Like most of you, I’ve been playing the demo of FIFA Street. Here’s what I think.
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When the FIFA Street demo released early last week on XBOX Live, I must have been one of the first to play it, having sneakily found a download link on the Swedish marketplace. I was pretty excited to play it, having been treated to EA’s inevitable PR machine over the last few months, and I had high hopes for a game which might emphasise fun, fair, and relaxed gameplay. If delivered, this would have made a pleasurable alternative from the experience in EA’s primary footballing option which practically epitomises the word frustrating.
My first few games against the CPU were pretty promising. The game felt smooth, albeit far too easy against the AI, and the new street-dribble controls were somewhat of a revelation. It’s strange trying to get used to a game which is both very different, and very similar to FIFA, so I spent a while being confused about which buttons to use when, especially given that EA’s controller customisation options inexplicably didn’t allow me to mimic the defensive controls I use on FIFA.
EA’s decision to simplify the trick controls, both by removing their dependence on your players direction and by radically changing up the combinations worked against me, and for a while I was finding it harder to trick on FIFA Street than on FIFA. In future, where possible, EA should seek to make the controls on the two games as similar as they can, in order to ease swapping between the franchises.
These were acceptable annoyances though, and for the most part playing against the CPU was enjoyable, even if it didn’t take me long to be racking up 5 – 10 goal wins.
The scales fell
The main event though with a game like FIFA Street was always going to be the local multiplayer, so I was excited to get down to my first 1v1 match. The experience here was incredibly different to what the game felt like against the easy AI. Now that my opponent was actually trying to win, a lot of very familiar issues reared their ugly heads:
Most of these problems surround the defensive side of the game. EA have made just a few changes from the much criticised tactical defending system as it is in FIFA 12, most notably in reducing the minimum distance a player may contain at. This makes some sense, as FIFA Street plays a much tighter game, but as the containing player’s reaction rate remains far too high, the containing player seems to be attached to the attacker by an invisible wire. For a game which is supposedly all about skill, the defending could barely be more automated, and this is symptomatic of a game where the focus on the attack is tenfold the focus on the defence.
The biggest problem of all is the unpredictability of tackles, and though this is much like FIFA, it seems to happen much more in FIFA Street where the emphasis is on beating your man, and thus lots of mini one-on-one encounters. This all too often leads to a luck based game and a luck based result, which was the number one thing I didn’t want to see out of FIFA Street.
That’s by no means the end of the problems, as it seems that the impact engine’s flaws are still as alive and well as ever. I haven’t seen many outright bugs (eg. missing legs), but I’ve seen many cases of players going tumbling ludicrously in a variant of the sport where fouling and heavy contact should be extremely rare. Contact on and off the ball is very common, and often goes into the territory of absolutely egregious fouling, and major impeding of attackers. Without a referee in the demo’s modes (and in most of the game’s modes), this often turns gameplay into an absolute farce. Worst of all, because futsal is not included, it’s very hard for us to know how much the referee will help.
Ideally, FIFA Street should have been a game where physical contact was minimised, but thanks to the impact engine, it’s anything but. There is nothing more annoying than nutmegging, or otherwise beating a player only for him to body check you as you try to pass him. I can’t believe this is what EA had in mind either, and we will have to wait until FIFA 13 to see if they can finally sort these impact engine problems out. Arguably (and I’d say this for FIFA 12 too) it would be better not to have bothered with the impact engine at all. It’s a case of too much pain for too little gain: super realistic impacts may mean a revolution for a rugby, ice hockey, or American football game, but the flaws in FIFA’s impact engine are causing no end of problems here.
The attacking side of the game is hardly unblemished, and it didn’t take me long to remember precisely why I hate assisted controls. It’s not so much the fact that it’s skill-less, it’s more that it seems to come up with endless numbers of ways of totally misinterpreting what I want it to do. I don’t have a major problem with having one control system, nor do I have a major problem with having that system being assisted, but that system must at least be reasonably consistent. Given that there seems to be practically no passing error whatsoever in the game, I really shouldn’t be thinking to myself that I could do better on manual, but that is how it feels. Some serious work needs to be done on making the assisted passing choose passes more intelligently: assistance all too often hinders simple, or more intricate play while allowing the impossible.
