Now that Midway's Blitz franchise has gone "pro," what's a fan of arcade-style football games to do? EA Sports Big has answered by releasing NFL Street, an energetic seven-on-seven football game in the vein of the NBA Street series. Interestingly, the developer behind the game, EA Tiburon, is the same one that has been responsible for EA Sports' Madden titles. Don't expect much in the way of realism here, though, because NFL Street is all about flashy, over-the-top action. For the most part, it succeeds in filling the void left by NFL Blitz Pro while incorporating the elements that made the NBA Street games highly entertaining.
Not surprisingly, NFL Street is far from an ordinary-looking football game. Urban playgrounds replace stadiums, coaches and cheerleaders are nowhere in sight, players are helmetless, and the NFL stars are larger than life. Even the pigskin has been jazzed up, sporting a colorful--and strangely hypnotic--appearance.
Unquestionably, though, the main attraction of NFL Street's graphics is the players themselves. All the NFL stars included (more than 300) have been rendered with a considerable amount of detail and attitude, though some do look rather clumsy. You should have no trouble recognizing your favorite players in the game, despite their initially off-putting cartoon-like form. Detailed clothing, accessories, and facial texturing help flesh out the players, and with no helmets covering their noggins, you have a clear view of their frightful mugs.
While the players' faces may not be things of beauty, their smooth moves more than make up for any deficiencies in attractiveness. Players animate fluidly and with vigor: They don't just carry the ball to the end zone--they do so with flair. Jukes, spins, hurdles, and dives are seemingly powered by jet fuel, while collisions and tackles are punishing enough to fill you with a sense of glee or discomfort, depending on whether or not you're on the receiving end. Flashy trick moves and rowdy celebrations/taunts (enhanced by accurate lip-syncing) add another layer of excitement to the on-field antics.
The visual excitement does not end there. Upon executing a GameBreaker, a special power-up move, the graphics become even wilder. GameBreakers introduce moody lighting and disorienting motion-blur. Apart from receiving an edge in performance, the team that executes a GameBreaker receives a graphical kick, with players glowing and displaying trails. Of course, NFL Street is not the first football game to feature juiced-up athletes and outrageous special effects, as Midway's Blitz games have been showcasing those sorts of things for years.
NFL Street nevertheless differentiates itself, visually, by having the action unfold in a variety of unconventional settings, such as on a beach or in a warehouse, rather than inside stadiums. Each of the eight fields is peppered with animated elements and littered with destructible objects (crates, trash cans, chairs, etc.). For instance, cheering spectators watch the action unfold at EA Field--modeled after the grassy expanse outside EA's San Francisco office--while flowing traffic and falling snow greet you at The Pit, the New York field. There's even a rooftop environment, fittingly named Da Roof, which has a flickering neon sign providing ambiance.
Unfortunately, background objects, like buildings and trees, are quite bland, and the textures and color palettes of some environments are unexciting. As a result, playing on certain fields can be a dull experience. Worse, there is a bit of graininess to the backgrounds (more noticeable on some fields than on others), partly due to minor shimmering issues.
NFL Street's graphics also lose points due to their multiplatform roots. Although extremely stylish and artistically strong, they do not impress nearly as much on a technical level. Granted, the frame rate is unfaltering, and the game supports progressive scan and widescreen display. However, the graphics clearly have not been designed around the strengths of the Xbox, resulting in textures, character models, and environments that fail to exploit the systems capabilities. This is easy enough to overlook, though, since NFL Street's graphics are generally sound, if not especially eye popping.
Naturally, the sound effects in NFL Street have been exaggerated to suit the style and intensity of the gameplay. Confrontations between the offensive and defensive line sound truly like a clash of titans. Indeed, collisions, tackles, and sacks pack more punch than those of traditional football games. Yet, if you crave realistic sounds, you may derive pleasure from hearing the unique ambient noises within each environment, including the buzzing neon sign of the rooftop field, noisy traffic of the New York field, and soothing ocean of the West Coast field.
Pleasure quickly turns into annoyance once the players start talking trash, however. Although comical and effective in the beginning, the players' remarks become repetitious fast. Hearing the same insults and taunts repeatedly detracts from the mood. Still, the voice work is competent, and you're spared from John Madden's jabber (there's no commentary at all, in fact). But with only a handful of voices to represent the 300-plus NFL pros, most of the players end up sounding alike. A game that relies so heavily on personality surely warrants more variety.
