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FIFA Street Preview: Gameplay

Streets ahead?

*The build of FIFA Street we played was an Alpha version of the game and was not representative of the final product. We played on the Xbox 360 and all online functionality was disabled*

Street Ball Control

One of the biggest changes to the gameplay in FIFA Street comes in the form of Street Ball Control, which is an evolution of Precision Dribble which we all know from FIFA 12. This time Street Ball Control is initiated by holding L2, but instead of being mobile you’re now stationary. You then use the left stick to manoeuvre the ball with incredibly accuracy from left to right, front to back and anywhere in between. This allows you to tease a defender in to a tackle, shifting the ball away in a flash, or to maintain possession in extremely tight spaces.

What Street Ball Control also does is face you up to your opponent as soon it becomes active. This removes a lot of the finicky positional issues that Precision Dribble suffers from but more importantly it enforces the one-on-one essence of street football. If you want to use standard dribble or sprint you still can, but when using Street Ball Control it’s all about high control fidelity and ultimately, trying to embarrass your opponent with intricate footwork.

Now you can’t just stand still all the time no matter how precise the ball control is, which is why the real joy of Street Ball Control is found in the transitions. You can perform any myriad of skill moves direct from Street Ball Control but how you transition in and out of them is where the real success of the system is found.  A tap of R2 (sprint) will burst your player out of Street Ball Control in an instant and then it’s all down to your timing, the skill move and the exit angle as to whether you beat the man or not.

Street Ball Control is new and exciting but it will take people time to get used to it, especially when you factor in the added complexity of ball movement, plus learning all the skill moves. It’s what it adds to the flow of FIFA Street matches that’s so impressive though because it gives things a pleasing ebb and flow that FIFA 12’s break neck pace always fails to capture. There’s a genuine reason to slow things down in FIFA Street and the cat and mouse duels that Street Ball Control instigates all over the pitch are a joy to experience.

Skill Moves

Now FIFA Street wouldn’t be FIFA Street without skill moves and there are loads of them, some familiar and plenty brand new. What’s nice is that the fundamental moves (step overs, body feints, heel chop, etc) are now even easier to perform than ever before with only swishes of the right analogue stick required. Other skill moves require Street Ball Control (L2) to be held, some L1, some R1, some RS and others, a mad combination of any of the above. How difficult you want things to get from a control perspective is kind of up to you really and the harder the combinations get, the more elaborate the skill moves become.

Learning combinations is one thing but there are hidden depths to FIFA Street’s skill moves that depend entirely on the context of the move. For example, if you’re using Street Ball Control and you drag the ball all the way over to the right and complete a rainbow flick (back/forwards) your player will do a rainbow flick. But, if you drag the ball directly behind you and complete the same combination, you’ll still get a rainbow flick, but the animation of the move will be slightly different. This adds an awful lot of visual depth to FIFA Street but it also entices you to continue to experiment with ball position even once a skill move is learnt, to find that special animation that maximises the eye candy of beating a defender. That only covers things on the deck as well because once the ball is airborne another world of pain opens up for your opponent and some moves are designed solely for taunting and showboating.

The other notable change is that skill move input is no longer tied to the direction that your player is facing like in FIFA 12. With such a huge variety of moves on offer this would have made FIFA Street an impossible mess to navigate with the control pad, so the decision to keep skill move input the same no matter which way your player is facing is a good one. Because the arenas are much smaller the players invariably get closer to each other than ever before and this massively reduces thinking time when performing skill moves, making them feel instinctive and more natural than FIFA 12.

Everyone knows I’m not a fan of skill moves in the main FIFA series because a lot of the moves are too elaborate, too repeatable and for me simply aren’t suitable for a game which professes to be a simulation. In FIFA Street that’s all thrown out the window because for the first time the context of skill moves is correct. The street is where these moves belong and the simplification of basic moves, combined with the added difficulty of others, contributes towards what is essentially the ultimate FIFA skill move playground, providing depth and intrigue on every level.

Tactical Defending

With such a vast arsenal of skill move weaponry at the feet of the world’s best attacking players in FIFA Street, you’re going to need to be sound defensively. Fortunately Tactical Defending is back and it’s pretty much the same as in FIFA 12 although you can now get much closer to the attacker when at the shortest Contain distance – a crucial change.

There’s no slide tackling purely because it represents an instant foul in street football so defending well is all about using standing tackle, Contain and getting your timing right. If you miss a tackle in FIFA 12 there’s more often than not someone to cover you but in FIFA Street if beaten, you’re completely left for dead. Some people might not like that feeling of helplessness but for me it adds incredible tension and importance to each and every one on one duel.

