It is tough being a soccer fan in America. There’s a built in prejudice for a large segment of the sports-watching public; soccer is viewed as foreign, low scoring, and for some reason the offside rule is perceived as so alien that it renders the whole sport unwatchable. And then of course you have the fact that in the rest of the world, it’s called football - except we already have a football here in America. It’s like when two women wear the same dress to a party. One of them is going to bad mouth the other one faster and harder until everyone knows who looks better and gets all the attention.
Personally I love soccer, even though I was born in America and have never lived abroad - and therefore have no excuse other than I just love watching it. I’ve loved it since the 1994 World Cup was held in the United States and suddenly it was all over the television. It’s often called The Beautiful Game, and it really is the only sport that deserves such a title. And, ironically, it’s all of soccer’s perceived negatives (low scoring, can’t use hands, the offside rule) that make it so beautiful.
However, no matter how much I love the real sport, I have a decidedly love/hate relationship with games that try to capture soccer on a cartridge or a disc and leave it up to the player to perform the feats that make soccer so great. It’s always going to be hard to accurately simulate a sport in a videogame, and when I play a football (which I officially move to rename American football, bald eagle rules football, or gridiron football for the sake of sports fan unity), baseball, or hockey game I can better handle the disappointment. I think that because soccer is such a simple sport, soccer videogames get the closest to true life and when they miss, they miss the hardest. FIFA 12, for example, can go for long stretches before it drags you back to Earth with an own goal credited to the winger that crossed it instead of the defender that knocked it in, defenders who stand around and don’t attempt tackles, or something else equally sad.
However, I’m not here to talk about FIFA 12; I’m here to talk about FIFA 12’s little brother, FIFA Street for the PS3.
If you’ve never seen or played street soccer, let me offer you a FIFA Street primer. Matches are played on a “pitch” that ranges from playground basketball courts to gymnasiums, and ultimately, street soccer stadiums that resemble pro tennis venues. They’re generally played on a hard surface, so you can forget about slide tackles. The goals themselves come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. FIFA Street features tiny toy hockey goals, what look like lacrosse goals, indoor soccer goals, and weird hybrids that are maybe only waist high but nearly as wide as a full-size soccer goal. The number of players varies depending on the event from 2v2 to 6v6. Meanwhile, the events themselves feature quite a bit of variation but all stem from one of four basic game-types: 5-a-side, Panna Rules, Last Man Standing, and Futsal.
5-a-side is your basic 5v5 indoor-style soccer with walls to corral loose balls. Panna Rules is played with anywhere from 2-a-side (with no goalie) to 4-a-side. The object of Panna Rules is to not just score a goal, but to perform the game’s signature “panna” move (where the player with the ball rolls it between the defenders legs while running around him to pick it back up on the other side), an “air beat,” or a regular “beat” in the process. Each one of these moves adds points to your bank and when you score a goal, instead of one point you get as many points as was in your bank while at the same time clearing your opponent’s bank. Last Man Standing is similar to 5-a-side, except when you score, you lose a player. The first team to lose all their players wins. Then you have Futsal, which is as close to actual soccer as you get in FIFA Street. Futsal matches are 5v5 or 6v6 and are played on a basketball court-sized pitch with no walls. So when the ball goes out, you get throw-ins (actually they’re kick-ins) and corner kicks. Fouls are also called for aggressive tackles, and should one happen inside the “box,” a penalty kick is awarded.
When you play FIFA Street’s World Tour mode, the game’s career mode equivalent, you’ll see a few extra variations such as 6-a-side matches that follow 5-a-side rules and what’s called Freestyle which is a variation on Panna Rules. In Freestyle, each trick you perform banks points and when you score you’re awarded however many points are in your bank. Matches are played to 2,500. Finally, there are “first to five” matches. Those are pretty self-explanatory - score five goals to win.
Along with World Tour mode, there’s Hit the Street mode where you can play one-off games of whatever kind of match you want, or you can customize your own (although your options are fairly limited). There are also online head-to-head seasons just like in FIFA 12, online friendlies played against your friends, and an online team mode where you and six others play together against another squad in a virtual pickup soccer match. FIFA Street also supports a whopping eight players locally (four per side), so if you invite your friends over to play it, make sure they bring extra controllers.
So those are the game modes. But I’m sure you want to know how well the game plays, right? Well, that’s when FIFA Street starts to fall apart. Not only does it drag with it every single issue FIFA 12 had to the party, but it also manages to create brand new ones. Now don’t get me wrong, the game is fun to play. However, when problems crop up, they usually come in clusters and then it will be in your best interest to insure your PS3, all your controllers, your TV, and if you’re particularly prone to fits of rage, your loved ones.
