Review by bearsman6

"Just like pickup, except the players have talent."

When EA Big announced that it was going to take the Street franchise and expand it to the NFL, I was skeptical. It promised to deliver a new brand of football free of penalties and obsolete first downs, where clotheslines happen, where taunting is mandatory, and full of style. It seemed too grand a departure from the norm to even have a chance at success… and yet NFL Street is easily the most enjoyable football game I have played in years. It proves that you don’t need a lined field to have a great game of football. Street is the seven-on-seven, ironman football game you played as a little kid with all your friends on the playground. It just does it with all the NFL talent you’ve grown to love and respect. Basically, NFL Street takes football back to its roots – the pickup games – and it does it with Style.

Be prepared for a few shocks the first time you pick up the game. Everything in Street is stylized, though this is far from a criticism. Being seven-on-seven there is much greater detail put into every character model on screen than you might be used to. By having to animate only 14 players, as compared to the normal 22, each individual has an insane amount of detail, which is properly used to add flair. The players are all over-sized, ripped like a steroid addict, while staying amazingly fluid in their movements. Be ready to see caricatures of all your favorite pro players, too! From Ricky William’s dreads to Mike Vick’s headband, the attitude – and Style – of every player on the field is straight out of the locker room. For even the casual observer, it’s a beautiful thing to watch, as several of my roommates found out. Testing has proven, however, that eventually watching will lead to playing, and playing is addictive.

To go with its over-sized players, NFL Street has absolutely frantic pacing. If you’re expecting to take your time waiting for your receivers’ routes to develop, you’ll get really good at picking your QB off the turf following each sack. Additionally, there are no penalties to be found, so nearly anything goes. As an example, hitting the QB as he throws (or slightly after) is encouraged and even rewarded with Style points! Similarly, one of the challenge scenarios requires the player to successfully pitch or lateral the ball six times in one play. That, my friends, is insane. It also takes an enormous amount of Style. Luckily, the new Street offers this in excess.

The crucial piece to Street is, in fact, its Style system. Like with the hoops versions, you can pull off special tricks, jukes, and otherwise insulting maneuvers to add points to your Gamebreaker meter. Once full, you can use that meter to grant an utterly devastating energy boost for your team. One monumental change from the hoops version: Gamebreakers last for an entire drive. They also don’t add or subtract points like in basketball, but they do power up your players to godlike levels. On offense, you’re almost impossible to tackle, and every pass is going to connect; on defense, every hit will cause a fumble or missed catch. It’s entirely possible to play without utilizing the Style button (L1), but since most first downs and otherwise good plays grant style points anyway, it’s unusual to play a full game to 36 without seeing at least one Gamebreaker. Therefore you must learn to use them, and more importantly, you have to learn how to play against them… a fun challenge indeed!

Continuing with its particular brand of Style, there is absolutely no kicking game in NFL Street. Instead of extra points, the offense gets another shot at the endzone. Get in through the air for 2 points or settle for 1 on the ground. Furthermore, without punts and field goals, the offense has four downs to get past the first-down markers, each predetermined regardless of where the ball starts out, or score. In terms of a pickup game, it’s the equivalent of: “those two light poles are a first downs.” This means that you can have first and ten, gain fifteen yards, and then have first and five on the next play. It is entirely possible to go a full drive without ever having a first-and-ten situation. This can be very important, especially on defense. When the game is on the line and you need a stop, every extra yard your opponent has to gain is important. As that might suggest, the game is heavily geared toward offense. Scoring is never really a problem once you get the flow of the game. However, this tends to leave the defenses high and dry. The only exceptions are when the defensive team earns a Gamebreaker, or when the computer AI chimes in to say, “Hey, it’s time for a comeback!” But I will come back to that later…

Your basic play modes include Quick Play, Pickup, Online, and NFL Challenge. Quick Play is your typical setup: choose two squads from the established teams and rosters and pit them against each other. After some unlocking (through hard work in the Challenges), you can even play with the All-Star or Legends teams. Pickup mode, on the other hand, may be the greatest innovation of the entire Street franchise. The computer selects 40 random players from the entire league and lets the players be the captains. Then just like with real pickup games, the captains take alternating picks until both sides have 7. After that, set up the players’ positions and it’s time to play. It even uses the, “you got first pick, so I get ball first,” logic! Online lets you take either an established team or your own and match it against the team of your opponent’s choice (like Quick Play). Predictably, Online adds an entirely new dimension in terms of difficulty, and though there is already cheating it remains a lot of fun.