The standing tackle is still a “lunge” and how powerful that lunge is, depends entirely on player ability. The problem with the standing tackle system is that you still don’t have any control over the direction of the tackle once you initiate it. The forwards now have Street Ball Control to manoeuvre the ball from left and right in an instant, so it seems odd that as a defender you can’t combat that power by having an input in to tackle direction yourself?

The balance between defence and attack is actually really good though, and neither feels over-powered. But, defensively whether you win the ball or not still feels like a lottery at times and in such a focussed environment, a one button defensive mechanic against the wealth of skill moves on offer feels a little bit light weight.  It’s more of a missed opportunity than anything I feel because the reinvented FIFA Street brand would have allowed the team the freedom to do something a bit different with Tactical Defending but with all that said this complaint doesn’t really harm the experience in any discernible way.

Shooting/Passing/Crossing

The most pleasing thing about the shooting and passing in FIFA Street is that it doesn’t feel Assisted at all and the game wide configuration contains a pleasing amount of direction and power based error. When you start playing with the better players in the game this feeling is obviously minimised but at the start of World Tour mode with only basic players, passing and shooting deficiencies are certainly felt.

The control layout for these elements is identical to FIFA 12 and you can still use through balls, finesse shots and skill passes (L1 and Pass) which now finally feel at home and can also be very useful to help divert the ball around an opponent or off an adjacent wall.

The ball physics are also exemplary in FIFA Street which is to be expected after the huge leap forwards we saw in FIFA 12. With the numbers of players reduced, and the playing field condensed, there are more subtle deflections to admire and of course a multitude of different surfaces like walls and fences from which the ball will bounce very differently. The attention to detail in areas like this feels remarkable at times when playing FIFA Street and even though elaborate goals and fun are the name of the game, having it all grounded by real physics truly forces home that feeling of authenticity.

AI

With the variety of game modes on offer in FIFA Street (which Tom is previewing) coding the AI to respond correctly in all the different scenarios the game offers I’m sure was no easy task. The AI was one of the things we were told was least finished in the build we played but that didn’t prevent a few promising behaviours shining through.

In FIFA Street you could be playing in an arena with any number of different goal shapes and sizes from tiny one-foot goals, to Futsal goals, or 5-a-side goals which are quite wide but low. We’d become fairly accustomed to the AI’s shooting behaviours in the smaller arenas so when we experienced a wide open 6v6 Futsal tournament it was incredibly refreshing. Mainly because for the first time the AI was actually shooting from distance due to the increased goal size and regularly tested our keeper from range. It’s a small detail but it’s an incredibly important one if FIFA Street’s AI is going to have the depth required to add the longevity we’d all like to see.

The only niggle we found with shooting was that on the Hard difficulty setting there were probably too many occasions where a wayward shot would let us off the hook. That’s probably down to tuning and balancing as much as anything but none the less it was a minor gripe we had.

The AI of course will harnesses the power of Street Ball Control against you and it most definitely will bamboozle and embarrass you with its own skill moves, especially on Medium and Hard difficulties. We’ll need much more time to judge just how good the offline AI is in FIFA Street but even in the short time we had, it was displaying some promising signs of street football savvy.

Verdict

I guess the most critical success factor for FIFA Street on the pitch is that it stands out compared to its behemoth big brother FIFA 12. Simply copying the gameplay from FIFA 12 and putting it indoors, with half the players would have been a total disaster but that was never a worry of mine to be honest and the message from the team at EAC has always been, “FIFA Street is it’s own game”.

And standout it does because it’s a completely different experience to any FIFA game before it and personally I do think it can co-exist with FIFA 12 because of the obvious distinctions in style. Many of FIFA 12’s gameplay features were built up as revolutionary during 2011 and sadly most fell short of that benchmark. However in Street Ball Control, FIFA Street has something that feels genuinely special and in terms of the impact it has in instilling the essence of street football alone, it’s every inch the revolution.

Gary and his team have worked wonders with FIFA Street’s gameplay and although a few minor issues turned our heads for just a moment, on the whole it’s an incredibly rewarding and fun game to play, which in itself is refreshing for FIFA. On the pitch FIFA Street is more than a credible alternative to FIFA 12 and in fact comparing the two probably doesn’t do justice to the way FIFA Street comfortably stands tall as its own game, on its own merits.

It was a little later than first advertised, but the revolution is finally here.

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