I said before that I have a love/hate relationship with soccer games and FIFA Street amplifies those two extremes to never-before-seen levels. It’s a bit like dating a genius supermodel that is also a crack addict and supports their habit by promoting dog-fights. The controls, for example, work really well. They’re fairly intuitive, and with only a little practice you’ll be pulling off pannas, roulettes, neck stalls, and elasticos (along with many others) so easily you’ll make Lionel Messi himself jealous. However, there are also a plethora of bad ideas associated with the tricks. First and foremost is the lack of an integrated tutorial. Instead, there is a list of tricks and their associated control inputs that exists about 3 menus away from the actual game. There are tutorial videos, but they’re all flash and don’t teach anything. As if that wasn’t bad enough, in World Tour mode, you have to purchase all the tricks with skill points, yet the game goes out of its way to not tell you any of that. When you create a team and level them up, the menu for purchasing tricks is hidden away among the most un-intuitive set of menus ever. What’s worse is that sometimes, even after I purchased a trick, I still couldn’t perform it, and when I tried it the game told me it was still locked. That seems downright broken to me. Even more hidden than the trick menu is the menu for purchasing moves and styles like the panna jockey (where you close your legs to defeat the panna), the diving header, or advanced goalie moves so he doesn’t stand there like a fool while balls zip by his legs and into the net. Why they’d hide away such basic moves is a complete mystery and they don’t do you any favors with the in-game manual. It will tell you none of that. They also don’t do you any favors by allowing you to quickly shift from menu to menu, either. Each one takes five or ten seconds to load, and when you’re leveling up you squad, you’ll have to shift through six or seven menus two or three times each. All that loading adds up until you’ll just stop leveling your players up after every game, simply because it takes so long.
The non-trick gameplay is the same mixed-bag of good and mystifyingly bad. The controls are the same as FIFA 12, with passes, lobs, through balls, and shots all mapped to the face buttons, while R2 sprints and L2 initiates “street mode” (FIFA 12 calls it trick mode) so you can perform tricks. R1 and L1 are reserved for juggling and rolling, respectively. It’s a good system that works wonderfully in FIFA 12, but this is FIFA Street, and in FIFA Street they suffer from a litany of problems. Through balls, for example, are useless unless it’s a break-a-way because when a player makes a run, it’s always right at a defender. Aiming shots can be downright impossible since aiming more than about one or two degrees off center will send your shot well wide of the net. Good luck finding that sweet spot between hitting it right at the goalie and hitting it out of his reach (that is, if you don’t just miss the net entirely). Finally be prepared for the AI that decides where you intended to pass the ball (there’s no manual passing - save for lobs) to just flat out get it wrong about 50% of the time. Sometimes it’s only a little off and you’ll pass to the guy closest to the defender instead of the guy next to him running in the open. Other times, it will just go in the complete opposite direction. Be prepared to lose games because your goalie passed it right to a defender in a completely different direction from where you were aiming or threw the ball over the wall instead of to his teammate. To make matters worse, putting the ball out in your own end like that means the other team gets an indirect free kick from the edge of your penalty box, and they will score on it most of the time.
FIFA Street also carries with it the same physics system that FIFA 12 had. Sure, that leads to occasionally comically unreal collision reactions like when I saw two players run into each other than cartwheel through the air in opposite directions with their arms and legs outstretched such that they looked like ninja throwing stars (that really did happen to me). If it was just that stuff, it would be funny, but instead you get players that elaborately stumble in random directions at the slightest contact or missed tackle, making it unnecessary hard to play defense effectively. If it was only that, it might still be tolerable, but there’s so much more, that so much worse. Players will stop moving, including your goalie, if another player gets near them in the wrong way. I lost 4 matches both online and single player on the day I wrote this review alone because my goalie just stood there after a deflected shot while the other team walked the ball into the goal. It usually involved a diving save where other players were in close proximity, but the whys don’t matter because the simple fact that it happens at all is inexcusable. It’s not just your goalie who suffers from these physics glitches either; however, it’s rarely fatal when it’s a forward or defender - instead it’s just infuriating. But there are times when several players will all stop moving, and the game will lock me out of even switching to them so I can move them manually; that’s on top of the fact that the other AI players on your team won’t attempt a tackle on their own or even attempt to mark the opposing team. Yep, just like in FIFA 12, FIFA Street expects you to play every position simultaneously when the other team has the ball. That’s aggravated by the inconsistent nature of switching players. Sometimes it will switch automatically for no apparent reason and it’s always to a player away from the ball. Other times, it just won’t let you select the player closest to the ball no matter how many times you hammer the button. Oh, and if you take the game online, not only will you have to endure all the issues I’ve spent the last several paragraphs detailing, but you’ll also have to deal with crippling lag (No, it’s not my Internet connection. My Internet connection is boss.), and crashes - a lot of crashes - online, offline, or even just while loading the title screen. Why just today, the day of this writing, FIFA Street crashed three times, each one requiring a reset of the console.
So yeah, as much as I want to love, and recommend FIFA Street, I just can’t. Fundamental aspects of the game will just randomly go sideways. It might not be every game, but it’s certainly too damn many of them to be acceptable. The truth remains, however, that despite stuff going sideways, awful menus, no tutorial, a useless in-game manual, overall poor stability, and terrible online lag, I’ve never loved and yet still hated a videogame more than FIFA Street. Yes, there are a metric ****-ton of problems with it, but there’s also a metric ****-ton of the beauty that garners soccer the title The Beautiful Game. And it’s very up close and in your face about it. You’re not detached from the beauty like in FIFA 12; it’s all right there where it can’t be missed. So if you do choose to play FIFA Street and you love soccer the way I do, I can personally guarantee that the first time you juggle the ball over a defender’s head then slam it into the back of the net on the half-volley or bicycle the ball between the goalie’s legs from a rebound off the wall, you’ll stand up and cheer. It’s too bad then that an hour later, you’ll probably want to fire FIFA Street into the sun.
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