As is expected of most sports titles today, NFL Street has its own take on a career mode: the NFL Challenge. Basically, you get to create a team of seven scrubs and, through challenges of your offensive and defensive prowess, build up their abilities until even the pro teams can’t compete. This is by far the most impressive and time-consuming part of the game. You have complete control over your team’s appearance, from what shirt they wear with what decals to what logo and colors your team will sport. Height and Weight, along with all the players’ stats, are also at your control, regulated by a finite number of Development Points that you have to earn through the scenario-like challenges. There is so much creative freedom that it’s impossible to think of finding even two identical players online. It’s easily the most immersive create-a-team system I’ve ever seen. You can even personalize each player’s Style moves and taunts! How great is that? Basically, the NFL Challenge is the heart and soul of Street, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

While it may be madly addictive, there are a few major problems with the game’s design. If you’ve played any other football games lately, for example, your first game won’t be pretty. Players used to the Madden or NCAA Football franchises will notice immediately that the change-player button is now circle instead of the nearly universal X. It took me two games to adjust to that change alone. I kept jamming the wrong button while trying to switch for an easy, yet rare, User Pick – another gratifying holdover from the other EA titles. Small things like this seem to plague the game at inopportune times. Controls seem a bit sluggish, especially when trying to juke an opponent. I still can’t guarantee that when I hit the button for a spin, my player will start the motion in time to actually get around the defender. Similarly, my quarterback has been sacked far too many times because his throw’s delivery animation was absurdly slow. Still, you can play around these small things without much trouble.

Perhaps my biggest gripe with the game is its unbelievably unfair AI. It isn’t lacking – you will always have a challenge. It’s just the way the challenge is served to you that becomes nearly unbearable. It seems like the computer is almost absurdly stupid on the lower difficulty levels, and it only gets marginally better on Hard. Then, in the best part of Street, the NFL Challenge mode, you cannot turn computer assist (the come-from-behind AI) off. After countless hours of playing against this, it’s amazing my controller still works; this one, simple, easily correctable feature has pissed me off so badly that the controller seems to fly from my hands regularly. If you’re up by two touchdowns or more, expect the other team to become unstoppable. It is so thoroughly predictable, and yet I still can’t help but launch my controller wherever the spirit desires. Without computer AI, the game is thoroughly enjoyable, but the minute it turns back on, the improbable happens. It’s terrible.

Those faults aside, NFL Street goes all out to get that authentic street-ball feel. The music is on par with all the other EA releases this year. It features a jukebox of some of the hottest artists on the scene, all with songs strangely appropriate to the hard-hitting, arcade-style gameplay. The background music isn’t even the most striking facet of the sound, however. Most notable would be the verbal taunts and cracks made before and after each snap. If you get sacked, expect to hear about it on the next line-up (“I suggest you count to one and throw!”); if you run someone over, expect your own players to rub it in a bit (“And they pay you to do this?”). The taunts are easily one of the most enjoyable parts of the game, especially when supplemented with the mandatory smack during a multiplayer session. However, the lines can get a bit old, particularly after the ‘different and exotic’ voices start sounding the same, which takes nearly no time at all. Additionally, some of the taunts are just dumb. I mean, who cares if you have Internet stocks in better shape than the guy you just hit? My sister has to better lines than that!

Still, Street finds a way to shine. The gameplay is simply too addictive to adequately describe here, and it is only improved with the addition of more friends or online play. The graphics are silky smooth, making every behind-the-back pass and every stylized run believable, especially when followed by a swan dive into the endzone. The style itself is omni-present, but it does nothing but supplement the already phenomenal action on the field. How many other football games start off with warnings like, “You see that wall over there? It’s in bounds. If you hit it, keep running, cause we’re coming for you!” Throw in the Pickup and NFL Challenge modes and you’ve got an arcade football title that makes even the simulations feel lacking.

Street may not be your ideal football game initially, but for anyone willing to try and even slightly interested in the sport, there is surprising depth just begging to be explored. While there are a number of things that could be improved, NFL Street is far from the new kid that can’t throw, can’t catch, and always gets picked last for teams. Street is the stud captain who goes first in the draft and wins every game no matter which side of the ball he’s on. Pick Street up now. You won’t regret it.

Gameplay: 10/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 7/10
Replay: 9/10
Multiplayer: 10/10

Overall: 9/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/30/04

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