Review: NFL Street (PS2)

NFL Street
Game: NFL Street
System: Playstation 2
Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports/Big
Release Date: January 15, 2004

Recent years have shown a change in the focus of EA Sports. Instead of dealing exclusively with simulation titles, EA has created the Big line to provide gamers with an arcade-style approach. One of EA Big’s flagship titles is NBA Street, which was an alternative to the NBA Live series. The success of NBA Street spawned a sequel, as well as a football title along similar lines.

Hence, we have NFL Street, a game virtually assured of being a hit if only because of its publisher and subject matter. But does it deliver the goods? Is it a worthy successor to NBA Street? Has EA Big taken away Midway’s crown as King of the Arcade-Style Sports Game? Let’s find out!

Story
Story? In FOOTBALL? You don’t say!

While there’s no story, there’s a definite purpose to NFL Street – win, and look good doing it. The game gives you two options for victory – Style Points (default: 200,000) or touchdowns (default: 36 points). The obvious weakness of playing for Style Points is that theoretically, you could get spanked but still win. Fortunately, NFL Street avoids this by ensuring that your style points and your level of ability are closely tied together. By that, I mean that if you can’t get enough style points, you’re not very good and odds are high that you would have lost in touchdowns anyway. Style moves are triggered by using L1 and performing a move, and if the move is botched (i.e. a behind-the-back pass is dropped), you don’t get any points for it. Also, players are more vulnerable to fumbling if they’re hit while showboating. Touchdown mode is your basic football scoring with a significant wrinkle – no kickers! Your TD is worth six points and, from there, it’s up to you. You’re forced to line up and call a play to get the extra point – or points. What’s the catch? Running it in will get you one point; a pass results in a two-point conversion. Unfortunately, NFL Street doesn’t provide you with a copy of “The Chart” when you’re faced with a tough decision in regard to which one to go for.

NFL Street - No Kickers Allowed!
Aside from the basic Exhibition mode, there’s the NFL Challenge. There are two aspects to the NFL Challenge. The first, the Ladder, requires you to take on NFL teams, which you’ll go through by division. Each division has its own field with unique aspects to each one, which adds to the challenge. Completion of each division leads to a match against an All-Star team from that division. The second mode, Challenge Mode, provides you with a number of different goals to achieve against the four teams from each division. This is a fun mode that not only helps teach the game, but also unlocks plays, logos, and provides Development Points for your players. The beauty of the two modes is that each works with the other to create a better overall gaming experience. The Development Points (among other things) you earn in the Challenges are essential in building a team capable of defeating the better teams, and the Challenges only serve to make you a better player, which helps you climb the Ladder. Overall, a great job done in creating an integrated “career” mode that serves a number of purposes.

It gets better! The most fun mode in all of NFL Street, by far, is the Pickup Game. This is the area where, more than at any other point in the game, you’ll think back to the schoolyard games you used to (and maybe still) play. The basic idea of the Pickup Game is this – a pool of 40 players is selected at random. You have the option of getting the ball first or picking first, which isn’t all that hard of a decision in a one-player game, as you’ll see later. Between you and your opponent, 14 of the 40 players will be picked, and it’s up to you how you’ll position your players. Remember, your seven players will be on both sides of the ball, and will be playing out of their natural positions half the time.

EA covered all the bases here, with enough fun for one player to live with, but the real fun is playing a Pickup Game with a buddy. Nicely done here.
Story Rating: 9/10

Graphics
Visually, EA has a good-looking game in NFL Street. The players assume a cartoon-like look, which adds to the light-hearted nature of the game. The different fields each have their own distinct flavor complete with beautiful surroundings and, of course, obstacles to get in your way. The menus aren’t anything to frame and hang over the fileplace, but they are eye-pleasing and often feature former NFL greats in the background – a reminder of the ultimate unlockable.

The graphics in NFL Street aren't quite as sharp as TO's Sharpie... but then, what is?My only complaint in the graphics department would have to be the player clothing options. Maybe I’m not educated in street football, but I don’t think people actually play in JUST shoulder pads, with no shirt on top. Some of the options provided are nice, while others look plain stupid. The one foresight that’s unforgivable is the lack of real jerseys in the game. Why players can’t dress their own team in their official jersey tops is a question that shouldn’t have to be asked, yet it is right here. This is one area where EA goofed; thankfully, the overall quality of the graphics and the game help to make the jersey issue a mild annoyance as opposed to a big deal.
Graphics Score: 7/10

Sound
The sound in NFL Street is basically what you’d expect. Rap music by popular artists, decent in-game music, and trash-talking. Lots of trash-talking. Some of the lines are pretty good, while others are great (“It’s not my fault, it’s the guy controlling me!”). The football sound effects are good, but nothing to write home about. Pretty basic stuff here.
Sound Score: 6/10

Control
One area where NFL Street shows off the football side of its game is in control. The controls are laid out enough like Madden’s so that a first-time player can jump right in, but are different enough to give you a wide variety of moves to perform. For the most part, you’ll know what to do right off the bat.

