Review: NFL Street 2 (XBx)

Game: NFL Street 2
System: Microsoft XBox [Also On: PS2, GC)
Genre: Extreme Sports/ Football
Developer: EA Sports
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: 12/26/04

Last year, EA released their first “extreme” football game entitled NFL Street. It took the 32 teams of the NFL, brought them outside the rules and regulations of organized sports, and threw them into the realm of “street football”, where trash talking, style, and popping rocks are the order of the day. (Stop thinking dirty! PERVERTS!) For those of us used to the “extreme” nature found in titles like NFL Blitz, this was certainly different, and pretty enjoyable…

…for the first five minutes. When I played the first incarnation a year ago, I ended up very disappointed. The game was good, but the single-player experience left much to be desired. The only in-depth mode you could find was one where you created your own team, beat challenges against other teams, and fight your way to beating NFL all-stars. And what did you get after you beat the mode? An all-star for your team. That’s it. You couldn’t even beat all the challenges the game gave you. You had to pick and choose EVERYTHING, and you never knew you had limited amounts of points to work with. It was criminal. And without Live support, you couldn’t even show off your created team to anyone else except relatives and close friends. VERY disappointing.

But now a year has past, and a new version is out for all to see. I’m willing to give the series a second chance, seeing as the first game had a pretty fun premise, but not enough meat for me to get into fully. So how does the second one measure up? Read on and find out!


MODES

To my surprise, NFL Street 2 contains quite a few more modes than its predecessor. Of course, the “Quick Game” and “Pick-Up” modes return from the past games, where you either choose your favorite teams or create a custom one from any of the game rosters you desire. Great for multi-player games and online play, not so great for single play. Luckily, the single-player is much more robust this time around.

As soon as you turn on the game and create a profile, you are given the option to be whisked away to the game’s tutorials, and rapper Xhibit takes you through all of the offense-related aspects of the game. After completing certain categories, you’ll immediately be taken to mini-games to test what you’ve learned. This is good for all those who missed the first installment, or those who simply want a refresher on the game controls.

Once out of the Tutorials, you’ll be plunked into the “Own The City” mode. This mode is completely brand new to the game, and surprisingly features no trace of the NFL. You start out as a created player, all alone. It is your job to go to various locals (i.e. different arenas) and participate in the events listed there. It’s here that you’ll be able to play “pick-up games”, where you’ll be given a random team to begin with, and from the players you’ll be able to pick permanent additions for later. The interesting thing about this mode is that the further you go, the better the players will become. The strategy lies picking stronger players to replace the weaker ones. The goal is to beat as many fake teams as possible in order to face…um…Xhibit’s team in a 7-on-7 showdown. Not much of a prize, but its a decent mode nonetheless.

The mini-games I referred to earlier can be found in the “Street Events” mode. Here you’ll be able to pick from a series of mini-games that are interesting, to say the least. There’s the 2-minute challenge, where you have to score as many points in two minutes as you possible can, then your opponent can try the same thing. “Crush the Carrier” is a game where we see who can hold onto the ball the longest. The longer you hold onto the ball, the more points you get. Tackling the person with the ball will also net you points. “4-on-4” mode is just that; four players per team instead of seven per team. The plays are changed, and the “play-to” score is limited. There are some other mini-games here as well, some pretty creative, but at the end of the day they’re only fun for a little while. You’ll probably stick to the regular modes for your enjoyment.

The NFL Challenge mode returns from last game, and its been tweaked a little bit. Once again, it’s your job to create your own team and build them up from points and equipment you get from various challenges. Instead of having the majority of the levels locked, you begin with EVERYTHING available from the get-go, minus a few locked challenges. The game out-right tells you that you have 150 game days to prepare. Each challenge has a number of days assigned to it, and will bring your day counter down by that amount once completed. Once you get close to the end, a tournament will open up where the winner gets to face the NFL All-Star team. The new day mechanic is much easier to work with, and the game letting you know that all challenges probably won’t get completed is a plus for this go around. But after a while, it gets frustrating to get to the end of the missions. You may find yourself trying the same three missions over and over again, only to find out once you completed them that you still have another 90+ days to distribute amongst your training. The length of this mode and difficulty of the challenges kinda dilute the payoff, but not as much from last year.

