Forget everything you know. FIFA Street is back and... whisper it... it’s actually really, really fun.
I’m as surprised as you are. With an increasingly goonish art style, an over-the-top nature and a poorly conceived trick system and AI, the original FIFA Street titles were mediocre. They just didn’t work. Yet the idea of an arcade-style football game based on skillful trickery is a great one. It just needed the right talent to execute it. In Creative Director Gary Paterson, EA Sports may just have found that person.
Paterson worked on the main FIFA series around the turn of the decade, dragging the football sim out of mid-table respectability and up to the very top of the table. To achieve a similar resurgence with FIFA Street, he started by ripping everything apart.
Patterson and the rest of the team at EA Canada studied real street football in all of its various forms, quickly deciding that exaggerated, over-the-top skills were needless. The stylish trickery shown by the very best proponents of the art is enough to drop jaws on its own. So, authenticity became the aim, with FIFA 12’s widely praised engine at its core.
Well, that sprinkled with inspiration from Capcom’s Street Fighter series anyway. Let me explain.
FIFA Street is all about one-on-one battles. Receive the ball and thanks to the restricted size of the pitch, you’ll likely have a defender breathing down your neck in milliseconds. You can’t turn your back and shield the ball as in FIFA, so you have to face down and outsmart your opponent.
Holding down L2 roots your player to the spot. While in this position you can use the left analogue stick to drag the ball around, teasing your opponent into making a challenge. As soon as they commit, you can either nutmeg or slip past them by quickly swapping triggers, bursting forward at speed.
Far more interesting however, is to pull off a stylish trick using the right stick and shoulder buttons. There’s a whole range of stepovers, feints, flicks and airborne trickery available, many of which can be chained together, if you have the skill. A quick look at the move menu suggests a dizzying amount of options. It may be accessible, but FIFA Street displays fearsome depth.
This is where the Street Fighter comparisons come in. Initially daunting, FIFA Street’s deep moveset reveals itself in what feels like a natural way. At first you’ll be waggling the right stick around randomly, in hope of pulling off something special. When you do, it’ll look and feel so good that you’ll try to do it again. That’s how you learn. That’s how it sucks you in.
Executing a smooth pirouette and flicking the ball over the head of an opponent, before bursting the back of the net, is utterly joyful, the perfect combination of gamer technique, player skill and aesthetic payoff.
The core gameplay is bolstered by some outrageously fun modes. Taking place across a variety of different pitches, from squeaky-floored basketball courts, to car parks and roofs, and stuffed with football stars dressed down in tracksuits and casual wear, there’s some insanely inventive games to choose from.
Panna Rules is a highlight. This mode places supreme importance in your ability to beat a player. You get one point for a standard beat, two points for an aerial beat (flicking the ball over their head) and three points for a “panna,” sliding the ball between your opponent’s legs. However, there’s a twist.
In this mode you don’t actually bank those points until you score, and if your opponent scores first then your tally goes back down to zero. What this means is that you can rack up say, five goals at a single point a pop, only to immediately go behind after being on the receiving end of one panna, a standard beat and a goal.
In this way there’s a devilishly enticing risk and reward system that can see you throwing away bunches of unbanked points for getting greedy, or receiving only a small reward for impatience.
It’s brilliant then, but even better is Last Man Standing. It's a five-a-side match with no keepers. If you score a goal, then one of your players leaves the pitch. The first person to score with just one player left, wins. So even if you go up against a far superior player, as that person’s team grows smaller and smaller, the advantage swings back in your favour.
This results in some brilliantly tense matches, often going right down to the wire. And even when it gets down to one-on-one, it’s not easy to just beat a player and slot the ball away. The nets are tiny. There’s no shame in missing an open goal. In fact it only adds to the drama.
Elsewhere, things are a little more straight-laced. There’s 5-a-side games on bigger pitches, Futsal with referees, free kicks and penalties (its the only street football variant recognized by FIFA) and an extensive, customisable career mode.
The latter of these allows you to create your own player and take him up the ranks from local fame to global superstardom. Complete with an XP system and spread across all of FIFA Street’s various modes, both online and off, this is no doubt where EA Canada hope you’ll spend most of your time.
For now, however, my sights are firmly set on Panna Rules and Last Man Standing. Between them, they offered up one of the most enjoyable competitive gaming experiences I’ve had this year.
So let’s not mess around. Maybe the campaign mode is awful. Maybe the netcode will be crap. Maybe the opposition AI will make you want to eat your controller. Maybe it all collapses after an extended play session. Who knows? But for the couple of hours that I played FIFA Street in local multiplayer, it was brilliant. The laughs, screams and exuberant celebrations of everyone else in the room suggests that they felt the same.
Forget everything you know. FIFA Street is back and it’s actually really, really fun.
FIFA Street will be kicking off on March 13th in North America and March 16th in Europe.