NFL Street - Chad Johnson's Dream.
However, there’s one essential button to winning in NFL Street – L1. This is the Style button. Holding this button down after you’re past the line of scrimmage triggers a flashy showboating maneuver. If you’re a quarterback, holding down L1 while pressing the button for your corresponding receiver sends off a no-look or behind-the-back pass. There are a ton of different Style moves, from spinning the ball on your finger while you run, to passing the ball between your legs, to even dribbling the ball down the field a la basketball. If you enjoy talking trash and showing off, NFL Street has got you covered.

The sad reality is, though, this game is very offense-oriented. That’s not to say you won’t have fun playing defense, but defense is nowhere near the fun that offense is in NFL Street. There’s only one L1 move on defense, and it’s nothing special aside from its uncanny ability to force fumbles. The computer’s defense can be VERY hard to stop, and defensive struggles are quite common in this game. But if you let the other team score, at least you get the ball back right away, which means you can do real Style moves again!

NFL Street
Another important controller function in NFL Street is the Triangle button, which allows you to pitch the ball back to another player. Say you’re about to get mauled, and you know you’re going down. Just press Triangle and, assuming there’s somebody around to handle it, you’ll pitch the ball back to someone else on your team. Of course, there’s a huge risk of fumbling the pitch. If you do, the perspective will turn 180 degrees, making it easy to see that you’ve now got to get back on D.

And it wouldn’t be an arcade game without Turbo, would it? Turbo’s R1 in NFL Street, and its proper use is essential to victory. Use too much of it and you’ll run out and get caught just before the goal line. Don’t use any of it and you’ll get caught right in front of the line of scrimmage. A happy medium is necessary here, and it requires a few games to find it.

Developing a coherent passing attack is another area that will take a while. You should be able to run on the computer at will, but passing is a little tougher. NFL Street utilizes the familiar passing system whereby the button is tapped for a lob and held for a bullet pass. The difference between the two passes cannot be understated. If you don’t trust your computer-controlled receiver to make the catch, press the Circle to assume control of the receiver yourself, then use Triangle to make the catch.

Overall, there’s a LOT to do with the players in this game. The Style Points mode is a great way to see how you’re doing in terms of being the obnoxious showoff that this game wants you to become. Just don’t forget to point your guy to the end zone once in a while.
Control Score: 8/10

Replayability
The replay value of NFL Street in one-player mode is contingent on two things – how bad you are, and how intent you are on maxing out the ability of your players. The first is corrected by a quick changing of the difficulty level, but the NFL Challenge is tough on any difficulty level. Completing all of the tasks will take some time, and the game ensures that you’re properly motivated by offering all the Development Points you could want – provided that you’re able to complete the tasks at hand. Once you’ve gotten through all the challenges, you’re pretty much set in terms of Development Points. Having defeated most of the teams on the Ladder by this point, there’s not a whole lot to do with your team besides beat up on the computer some more, as you’ve got to be quite good by now.

Two-player mode is where NFL Street shines. The Pickup Game is obviously the point of maximum replay value, as the game changes each time. Games between two NFL teams are fun as well, but tend to carry a long a staleness which is caused by the simple ability to pick a team of ANYBODY in the Pickup Game. Limited options will keep you thinking of things that could have been added, but there’s more than enough here to keep you and a buddy satisfied.
Replayability Score: 8/10

Balance
For the balance portion of this review, I decided to do a minor case study. Here’s how it was done: I played one game on each difficulty level, keeping all other factors equal. Incase you’re curious, it was Jets vs. Vikings each time (they have almost identical ratings), I controlled the Jets using the same 7 players each time (D. Abraham, Cowart, Ellis, Martin, Mawae, Moss, Pennington), touchdowns to 36 points, CPU Assist on, and all games were played on EA Field. The results are as follows…

NFL - No Fun LeagueEasy: Jets 36, Vikings 20. This one was never in doubt, as I needed just 9 minutes to dispose of the Vikes.
Normal: Jets 37, Vikings 34. Tough one that went pretty much score-for-score for the most part. Vikes got some heavy CPU assisting once I took a big lead, but 2-point conversions played a big part here.
Hard: Vikings 39, Jets 18. Ouch. The Vikes ran about seven offensive plays and got five TDs out of them. A four-point conversion (ran back my 2-point conversion attempt for a TD) by Minnesota didn’t help matters, either.

The moral of the story? It’s a nice progression from Easy to Normal to Hard. Your plays will still work, but a little less as the game gets harder. Scoring at will turns into simply scoring most of the time. It’s harder to create turnovers and easier to commit them, but your game is also improved by the better defenses you’ll be facing. Unfortunately, the computer’s offense on Hard is absolutely ridiculous – one-play drives are the norm against the computer on the highest difficulty setting, and even on the others.