It would also be nice if players wouldn’t decide to over complicate matters for no reason. Again and again I have lost the ball because my player has decided to do something in a convoluted manner as opposed to doing it simply, and well. A perfect example of this is when trying to make a lay off pass from street ball control, where instead of just rolling the ball away, your player decides to roll under himself before passing, often causing you to lose the ball. These moments can be characterised as ones where the game does something you don’t expect to your detriment. This isn’t always avoidable, but far too often in FIFA Street these things occur to promote ‘skilled’ play. We have a button for flair passing, so there is no reason for the game to automatically make flair passes when you don’t want it to.
I also have some worries in terms of the balance of certain types of skills, particularly with the air beats. Defending against these often feels like a complete guessing game, and there is no reliable way of defending against them. To prevent a panna you can use the closed-leg jockey, but there is no equivalent for countering an air beat. The defender is left to try and run backwards to trap the ball as it falls, but whether this happens and whether you lock into the ball’s path is anyone’s guess.
FIFA Street does hold up a little better when it comes to the general team AI on show. Where FIFA 12’s AI is most definitely the #1 problem, FIFA Street’s AI is mostly passable. Primarily this is because FIFA Street’s AI doesn’t have to do nearly so much. There are fewer players, no offside rule to contend with, and the genereal defensive strategy is to man-mark each player. The much simplified strategic game will help too as you won’t have to worry about cheap and exploitative formations, while it still does offer you some choice of how your team plays.
The opponent AI is perhaps not so great, but it’s hard to tell in a demo which is restricted to the easiest setting. It would be reasonable to expect that this will be mostly resolved in the full game, even if the AI has shown a tendency to score some absolutely bizarre own goals now and again. The only real question is why on earth EA would choose to restrict the demo in this way: one can only hope they have nothing to hide.
The goalkeeper AI though is a bit of a disaster. On the bright side, EA do seem to have reduced the reaction rates of the keepers to a more human level, but without any substantial improvements to their anticipation, positioning, and parrying, it all too often leads to silly and soft goals. Without the ridiculous reaction speeds, it’s revealing how awful FIFA’s goalkeepers are, and this is surely a prime area to work on for future FIFAs. While they are still this poor, I would seriously suggest unrealistically increasing their ability to hold the ball, as well as improving intelligence so that they parry away to safety more often, something they seem almost incapable of doing in FIFA Street.
The crux of the problem
In many cases with FIFA Street, I think EA would have been better off making things a little less random. Make tackles, saves, and beats, a little more cut and dry, and in doing so, making the game feel less random. I know EA are pushing the ‘authentic’ angle with FIFA Street, but frankly it’s hard to swallow. Street is less authentic than the not-particularly-authentic FIFA, and in many cases it would be nice if they prioritised balanced gameplay rather than this frustrating faux reality.
First on the list of not-remotely-realistic would be the complete lack of personality, particularly as every player can do every trick (outside of World Tour). The only really useful attribute seems to be strength, which is a massive shame considering that you would expect that FIFA Street would not mimic FIFA in this respect.
For a game which is advertising its newfound authenticity to differentiate itself from the old FIFA Street games, it’s just not good enough, and nor is the lack of noticeable difference in the way players perform tricks. I don’t have a huge problem with this in general, but it kills the pretence of authenticity on the spot. It’s inarguable that FIFA Street is no longer the hilariously arcadey game that its predecessors were, but no-one should be kidded by this spurious marketing spiel.
It’s not especially surprising when you consider that the primary intended userbase for FIFA Street are the very same people who are infatuated with FIFA skill videos that can be found by the bucketload on YouTube. It has to be said that the popularity of skill videos is nothing less than phenomenal. Montages of skilful goals are watched by literally millions of viewers online, and the talent some of the makers have as entertainers and creators is creditable.
