Arcade sport games have been going around for quite some time - atleast ever since graphics in the gaming world could separate realism from surrealism. More recently however, EA have been targeting this genre in an all out assault with such series as NBA Street, FIFA Street and NFL Street (although funnily enough baseball is probably just as popular on the 'street' as any one of those). In today's review, we check out NFL Street 2, the latest addition to the series, promising to deliver the same high octane gameplay of the original with some fresh new features. As it turns out though, these new features may not have been enough to keep the series off the streets, so to speak.
NFL Street 2, right off the bat, impresses with its compilation of game modes. These include Own the City, Street Events, NFL Challenge, NFL Gauntlet, Pickup Game and a tutorial. Each are quite unique, and offer a load of gameplay. Own the City allows you to begin with a created player, whom you build a street team around as the game progresses. This is sort of the standard career mode without the story, with Xzibit as your guide. NFL Challenge and NFL Gauntlet are similar; in Challenge you build a team to take on other NFL teams, and in Gauntlet you choose an existing NFL team and do the same. Pickup Game is a fantasy draft mode where you pick a team from the included players, some of which are unlocked in key milestones within the game (usually legends). Tutorial is of course self explanatory, and covers pretty much everything in the game bar a few minor special functions.
And then you have Street Events, which is a collection of the modes you'll find elsewhere in the game plus a few more, playable in an 'exhibition' style. These include Crush the Carrier, Jump Ball Battle, Open Field Showdown, 2 minute challenge, 4 on 4 and Quick Strike. All are, again, very unique and quite impressive. The most notable is Crush the Carrier, which is an extremely fun version of "Kill the Dill with the Pill" - a bunch of players are put on the field with one ball and no teams, who ever racks up the most points wins, were as holding the ball gains points, and so does tackling. Fumbles are very common as to mix up the game, and the result is nothing short of an absolute blast of a game mode. Another worthy mention is 4 on 4, which is, funnily enough 4 vs 4 football with a few rules changes - no QB scrambling, and a 5 second count down to throw the ball. As you can imagine, it is intensely action packed.
New to Street 2 is the ability to utilise walls on the field, that is, you can launch off them to pass the ball, catch the ball, or just to jump over defenders when you have the ball. At first I was predicting this may have been somewhat of a useless feature with limited functionality but in all honesty, I couldn't imagine the game without it - similar to the way I anticipated Madden's 'Hit Stick'. Not only is using the wall an effective way of moving the ball down field, it is almost essential to utilise in the tougher games. At times it does feel as if the wall moves are scripted as they can be too effective, but a painful showcase of your tiny Wide Receiver being slammed into the wall like it was an Ice Hockey game by a 260lb Linebacker quickly dispels that feeling - it is definitely a do or die maneuver.
The game, as it would seem, is heavily tailored for offensive gameplay, and this does become a bit of an annoyance in most of the game modes after a brief period of time. Considering the way to win most games is the first team to reach a particular score, defense seems to be primarily non existent, so when selecting your players it is obviously a better strategy to just select a team consisting entirely of offensive players, seeing as your team play both offense and defense. While offensive ratings do seem to matter when you have the ball, defensive ratings don't seem to matter a whole lot when you don't, so a Wide Receiver or even a Quarter Back seem completely capable of tackling and intercepting whenever called upon. I can understand this is an arcade game but why arcade and defense don't get along is beyond me - I think a balanced game with both offensive and defensive presence would be just as fun if not more enjoyable.
Another balancing issue in the gameplay is the difficulty. At times the game can be incredibly easy, allowing you to storm to victory in a sequential series of swift offensive drives, whilst at other times it can be incredibly difficult, almost to the point where the outcome is out of your control (Madden's "Come back mode" has nothing on NFL Street 2). "Gamebreaker", a powerup which makes you unstoppable, is of course a contributor to this, but "Gamebreaker 2" is even more so - now all you have to do is sit back and watch Gamebreaker 2 do all the work for you in a predetermined animation either scoring for you or defending a play for you. These only come about maybe twice a game at the most but they are still a little frustrating. While I do enjoy a challenge in my sport gameplay, one that is actually achievable is preferable - even outside of Gamebreaker at times the CPU just can not be stopped, which comes back to the lack of defense issue. The team who starts with the ball can often win a game based purely on scoring every time they have possession; a relatively normal strategy to see unfold.
If you keep up to date with the latest NFL front office moves like me you'll be disappointed to hear that roster movements in Street 2 are not possible, so as it stands Randy Moss is a Viking for life in Street 2. On top of this, not all the stars seem to be present - for example, LaVar Arrington is not present on the Redskins, and although there were complications with him and the NFLPA, he does feature in Madden 2005 so I can't see why he wouln't in Street 2, but I'll give EA the benefit of the doubt and presume those complications were not yet completely settled. In any case, the ability to change the rosters should have definitely been implemented, as without it, the "fresh factor" takes yet another hit, creating more repetition.
Visually the game isn't necessarily stunning, but it does work well. The obvious physical exaggeration of many player models sets the arcade presence, which is of course backed up by the incredibly arcade gameplay - somewhat reminiscent of the "NBA Jam" days, only in football form. The game also relies completely on 3D graphics to portray player faces and this works out marvelously; almost every player is recognisable by their face, with more exaggeration in play here on a few player's facial features. Animations are relatively impressive, mainly when concerning the flow of the game - at no time does the game feel disjointed and this is partially contributed towards the fluent animations. Again, it is not exactly the best looking Xbox game about, but it achieves what it sets out to do, and that is a cartoony arcade visual experience.
Control wise the game is reasonably complex but nothing the handy in-game tutorial can't explain. If you're an avid Madden gamer you'll want to do the tutorial as the controls are very different. For example, "A" is stiff arm, and "R Trigger" is used for running faster - go figure eh? Perhaps a slightly more Madden like control structure would have been better because I'm sure a considerable amount of Street fans also enjoy a game of Madden, and this just confuses matters when switching between the two. The audio is decent - sound effects are ample with big hit sounds nothing short of bone crunching. Music wise the game has a relatively varied soundtrack consisting mainly of rap and hip hop tracks. Often EA Sports recycle a few tracks from game to game but it seems NFL Street 2 primarily consists of new songs to EA Games, which is a relief.
NFL Street 2 is a fun and addictive game, but suffers from limited appeal; the game is at its peak in the first few hours of play, but after that is drops in freshness. It has successfully simplified the NFL experience to a level even the most un-Americanised gamer can enjoy, but the lack of Live has given the PAL version a serious disadvantage leaving a sizeable gap in the possible enjoyment of this title. There is still quite a lot of gameplay on offer here but unfortunately the fundamentals remain basically the same throughout creating a rather repetitive title in a short amount of time - the game is either too easy, or way too hard, seemingly never in between. On top of this, the obvious bias towards offense creates a fun display of scoring at first, but an unsatisfying result in the mid to long term, ultimately becoming the icing on a stale cake. The new wall moves do add a new dimension, but with little else added to the core gameplay, the NFL Street series appears to be yet another EA title offering only marginal improvements in each revision. Whilst the exclusive NFL license will protect Madden NFL from being toppled, when it comes to arcade gameplay I'm sure the fans out there care more for gameplay than licensing, so it will be interesting to see how Take2 and the rest of the smaller players out there can react to this genre.