It wouldn't have hurt if the music were a little more varied, too. An adequate selection of licensed rap and rock tunes--from artists such as Korn, Wylde Bunch, Fuel, and Lil' Flip--enliven the menu screens. Conversely, a small number of specially crafted beats by the X-ecutioners play during gameplay. While the in-game music alters to reflect situations on the field (for example, it intensifies during GameBreakers and dampens during replays), the repetitive beats quickly become stale. The game does support custom soundtracks, but as with the licensed tunes, they only play during menu navigation. Due to the dynamic nature of the in-game music, this oversight is understandable, but disappointing nonetheless.
Something that definitely does not disappoint is the game's surround sound. As with most other EA titles that appear on the Xbox, the entire audio package is presented fantastically in Dolby Digital 5.1 to submerse you in sound. Thus, all the hits, grunts, trash talk, and ambient noises surround you, placing you right in the middle of the action. Surround sound simply does not get much better than this in sports games.
Interface/Options : 85
If you dig street art, you will love the look of NFL Street's menus and loading screens. Besides just looking really cool, the menus are very well arranged and easy to navigate, and load times are instant. In addition to standard options, like audio configuration and difficulty adjustment, there are some worthwhile extra features, including behind-the-scenes footage. Sadly, the controls are not adjustable, but a series of tutorial videos teach you the basics of the game while familiarizing you with the control scheme. In fact, the videos go into greater depth about the controls and gameplay than the instruction manual does.
An interactive tutorial would have been beneficial, however, as it will probably take the average gamer a session or two to master the controls, particularly the advanced maneuvers (some involve multiple buttons). The fast-paced gameplay allows little time for an adjustment period, so it could take newcomers a few games until the controls click. Experienced sports gamers, on the other hand, will find that NFL Street's controls are not drastically different from those of a normal football game, save for the presence of trick functions.
Team selection is another area in which NFL Street shares common ground with regular football games. Every team in the NFL is accounted for and rated in performance. In terms of players, each team has roughly a dozen NFL stars from which to assemble a lineup, and a group of legends has been sprinkled in (must be unlocked). Players are rated in 10 categories, including passing, speed, blocking, agility, catching, and tackling. You cannot edit the attributes of the pros, but you can change their positions and equip them with performance-enhancing gear.
Aside from letting you play as the pros, NFL Street lets you create your own teams and players via its robust, easy-to-use editors. The team editor lets you name your team, pick a logo, and choose your colors. Meanwhile, the player editor enables you to edit each team member's appearance, performance, and style (i.e., signature moves and celebrations), with a healthy assortment of choices in each section. The only catch is you need to play through the game's NFL Challenge mode to improve your players' abilities and obtain additional customization options.
While NFL Street lacks the statistical depth of a normal football game, it does keep track of a number of elements. Once you create a profile, the game will record your progress throughout the various game modes, monitoring such things as your record, win percentage, streak, and total points. Additionally, you can check the number of touchdowns, sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions, and GameBreakers you have amassed during the course of play.
Gameplay : 80
NFL Street offers a very loose interpretation of professional football and instead more closely resembles the type of football played among friends--and perhaps prison inmates. Only seven players comprise each team on the field (the same players play offense and defense), with no refs, kickoffs, field goals, timeouts, quarters, or extravagant halftime shows to disrupt the flow of the game. Rather, the action is energized by a great deal of blitzes, fumbles, interceptions, laterals, showboating, and unnecessary roughness. What the game lacks in gracefulness it makes up for in flashiness and explosiveness.
Nevertheless, certain elements are unaltered. Completing downs in an attempt to reach the end zone remains the core of the game. Moreover, you have limited time to set up your play and must be mindful of the sidelines, which tend to be laden with obstacles. Touchdowns are still worth six points, with additional points awarded for successful conversions. As in NBA Street, however, games are played to a set score, revolving around either touchdowns or style points. These are basically the only formalities that exist.
