There’s an unwritten rule in Stuff’s lunchtime FIFA 12 tournament: too much showboating and you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of a what’s known in the business as a reducer. There’s a time and a place for that sort of thing – it’s called FIFA Street. EA’s reboot of the flair-focused footy sim is what the sport would be like if it’d been concocted by Cristiano Ronaldo in a lab deep under Nike HQ. On these pitches, trickery is king.
Your ‘career’ mode is the World Tour, which starts at grassroots level with regional competitions all around the UK. Success on home turf then opens competitions around the globe.
The various game modes are played on differing pitch sizes, from dingy underpasses to Olympic-style arenas the size of two basketball courts. But in each one the aim of the game is the same: to put the ball in the back of the net.
Where each mode differs (and how it differs to full-fat FIFA) is in specific match rules and team size. Panna, for example, is all about embarrassing your opponent with as many points-scoring skill moves as possible before putting the ball in the goal in order to bank them; concede before doing so and those points will be lost. Futsal, on the other hand, is much more like a standard game of six-a-side, with fouls punished as normal and no walls to stop the ball going out of play.
No matter the mode you’ll be rewarded for flair. Individual players earn points every time they beat someone on the pitch using skill moves, which are executed using various combinations of the right stick, shoulder and trigger buttons.
As players level up, these points can be turned into skill traits or spent on unlocking particular party tricks, from relatively beginner stuff such as Rainbow Flicks and Flip-Flaps, to almost balletic combos of fake passes and dummies.
To anyone who’s played FIFA 12 the game will feel fairly familiar, thanks to the inclusion of that game’s Player Impact Engine and Tactical Defending. The major controls are also the same and even the least flamboyant player can pick up FIFA Street and pull off a few basic tricks in no time. In execution, however, it’s very different. This is football in microcosm. It’s more about individual battles than defence-piercing runs or subtle teamwork.
Because the action moves so quickly and the small pitches easily get clogged with bodies, manually selecting the player you want to control can be frustrating, but the sprint button is your friend – a quick 10-yard burst can normally put you in front of the man with the ball. At such close quarters and with touches often being featherlight it can also be easy to win a 1-on-1 and still accidentally leave without the ball.
But these are minor gripes. Despite the almost constant showboating, the satisfaction of stringing together a combo of moves that’d leave Lionel Messi open-mouthed before nutmegging the keeper doesn’t wear off quickly. Equally, a last-ditch, match-saving block that wins you a 4-a-side tournament in Portsmouth is just as fist-pump-inducing as it is in the FA Cup final on FIFA 12.
For all its shared DNA, this is a very different world to FIFA 12. Pinpoint 40-yard passes have no place, there is no offside and there are only three different pre-set tactical systems. For football fans who enjoy the twists and turns of a football match, and not just the ones at the feet of its more flamboyant players, FIFA Street might feel like a stunted version of the beautiful game. But it’s certainly no ugly duckling.