Finally, there’s the NFL Gauntlet. You pick an NFL team, and proceed to defeat the other 32 teams in a row. Pretty straightforward. This is the only single-player mode I’ve seen where the NFL actually gets focused on the most, rather than the previous two modes where the focus is on “you” and “your team”. They call this game NFL Street, but you’ll actually play as an NFL team about 30% of the time. Luckily, the XBox Live support adds the incentive of taking your customized teams online and battling it out; something the original game didn’t have. Overall, the modes this year provide a much more enjoyable experience than last year’s game.

Modes: 6.5/10


GRAPHICS

Graphics look remarkably the same to the last game. Players look incredibly cartoony, far bulkier than steroids could ever make them in real life, and…um…shiny. Yes, there is a high degree of shininess in the character models, as if they’ve been laminated or something before each game. And they’ll stay shiny for the entire duration of the game as well. For a game where players get down and dirty, they sure do look clean. And the mouths don’t sync up very well with the on-screen trash talking, which was a problem from last game as well.

Backgrounds look about the same as well, which is kinda disappointing. You’d think you would expect some new or upgraded areas when buying a sequel, but most of the areas look like they’ve been ripped from the first game and slightly touched up to include crates and hot spots. Don’t get me wrong, they look good, but they also looked good a year ago.

Graphics: 6/10


SOUND

You remember the trash talking from the last game? I mean, did you really, REALLY like it? Well, it’s back. All of it. And they didn’t add very much to it. So you’re going to be listening to the same trash talk, with pretty much the same cut scenes from the last game as well. The interesting thing is that the cut scenes don’t appear as often as before. You’re driving down the field, everything’s going fine, you forget the game will cut to something every few BAM! Trash talk cut scene!

The music is once again licensed up the yin-yang, proving once again that the EA Sports division doesn’t have a trace of originality when it comes to producing its own music. I think they even kept the Gamebreaker music from the last game as well. Anyways, you’ll be hearing artists like Xhibit, Sum 41, and others of the same ilk all throughout the game. Seriously. There’s no menu music or anything. The same stuff will play constantly no matter if you’re playing or not. And it can get pretty annoying if you’re playing for a long time.

Sound: 5.5/10


CONTROLS/GAMEPLAY

The actual gameplay also hasn’t changed very much. In fact, I can name a grand total of three things that are different in this version than in the last version. Other than that, EVERYTHING is the same. Games to 36, no yards, no timeouts, style points, etc:

(1) Wall moves. If you’re next to a wall, you can hold the L trigger and perform special wall jukes and hurdles with X and B. You can even pass off a wall in the same way. Also on the walls are “hotspots”, which are small signs. Doing a wall move off a sign will net you a LARGE amount of points for your Gamebreaker meter.

(2) Extra Points. Different from last year, you can now run and pass for both 1-point and 2-point conversions. The only difference between them is how far you need to go to get to the end zone.

(3) Gamebreakers. The good is that there are now two meters to fill up for Gamebreakers. Filling up one meter all the way will earn you a regular Gamebreaker, while filling up both will earn you a Gamebreaker 2. Activating a “G2” will let you skip directly to a cut scene where your team does some incredible move, and will end by placing you WAY ahead of the defense in perfect position to score. Also, during one-bar Gamebreakers, you can strip the ball from the ball carrier without actually making them fumble. The bad is that Gamebreakers are no longer cancelled out when two are activated at the same time. You will either cut your opponent’s Gamebreaker down by a fraction, or get your own Gamebreaker activated at a fraction of what it should be.

Controls for the game, like last time, are stiff. It seems like there’s a small delay in the moves every time I want to do something. This really screws with hurdling and juking, as split-second timing is a must in certain situations. It’s even worse on defense, as I can’t tell much of the time what it going on in a crowded situation. Say someone fumbles the ball. NO ONE will automatically pick it up if they are standing right over it. Instead, three or four guys will run into each other and provide a big mess without anyone actually picking up the ball. This area really needs to be improved.