Playing NFL Street with CPU Assist and/or GameBreaker on is like having unprotected sex with a girl who just flunked an AIDS test. You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into, but sometimes you can’t say no. The average game with CPU Assist runs like this – you go up by a score of about 30-12. CPU scores on you – 30-19. CPU gets GameBreaker, uses it on D, creates turnover. CPU scores on very next play – 30-27. Suddenly, it’s a game again. But it makes the end of the game exciting, which is the entire premise of CPU Assist. Thankfully, this is an option that can be turned on or off, depending on your preference for a competitive game or for running up the score.

The game’s Balance rating would be even higher if not for the inclusion of the GameBreaker. Similar to NBA Street’s power-up of the same name, the GameBreaker basically makes you unstoppable. On offense, you need to be shot before you can be taken down. On defense, however, is where you want to use the GameBreaker. You’re virtually guaranteed to force either a fumble or an interception; if you don’t get one of those, you’ll stop them on downs. And the computer knows this, too. If they get a GameBreaker on offense, they’ll just score, get their conversion, and then use the GameBreaker once you get the ball. Horribly unfair, but at least it lives up to its name – it’ll break your will to continue the game. GameBreakers can be turned off in touchdown games, and are not allowed in Style Points games, enabling the unfettered continuation of hot-dogging and taunting.
Balance Score: 7/10

Originality
This one should be in NFL Street Vol. 2!NBA Street was original. NFL Street is NBA Street blended with NFL Blitz. Not exactly original, but the truth is you haven’t played football like this before. NFL Street offers arcade-style play, but with a solid running game, nifty moves, and a nostalgic subtext that will have you longing for the Flag Football days of your youth. Make no mistake about it – you’ve seen everything in this game already. But not like this.
Originality Score: 7/10

Addictiveness
While you won’t see any NFL Street Addicts Anonymous groups convene any time soon, the game does possess some attributes that make it hard to stop playing. The challenges you’ll face in the NFL Challenge sound easy, but can be tough. Playing through all of these (and messing them up a few times at first) will keep you hooked for some time. Individual games are fast enough to keep you excited, but can tend to run a bit longer than they should, especially when GameBreakers are involved. A rather small playbook puts limitations on what can be done with the game, but the plays that are in there are great, even if their results are fairly predictable.
Addictiveness Score: 7/10

Appeal Factor
Like I said earlier, EA needed to only announce a football title to follow in the footsteps of NBA Street to guarantee itself a hot-selling game. This is a game that most males will want, especially those who played NBA Street and/or are fans of the NFL. Some might be put off by the sheer arcadeness of NFL Street at first, but there’s enough pure football here that they’ll appreciate the game. And there’s enough potential that a skeptic will rent the game, or at least play it at a friend’s house if the option is available. Fewer sports titles in 2004 will be as appealing as NFL Street.
Appeal Factor Score: 9/10

Miscellaneous
Con: I would have liked to have seen more options to further enhance the Street experience. Having the option of the other team “throwing off” to you would allow for returns. Changing the somewhat asinine first-down markers (seriously, have you ever played a schoolyard game with pre-determined first-down markers?) with the option to have markers, two completions, or three completions for a first-down would allow gamers to re-create the games of their youth, which is supposed to be a subliminal goal of NFL Street.

Pro: NFL Street forces you to see football in a different way than you’re used to. Sim games require a mixture of plays to fool the defense, and thinking two or three plays ahead is a must. In NFL Street, where there are only eight running plays, your game plan changes entirely. Calling the same play three times in a row isn’t out of the question, and the same can be said for a LOT of things in this game, which is a good thing.

Con: No current jerseys is bad enough, but no throwbacks? The NFL is a league that promotes its heritage more prominently than any other, and the lack of a user option to choose throwback jerseys in a game that features NFL legends is inexcusable.

Pro: Loading times are pretty much a non-issue, with no load time at all for videos like the tutorials and previews for other EA Sports games.

Con: Style is in the eye of the beholder. It would have been hard to pull off, but an option to customize Style Points would have been great. For example, you could choose to have a fumble caused by your showboating result in a deduction of points, or you could choose to cut in half the amount of points for getting a first down. Again, the default point system works very well, but giving the player more options never hurts.
Miscellaneous Score: 5/10

Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Graphics: 7/10
Sound: 6/10
Control: 8/10
Replayability: 8/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 7/10
Addictiveness: 7/10
Appeal Factor: 9/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10

Final Score: 73/100 (7.3/10)
WITH REVIEWER’S TILT: 7.5

Short Attention Span Summary
NFL Street is a game that many football fans have been waiting for since NFL Blitz’s heyday – An EA-produced game that combines arcade gameplay with some intelligent football skills like a running game. To that end, NFL Street is more than successful. However, it’s not quite up to the high standard that NBA Street set for the emerging Street franchise, which might be due to the higher appeal of street basketball over street football. Despite that, NFL Street is a must-rent for a football fan, NBA Street fan, or sports fan in general. Purchase is recommended for those who know the Street style or are diehard EA fans.