At the same time, I cannot watch them without feeling slightly bitter. While these goals are sometimes fairly impressive, they tend to be so in the sense that a video of someone playing Tony Hawks, or SSX might be. Where I find real life montages of goals and skills exhilarating to watch there is no similarity to the cheesy, repetitive, and unrealistic videos that seem to be the taste of the moment. FIFA Street is designed for this style of play, and I think it’s pretty smart for EA to aim to sell a second game this year (and potentially in future years) to the group who seem to be happiest with the current game, and, a large portion of UT players who’ve already shown no qualms in giving EA extra money.
I can only hope that now that there is a game absolutely made for this group, the main FIFA games can try to move back towards a more grounded realism. I’m not exactly holding my breath: my cynicism informs me that we’re likely to see FIFA continue to be a sandbox for silly skills, rather than beautiful football. FIFA Street is definitely different, but it’s the areas where it is similar that let it down. It hits its market fairly well but I’d struggle to imagine many who aren’t already fans of FIFA are likely to see this as the reason and moment to jump in. FIFA Street may add a new perspective to the FIFA franchise, but it also shares far too many of its problems.
World Tour, Online, and Local Multiplayer
In World Tour mode, a snippet of which can be played in the demo, I think EA are on to a bit of a winner. I really like the idea of building up your very own grass roots street team, I love the innovation of being able to pull your friends characters into your game, and it’s all presented with a high level of polish.
I think it’s a bit of a pity that the friend downloading is more or less restricted to just a visual thing. I’d certainly prefer it if they were synchronised into your game so that you actually got to play with their player as they were in their game (some kind of cap would probably be necessary), but it’s still a great idea and one that should be built on in the future. I’m also a fan of the way the upgrade system is handled, and this does ensure that, even if personality is missing with the real teams you will at least get personality in your own team as you have to make tough choices about what you want each player to learn. How much that will continue to be true when your team reaches it peak is an unknown, but, it’s a great inclusion either way.
The question here, as with any offline mode, is whether the AI will be able to provide enough entertainment, challenge, and variety to satisfy someone over the long term. I’m not sure, but I think it’s probably going to be the best FIFA Street has to offer. This is where FIFA’s offline modes fall, but hopefully with FIFA Street, they’ll get it right.
Due to the issues outlined in the above section, in terms of the randomness, and potential lack of balance in play, I seriously worry about how FIFA Street will be online. We have seen this kind of thing play out on FIFA for years, and the tendency is that it leads to accusations (warranted or otherwise) of scripting, fury about cheats and exploiters, and a game which more often than not makes you feel that the score is completely unjustified. I feel much the same way in regards to online team play’s inclusion. Without Clubs, and presumably without an improved player feedback calculation (or, God forbid, having your player’s score based on the skill points that evaluate offline performance), I find it hard to see how it won’t be a cesspool of selfish play. I may of course be totally wrong, but, that would be my fear.
The decision not to include Clubs (while perhaps reasonable due to time/cost limitations) is a great pity, as the game seems practically made for it, or else an online World Tour mode where your club is made up of your friends. Hopefully, should FIFA Street’s sales justify EA making a sequel, that mode will be included next time around.
The deal breaker for me though, is the lacking appeal of the local multiplayer. I wanted a game which I could relax and enjoy, not having to baby sit my AI, or suffer with unavoidable goal after unavoidable goal, but that simply isn’t what FIFA Street seems to provide. It’s a huge pity, because I think that between its game modes and match variants, particularly Futsal and Panna, FIFA Street might have real promise. Unfortunately, and this was unanimous amongst the friends I was playing with, FIFA Street is at least as frustrating as fun.
For these reasons, and only based on the demo, I haven’t pre ordered FIFA Street. I’ll give the early release a try, but my expectations are pretty low. It’s not going to give me much that I don’t already get in FIFA, and it probably irritates me even more than FIFA. Most importantly, due to a variety of issues (particularly the lack of manual), I don’t find it anywhere near as satisfying as FIFA can be when it plays well.
I hope that those who do go on to buy FIFA Street get what they’re looking for, but I would warn against huge optimism about how the online modes will turn out. Hopefully when playing the early release I’ll change my mind, and in that eventuality I’ll make sure to mention it. Failing that, my mind is now firmly set on the main event to come: FIFA 13.