccer game is a real treat. But given the state of the original and recognizing EA's deft handling of this - we were only recently given a build to play - I've had my suspicions. But the other thing about reviewing any game is that one must have an open mind. So last week, I took a deep breath, cleared my mind, prayed to the soccer gods for a miracle, and started playing.
What I found is a game that's constructed with a lot more care and attention to detail than the original. This isn't the cookie cutter product of last year. The music is actually good. The irritating trendy junk of 2005 has mostly vanished. One of the new DJs, Zane Lowe, who replaced MC Harvey, admits on air to not wanting to be like the other DJs, so he stops the chatter and lets you listen to the music. This is a gift from the gods above. As I progressed through the various modes, I realized the gameplay wasn't buggy, nor was the game shoddily crafted. The variation of tricks is broader and more integral to the actual sport, and finally, EA's new creation differentiates between pure soccer and trick-based athleticism with a variety of gameplay types.
That leads us to the heart of the matter. FIFA Street 2 is still very much an EA Street game, which is to say it's a trick-based arcade game. The gameplay emphasizes trickery over actual soccer skills and knowledge of the sport. If you're a total purist, you'll hate it. If you're more forgiving or simply love anything that revolves around a soccer ball, you might actually like this sequel. I'm a purist, but I like having fun and I've found there is a certain kind of fun in FIFA Street 2. Of course, I had to bury the idea of traditional soccer deep in my guts somewhere, along with my adoration for Winning Eleven so that I could enjoy Street 2. But I somehow managed it. Such is the arduous work of a videogame reviewer.
Bellyaching aside, FIFA Street 2 takes up where the first left off. The basic game structure has remained faithful to the Street series. You can instantly pick up a quick game in Play Now, step into career mode, fiddle with your look and skills in Creation Zone, and select Options or Radio Stations to customize. In Game Modes you'll find the sub-modes Friendly, Rule the Street, and Skills Challenge. Friendly enables you to play against anyone at any location. Rule the Street is the actual Career mode, and Skills Challenge gives you the opportunity to demonstrate infinite juggle skills to embarrass and humiliate your friends. EA has carefully done some repair work here. As you dig into Rule the Street, you'll pick up a variety of game types. Sometimes you just need to score the most goals. In other game types, you'll have to either accumulate the most skill points first, or score the most pannas or goals first, or win by only scoring with GameBreakers. The added variety alleviated one of the biggest issues I had with the original.
The other interesting thing I noticed about the sequel is that you can actually play regular old soccer. That is to say, there is a game type here that just requires you to play without the necessity of tricks. Amazing! But putting basic soccer in Street 2 created a paradox, and awakened me to two things: First, I actually started having fun because I was finally able to play skill-based soccer without all the fluffy juggling acrobatics. You know, I just wanted to play soccer -- work on strategy, use formations, and employ skill and good teamwork to win. Second, much to my surprise, the basic soccer in Street 2 is really dull compared to the enormous amount of trick/juggle/gamebreaker stuff that comprises the majority of Street 2. After a few games of basic soccer in Street 2, I actually started liking the whole trick thing
which leads me to the issue. Had I been duped? Was my purist soccer heart corrupted by newfangled trickery and clown-like juggle-giddiness? Had I given in? Not really. But I began to realize that I couldn't make FIFA Street 2 conform to what I wanted to it to be. I had to take it for what it is. In the context of this game, an arcade-style, trick-heavy setting, basic FIFA Street soccer just wasn't all that flashy or fun. This game isn't FIFA or Winning Eleven 9. This is good, I thought to myself, I'm getting past any hidden bias I have hidden secretly somewhere deep in my gut. The fact is the pure game of soccer is much better in Winning Eleven or even in the straight-up FIFA games, and that it's unfair to wholly knock a game like Street 2 for what it does, which is tricks.
Having realized this, I let myself go hog-wild. I started pulling off as many tricks possible in every game I could. This new Street enables you to juggle with much more control than before. You can kick the ball up onto your feet, juggle it onto your knees, and even bounce it around on your shoulders and head. When you use these moves in the actual game to fake and juke opponents, there is a certain satisfaction to it. Like I was saying before, there are several game types in which you aren't required to score a goal at all. All you have to do is earn trick points. This takes the trick idea to the limit. It's not soccer anymore. But true to the concept of the game design, there is a certain challenge and fun to it. Admittedly, the thrill is ineffective in the long run, but that's Street.
The new Trick Stick moves add flair to the game and they are integral to the idea behind Street 2. Using the analog sticks in conjunction with triggers or shoulder buttons, you can pull off tricks to dupe an opponent. The juggle moves add depth to the air game, introduced in the first title, and the newly revamped trick system offers point-based rewards for keeping juggles or any continuous trick going with teammates. These combos are deadly in a game based purely on tricks, especially the newly favored juggles. And if you're not adept at countering an opponent's tricks, the match will end quickly in their favor. Scoring goals isn't as easy as in the first game, so tricks become more important. The best way to score in FIFA Street 2 is to pass, pull off a combo, combo some more, and shoot. Your teammates usually are in position to help, placing themselves in a spot to score, and the defense is also programmed with a certain discipline. I've also found that with eight players all crowded around the goal box, it's regularly difficult to see what the hell is going on from any camera angle.
The Trick Stick works, but it also presents a huge design problem. They're devised to take the defensive player out of the game. If you're on defense and the opponent pulls a move and you misjudge the move, the juke animation activates, rendering you helpless for a few seconds. You can't control your own player. I found that in numerous situations I was specifically trying to remain at a distance from the offensive player so that I wouldn't get pulled into the locked animation, but the juke animation has a pretty wide radius considering the small size of the pitch, so it regularly snags you. But this EA design team was smarter than the first. The idea is to counter with a defensive move. Defensive players can use the Trick Sticks to counter every offensive move - left, right, high or low. Naturally you can't always guess the right move; that's the nature of the game. A correctly guessed counter trips up the offensive man, after which you gain control.
My three main issues with the core of the game's design and mechanics are: A) the animation freezes your ability to move, even when you're trying to get the hell away from the opponent; B) the other defensive moves are all unskilled button-mashing moves. You slide, shoulder and ram opponents regularly. On the one hand you've got this slick trick system emphasizing juggling and dribbling skills lending itself a certain style and panache and on other hand you've got this brutal, bashing defense that can just slam into you. Of course there's no ref. That's counter to this game. So, violent defensive play regularly goes unchecked and it hurts the gameplay. And finally, C) You can actually engage the opponent in a near-endless loop of pain. If you constantly trick around an opponent, you endlessly lock him into an uncontrollable loop of animations that's difficult to get out of. That's not only un-fun; it's unfair.
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