Controls/Gameplay: 6/10


REPLAY VALUE

I feel like I can play this game much more than the last one. The three major single-player modes are very unique and diverse, providing three separate gameplay experiences. I can hone my skills in the NFL Challenge, I can strategize who the strongest players are in Own The City, and I can kick the crap out of everyone I see in the NFL Gauntlet. This aspect of the game impressed me greatly, as I expected another round of mediocre single-play modes. Plus the addition of XBox Live support this time around will extend the replay value tremendously, as you can take created teams and fight them out online. Much, much better this time, EA.

Replay Value: 7.5/10


BALANCE

A typical NFL Street 2 game will go something like this: you are doing tremendous the first couple of drives. Every play is going your way. You can run, pass, fake the computer out, and perform all the stunts you want. You pull ahead 12-to-nothing at the very least. Then the AI kicks in. Suddenly, you can’t run the ball without Option plays anymore. The computer knows exactly which direction you’re running. You’ll be throwing more incomplete passes if you keep throwing to the same receiver. You’ll be pulling your hair out at crucial moments when the computer all of the sudden gets away from you and pulls off a 100,000 style-point play, earning a Gamebreaker in the process.

The game is very unbalanced. Even at the Easy level, you’ll be falling victim to an AI that will counter your strategy once you establish it. In fact, the only thing NOT cheap is the Gamebreakers your opponent will earn. They actually won’t use them unless you (or your opponent) are on a drive that can win the game.

The missions in the NFL Challenge mode are also pretty unbalance. The challenges are usually grouped together in threes. The first will be incredibly easy, like “intercept a pass this drive”. The second will either be easier or harder than the first, and the last will be mind-numbingly difficult. (Get 3 user-interceptions and 4 touchdown wall-dives in a game to 24.) Again, the balance in this series hasn’t been fixed.

Balance: 5/10


ORIGINALITY

I’ve said many times in this review that “such-‘n-such” didn’t change from the first game to the next. And its true: much of the game is exactly the same, outside of the new gameplay modes and updated roster. In fact, it feels more like NFL Street 1.5 than it does a true sequel. It’s as if EA stripped the first game of a grungy old piece of cloth fashioned to look like a jacket, and redressed it in a fancy Starter-brand coat. The outside looks incredibly cool, while its just the same game on the inside.

Originality: 4/10


ADDICTIVENESS

There’s plenty of stuff to go back to, and much of it is fun. It feels a little less like work when going through the various modes than last time. However, it also feels like it takes incredibly long to go through the various modes as well. You’ll be having fun the first few days you have this game, like starting the NFL Challenge Mode at 150 days and knocking the schedule down to 90 or so. Then you run into the more aggressive missions, and you may find yourself taking longer to get the schedule down to a more reasonable level. It can get pretty frustrating, and make you not want to play much anymore. Still, for that first week or so, the game will shine with the new things you can do.

Addictiveness: 6/10


APPEAL FACTOR

EA has a sure-fire hit on their hands without even promoting the game. Football fans will eat this game up simply because it provides them their favorite teams to smash the rest of the league with. Extreme sports fans will also pick up this game in droves for the adrenaline rushes associated with the genre. Any company could release a game like NFL Street, and they can expect a great return on the investment. This game is no exception.

Appeal Factor: 8/10


MISCELLANOUS

No game is without secrets, and NFL Street has quite a few. Most of them can be unlocked simply by hitting hot spots during a game. Hitting enough will unlock various NFL legends to play as, such as Darrell Green and “Mean Joe” Green. You can also unlock teams and arenas by completing the single player game modes. There’s also a store where you can buy new gear to customize your players with. You get store points by earning in-game milestones, which are tracked under your profile.

But the secrets aside, the game feels…I dunno…generic. It’s mostly the same as last year’s offering, and still focuses too much on created teams than it does the actual NFL teams and players. The game could have very well been made without the NFL licenses, and hardly anyone would notice a difference. This especially holds true in the Own You city mode, where the game focuses on Xhibit more than the NFL. I guess I expected more from it than this.

Miscellaneous: 5/10