Review by Eric43
"LaDainian, come eat your chunky noodle soup!"
When it comes to American Football games, Electronic Arts and the Madden series usually come to mind at some point. Of course, what ensues is a pile of rants about how EA has pushed a buggy piece of garbage onto the market and that how their evil corporate interests have prevented the Godsend 2K Sports studio from producing its own NFL-licensed sequel for themselves to challenge the video game juggernaut. Or maybe you like the Madden games regardless. Either way, in 2004, something good happened. Like a backward pitch to the open receiver run for a touchdown, EA hands off its NFL license to its partner company that doesn't suck that much, EA Big (the makers of SSX Tricky and NBA Street), and told them to make a more arcade-based football game. And they dubbed it NFL Street.
NFL Street is best described as a bizarre mix of Madden, NFL Blitz, and NBA Street. Abstract caricatures of actual NFL players in take to the street in seven-on-seven football action. Every player plays on both offense and defense, so it's to your advantage to scheme the best setup and take advantage of players' abilities. You can call from a wide variety of run, pass, trick, zone coverage, man-to-man, and blitz plays on offense and defense. There are no special teams which means no kickoffs, field goals, or punts, so you must go for it on 4th down. Once you score a touchdown, the PAT requires the scoring team to run the ball in for one point or pass for two. The ball is then placed nicely deep in the opponent's territory and he has a chance to score a TD. Games last until a specific team scores a set amount of points, which removes the strategic element of managing the clock, but the gameplay is very fun regardless.
The controls are similar to that of a stripped-down Madden. Usually with simple button presses you can unleash bullet passes or devastating tackles on a target. Like Blitz, you have a turbo meter that gives you a speed boost but depletes rather quickly if held down for too long. Big hits, or getting jacked up, is also an apparent part of the game as players can get flipped over or shoved to the ground in a violent manner (there's no late hits, though). However, the game's hokey style of hip-hop ballin' is present so you never feel too stupid for knocking people senseless, plus no one appears to get hurt or injured anyway. The arcade-ish, fast-paced gameplay is apparent and while the playbook is limited to about 50 plays, there is enough strategy to make it feel like you're actually involved in the process instead of abusing a few gimmicks (such as pumping up your 3-point skills in NBA Hangtime and going to town). Bobbled passes can be caught, tackled players can pitch the ball to nearby teammates, and defenders can dive ridiculous distances to take out a receiver's legs. If you defend against the run, you will get burned by the pass and vice versa. One would think Madden's laundry list of so-called glitches and flaws would carry over to NFL Street, but I had no doubts playing this game whatsoever.
Every team in the NFL is available, along with a few unlockable teams. Each team has a roster of about 12 players, but you can only choose 7 for a game. Each player has a list of stats in stuff such as Speed, Tackling, and Catching, and when you consider that each player needs to play both sides of the ball, you try to mix and match as best as you can, such as finding a Running Back who also plays a decent Linebacker as well. With only seven players, you can choose to buff your offense or defense by picking players that specifically play on that side of a ball, as a Wide Receiver will never be a perfect subsitute for a Defensive Back and so forth. My only complaint is that there will always be a few players that are basically paper-weights on offense (QB's are generally terrible at everything except Passing) so the lack of specialization usually leads to a few mismatches here and there. There's also a Pickup Mode in which you and your opponent pick seven out of a pool randomly selected players around the league out of a pool, and create different teams each time, which gives you the pleasure to design a unique team on the spot each time.
There are eight fields to choose from and each has their own features and whatnot. These include the infamous EA Field, a junkyard in Detroit, a warehouse in Miami, and a Spanish courtyard in Houston. Some fields are wide while others are narrow, but most have walls in certain locations that assist the ball handler in braking tackles. Some fields are also slippery and can cause a player to lose his footing on occasion. Without regard to field dimension, the fields are generally cosmetic in nature but it does reinforce the idea of playing football on the streets. Word.
This game also incorporates style points and the powerful Gamebreaker in accordance to NBA Street. By doing good things, such as getting first downs, turnovers, and by doing style moves, you charge a meter that when used will make you unstoppable for one possession. On offense, this usually leads to a touchdown while on defense, a turnover. They usually require a lot of effort to get so generally, you will run the risk of fumbling the ball or giving up a first down to try these moves now and then.
The NFL Challenge is the game's basic career mode. Create a team of seven players and modify their appearance however you like. There are plenty of challenges played against NFL teams, such as Get 2 sacks and score 24 points against the Panthers, or Shut out the Rams to 14, which award you stat points to boost your players' abilities as well as new articles of clothing and other miscellaneous items. I had a lot of fun with this mode because I could customize a team to my interests. The weak point is the Ladder matches the game throws at you every so often. These matches require you to beat NFL teams in basic games to 36 points. As the ladder went on, the AI became rather cheap and would pick off every pass, requiring you to run a bit too much and struggle as your top-notch O-Line crumbles to an average D-Line. Without these cheap stunts, the AI is average at best. In general, it takes about 10-15 hours to beat this mode so it can keep you occupied for a little while if you wish.
The visuals are lively for the PS2. The players look a bit cartoony in nature but they do have a fair share of animations, particularly some funny celebrations upon getting a touchdown, a sack, or a turnover. Said celebrations usually include the player dancing, beating his fist against his chest, or pointing while saying "You can't stop me!." The game looks best in animation and there are only a few hangups in the players' movement during the action. Less can be said about the environments, which, up-close, look particularly blocky, but little doodads, such as park benches and trash cans do give each field some redeeming value. The framerate remains quick throughout the whole experience so there are thankfully no complaints to file here.
The sound generally consists of a lot of kid-friendly taunts and loudmouthing between the players as well as a few big crunches for the hits. The voices lean towards generic, as hearing Peyton Manning speak in a macho voice made no sense to me. The menu soundtrack includes about 10 songs, mostly rap with some Less Than Jake/Good Charlotte/Korn throw in for no good reason. The in-game music is more phenominal and includes a couple of non-vocal hip-hop tracks that loops except to cue a turnover or a touchdown. This music is catchy and generally fits the street football mood well.
NFL Street may venture into the dangerous territory of NFL Blitz, but it does some things differently and what you get is an accessible football game that's easy to learn and fun to play. Unless you're petty about arcade football games or EA in general, it's worth a try for just five bucks in your game store's used-games bin.
Presentation: 8/10 Football with the usual hip-hop motif. Game looks good unless you can't stand rap music or overtly built football players.
Gameplay: 9/10 An arcade-style Madden with big hits and crazy moves. Gameplay is fair and easy to get used to. NFL Challenge is fun until you get to the later Ladder matches.
Graphics: 8/10 Players' animations look good in motion with a few minute flaws. Environments aren't technically proficient but are more visually vibrant to make up for it.
Sound 8/10 A ton of generic voice clips are a mainstay for any street game and the expected hip-hop music is more enjoyable than it should be.
Replay Value: 9/10 Only a few basic modes but football games, particularly this one, are fun to play with friends. Pickup Mode and NFL Challenge offer more variety to the package.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/04/08, Updated 01/08/08
Game Release: NFL Street (US, 01/13/04)
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