The fact that EA Sports Big has released a sequel to NFL Street is not the least bit surprising. What is a little surprising, however, is the sequel has arrived just 11 months after the first game. After all, the NBA Street series underwent an extended hiatus between sequels, and most gamers probably wouldn't have minded that much had NFL Street done the same.
Indeed, two NFL Street titles in a single year may seem like overkill, but NFL Street 2 is perhaps what the original Street should have been. While it's not a vast improvement, a handful of additions make it a more complete and compelling package. Best of all, the sequel is Xbox Live enabled, so Xbox owners can finally take their Street skills and trash-talking online.
One area of NFL Street 2 that has not seen much improvement is the graphics. The first NFL Street was not exactly a showpiece for the Xbox graphics capabilities, but it was a good-looking game nonetheless. NFL Street 2 really doesn't look any better than its predecessor, though, and the environments are actually somewhat less refined. Despite that, NFL Street 2's visuals remain pretty solid, while a smooth frame rate and support for progressive scan and widescreen keep the game technically adept.
On the whole, the character models are a tad more detailed than they were in the previous NFL Street. Players still have exaggerated appearances, highlighted by lively animation, sharp gear, and hip accessories. As before, GameBreakers cause players to glow and streak, with the new GameBreaker 2 plays providing spectacular scenes. Unfortunately, as with the players' contrived celebrations and taunts, these animations eventually become stale, since there are only a few of them.
The environments, on the other hand, are greatly varied, although marred by fairly bland and grainy scenery. A dozen fields are featured in the game, most of which are brand new and initially selectable. Among the urban settings are a construction site, alley, aqueduct, sports complex, and city park. Animated elements (traffic, spectators, lights, billboards, etc.) enliven many of the fields, along with interactive objects, such as trashcans and barrels.
Quality audio is another element that helps bring NFL Street 2 to life. Like the original game, NFL Street 2 contains energetic sound effects and great ambient noises. Furthermore, the game's THX-certified Dolby Digital surround sound is completely enveloping and adds thunder to each forceful tackle and sack.
It's a shame, then, that the banal voice-overs and dialogue from the first game remain intact. Sure, there are a few new one-liners and jeers, as well as voice-overs from rapper/actor Xzibit, but they're still repetitious and highly annoying. And once again, there's no play-by-play commentary, though considering the triteness of the voice-overs, it's probably for the best.
At least the music has improved... Well, on second thought, that depends on how you look at it. The included EA Trax soundtrack, featuring a dubious selection of rap and rock songs, is barely serviceable. Fortunately, the custom soundtrack support is much improved from the first NFL Street.
You can now listen to your own music during gameplay, unlike in the original game, which restricted custom music to the menus. Even better, music plays continuously throughout the game, allowing you to hear songs in their entirety. In other words, a song that begins in the menus will seamlessly continue when you enter a game mode, and vice versa. EA deserves kudos for going the extra mile with the soundtrack implementation this time.
Interface/Options : 90
EA also deserves praise for putting together a slick front end. As is often the case with an EA production, NFL Street 2's menu system looks good and functions well. Loading is speedy and complemented by colorful load screens that were designed by talented artists. There are a fair amount of options to adjust and various stats to peruse, with game progress and user options saving automatically. The auto-save feature makes customizing teams and players a hassle-free experience, as you do not have to stress over manually saving your changes.
That's a good thing, too, since NFL Street 2 offers a considerable amount of customization. All the NFL teams are present, each having a dozen or so players from which to build a lineup. Naturally, the rosters have been updated, and an all-new group of NFL legends (Chris Carter, Bo Jackson, Randall Cunningham, and others) is hidden in the game. You can now edit the gear of the NFL players, making them look as tough or as silly as you like.
As fun as it is to dress the pros, the best customizable aspects in NFL Street 2 are the custom player and team editors. Just like in the last game, you can create your very own players and teams to use in the various modes. The player editor affords you dozens of options to create unique characters, giving you lots of control over a player's appearance, performance, and personality. What's more, you can use credits earned while playing through the game to purchase additional items. The team editor, meanwhile, is essentially unchanged, letting you name your team, pick its colors, and choose its logo.
Don't worry if you find yourself consumed with character creation, because NFL Street 2 includes an interactive tutorial for you to learn the gameplay intricacies at your convenience. Unlike the instructional videos in the first Street, NFL Street 2's interactive tutorial goes a long way in familiarizing you with the gameplay, from the basics to the advanced moves. It also gives you an opportunity to become familiar with the potentially tricky controls. Street vets, however, can choose to learn the new stuff only.