To be truly successful in NFL Street requires favoring style over strategy and flash over fundamentals. Sure, you can score a first down by throwing routine passes, but you won't receive many style points. Style moves are important because they help build up your GameBreaker meter and are needed for victory in certain situations. Pulling the left trigger lets you add style to offensive moves, such as passing, pitching, and spinning (variety and combos are key to scoring the most points). The downside is you are more susceptible to fumbling the ball and throwing interceptions when using style.
Defense, of course, is more about making stops than performing stylish plays, but that does not mean you cannot earn any points in the process. Intercepting passes and causing turnovers are just two ways to earn style points on defense, thus further filling your GameBreaker meter. Once the meter is full, you can enable a GameBreaker to gain the upper hand on offense or defense during an entire drive.
Triggering a GameBreaker on offense nearly guarantees your team a touchdown, whereas triggering it on defense transforms your players into serious terminators. GameBreakers do not make your team unstoppable, however, and turnovers spoil the benefits. What's more, your opponents can cancel out your GameBreaker by issuing one of their own, and vice versa.
As exciting as all this may seem, NFL Street does not fare tremendously well as a single-player experience, at least when compared with other football games. Furthermore, the lack of Xbox Live support lessens the game's multiplayer impact. That's not to say the game is not entertaining, because the main gameplay mode, NFL Challenge, can be rather engaging.
In NFL Challenge, a single-player mode, you're tasked with turning a team of nobodies into superstars. You do so by winning ladder matches against NFL teams to earn tokens, spending them on challenges to acquire development points, special gear, new plays, and even NFL stars to add to your roster. Challenges involve beating teams under special circumstances or performing a series of moves or plays on the field. In either case, you are often at a disadvantage, performance-wise, and must successfully complete the task to win the spoils.
The main problem with the NFL Challenge mode is, on the whole, it tends to frustrate more than it entertains. Since your custom team starts out with weak skills, you are usually greatly overmatched by opponents in ladder matches, never mind that the AI of the opposition is extremely devilish to begin with. The only way to improve your team's performance is to play through increasingly tough challenges, which cost tokens. You start with 800 tokens (not enough to purchase every challenge) and earn additional ones only upon winning ladders. In other words, a sort of Catch-22 exists: If you do not clear ladders, you do not gain tokens. Without them, you cannot undertake challenges to better your team.
Only the most inept gamers, however, will have major difficulty overcoming this dilemma. As long as you play skillfully (and stylishly) and spend your initial tokens wisely, you should not have too much trouble progressing through NFL Challenge. Beating certain teams and challenges can be exceedingly difficult, though, but proves to be fairly rewarding in the end.
You will have to play through the NFL Challenge mode completely, too, if you want to unlock everything NFL Street has to offer. In fact, the game's remaining modes, Quick Game (choose a team and hit the field) and Pickup Game (create a team from a pool of randomly selected players), are not nearly as exciting without the extra goodies unlocked through NFL Challenge. Playing these other modes by yourself becomes uneventful--mainly due to predictable AI--so you will likely want to grab a friend (or three) to liven things up.
Therein lies the crux of the matter: Without human competitors, the game eventually bores. As a multiplayer experience, NFL Street rivals many of the great sports games around. The problem is its multiplayer options are limited and confined to offline play, just like with every other EA title on the Xbox. If ever a sports game screamed for Xbox Live support, this one would be it.
Replay Value : 75
For the solitary player, the NFL Challenge mode provides a good amount of challenge and entertainment, though it will likely intimidate unskilled gamers. Playing through it unlocks extra fields and teams, which enhance the value of the other modes. Ultimately, though, NFL Street excites primarily as a multiplayer game, specifically with four players involved. This just makes the absence of Xbox Live support all the more glaring, because without human competition, NFL Street fails to entertain for very long beyond a few trips through NFL Challenge mode.
Overall : 81
Clearly, NFL Street has arrived at an opportune time. With Midway's Blitz series embracing a new direction and no other arcade-style football games immediately on the horizon, the rough-and-tumble NFL Street is currently the only fresh option for those seeking an arcadey alternative to traditional football. While it's merely decent as a single-player game, it absolutely shines when played with friends. Regrettably, EA has once again denied Xbox owners online play, preventing the game from reaching its full potential on the Xbox. Even so, few online-enabled sports games elicit the amount of trash talking among players that NFL Street stirs up offline.