Gameplay : 85
So, what's new in terms of gameplay? Let's start with wall moves, the most exciting gameplay addition. In NFL Street 2, you can make like Prince of Persia and use walls and other barriers to your advantage by juking, hurdling, diving, catching, and passing off them. Performing wall moves is simple and effective, not to mention an excellent way to rack up style points.
To make the most of wall moves, though, you'll need to target "hot spots" (posters) along the walls. Hitting a hot spot, or knocking an opponent into one, will plaster your team's logo on the wall, unlock extra goodies, and result in huge style points. Style points, of course, help fill the ever so crucial GameBreaker meters.
Two levels of GameBreakers now exist, à la NBA Street Vol. 2. A regular GameBreaker temporarily gives your team an offensive or defensive edge, while a GameBreaker 2 all but guarantees you a touchdown on offense or a turnover on defense. The only catch is, you must fill two meters to activate a GameBreaker 2.
Filling the GameBreaker meters is done in much the same way it was in the first game: by performing stylish moves and plays. You add style to moves by pulling the left trigger, mixing in signature tricks with a flick of the right analog stick. Once the first GameBreaker meter is full, you can choose to activate it or work on filling the second meter for a GameBreaker 2. This adds a little extra depth and strategy to the gameplay, particularly since your opponent can try to counter your GameBreakers.
Expanded playcalling also provides some added depth. While the playbooks in NFL Street 2 cannot compare with those of the Madden series, additional plays have been sprinkled in to reflect the gameplay enhancements. Moreover, on defense, you now have the ability to predict your opponent's play. Depending on how you guess, your team will receive a partial increase or decrease in performance for the play.
NFL Street 2 has more than a new bag of tricks; it has new modes. The best among them is the Own the City mode, in which you create a player and assemble a team to conquer the neighborhood fields of a fictional city. Xzibit stars in this mode and greets you at the beginning. Your ultimate goal is to take on his team of NFL all-stars. Before you can do so, you must work your way through several 'hoods, participating in pickup games and "street events" (i.e., mini-games), challenging local teams, and recruiting players in the process. As you progress, you'll be able to improve your player's attributes and appearance.
Other modes include Gauntlet (take on the entire NFL), Pickup Game (select a seven-man team from a pool of players), Quick Game, and NFL Challenge, which unfolds a bit differently from the last game. This time, the NFL Challenge mode gives you 150 days to whip your team of misfits into shape for tournament-style competition. You pass time and earn development points by completing challenges, each of which is rated in difficulty--the tougher the challenge, the greater the reward.
All this sounds good on paper, but regrettably, NFL Street 2 suffers from some of the same problems that affected its predecessor. Namely, it has devious AI and fails to engross as a single-player game. The addition of wall moves, hot spots, and secondary GameBreakers actually unbalances the gameplay a bit, occasionally resulting in lopsided matchups. Worst of all, the main single-player modes, Own the City and NFL Challenge, are overly tedious and ultimately little fun.
Luckily, multiplayer is another story entirely. With two to four players involved, NFL Street 2 is one of the most entertaining arcade-style sports games around, online or off. The mini-games, ranging from "kill the guy with the ball" to two-on-two showdowns, are especially fun to play with a couple of buddies.
Replay Value : 85
Like the Xbox slogan proudly proclaims, it's good to play together, and that motto couldn't be any truer here. The Xbox version of the original NFL Street suffered from the omission of online play, diminishing the replay value as a result. That doesn't hold true for the sequel, thankfully, because NFL Street 2 fully supports Xbox Live. Online play performs well, and you can let the insults fly while engaging in regular games and mini-games with up to three other gamers.
Beyond the online multiplayer component, NFL Street 2 has a deep character editor, several unlockables, and halfway decent single-player modes to entertain lone players. Be advised, though: NFL Street 2 excels primarily as a multiplayer game. If you don't have Xbox Live or friends to play with you offline, you'll be missing the best part of the game and will likely tire of it quickly.
Overall : 85
In the end, NFL Street 2 is a modest improvement over the previous title, but it's still lacking as a single-player game. The sequel's Xbox Live support, however, makes that shortcoming easier to swallow. Thus, Live-enabled gamers who own the original Street can immediately trade up to NFL Street 2 with no regrets. Everyone else who's interested in the game would do well to try it first before making a purchase.