NFL Street (Xbox) review
"Once upon a time, EA Sports released a little gem called NBA Street. Inspired by the likes of NBA Jam, it stole the show with its ability to combine the NBA game and the style and flare of street basketball. The game's ambition quickly turned into a hit and, as any successful company would do, EA Sports quickly found a way to cash in on its flourishing product. Thus we have the creation of NFL Street - a brand of football that attempts to be as hip as its NBA brethren. Being the student of Blitz..."
Once upon a time, EA Sports released a little gem called NBA Street. Inspired by the likes of NBA Jam, it stole the show with its ability to combine the NBA game and the style and flare of street basketball. The game's ambition quickly turned into a hit and, as any successful company would do, EA Sports quickly found a way to cash in on its flourishing product. Thus we have the creation of NFL Street - a brand of football that attempts to be as hip as its NBA brethren. Being the student of Blitz and the bastard child of Madden, the product certainly has the precision control and fast paced gameplay you'd come to expect from an arcade-based football game. However, despite a valiant effort, NFL Street is a letdown due in part to the gimmick it has been provided.
And it's the first thing you'll notice; football just doesn't seem to mesh with the "street" design. For instance, when's the last time you saw football played outside a profitable league or organization? Besides kids playing during recess and P.E., never. At least basketball (and even baseball) is played on the backstreets and alleyways of America's urban concrete playgrounds. Never have I seen or heard of an individual passing the ball down the road to where a receiver then hops on a defender's back to catch the ball, hurdles a defensive back who is standing erect, dance with the ball for ten yards, run on a wall Prince of Persia style and finally flip in between two trash cans scoring six points. Granted the Street franchise is known for its over the top moves and outlandish gameplay but, as I said before, basketball is played on the streets while football simply isn't. Although the way the sport is personified can lend itself to a fun, arcade-like experience, the whole "street" approach of play in no way connects with football leaving a flaw in the game's design.
Extending the theme is the absurd visuals, which sports cartoony replicas of many top NFL stars. Each player is decked out in a hip-hop fashion dominated by baggy shorts and backward hats. The playing fields try to keep with this trend as well by encompassing backdrops of beaches, rooftops and a warehouse, however, all of these are lacking in detail and believability. NFL Street continues its hip-hop flavor by including licensed tracks from the likes of Killer Mike and the X-ecutioners who offer a reasonable mix of tastes. For whatever reason, though, voice acting is a prominent problem throughout the game. What's funny and humorous the first go around soon turns into repetitive jargon after just a few games. On top of this, only one or two voices are provided for the entire stable of NFL players. Itís not unlikely that Big Bubba's vocal contributions become some Quarterback's smack talk. Hardly ever does a voice match the player's image and its just ridiculous hearing husky chatter coming from a scrawny player.
Beyond the made up atmosphere, NFL Street builds upon the strong foundations of Blitz, Madden, and NBA Street to form its own unique hybrid. With this in mind, it's obvious that a relentless offense and unbreakable defense are the keys to victory and there's no doubt EA Sports hooks the player up with the moves to accomplish both goals. Behind the back passes and ankle shattering jukes define the offensive side of the ball. Meanwhile, the defense counters with some bone breaking hits and amazing one-handed interceptions. Holding the L-trigger can also add style to any move, allowing the player to not simply hurdle the defender but to flip over them instead.
As any NBA Street player will tell you, performing insane moves while prancing around the field is the best way to power up your team. And, consequently, completing such feats accumulates style points and fills the all-important Gamebreaker meter. Reminiscent of being "on fire" in the Blitz series, the feature gives either the offensive or defensive team the power to annihilate the opposition. The new capabilities give the ball carrier the ability to literally carry the entire opposition on his back for the first down. Defenders possess the same gift, only they abolish entire teams, destroying blockers on their quest for the ball.
Of course, what are these features without the gameplay? Influenced by the Madden series, NFL Street offers silky smooth controls. Most notable is the running game, which offers plenty of effective stiff arms and shoulder rams to get through the hole. In addition, blockers actually have the capability to find their man and block. Incredible... yes, especially when "realistic" football games can't always say their blockers have this instinct at all. There is the occasional hiccup but whatís not blocked can generally be bowled over by the running back. Furthermore, laterals are easily accessible allowing some intense multi-man runs.
The passing system doesn't fair as well. It's not for what the Quarterback can't do; rather, it's what the defense can. Firstly, there is the ability for the defensive backs to jump twenty feet in the air. Anyone who hates their hail maries being intercepted fifteen yards in front of the receiver will become quite frustrated with this one. Second is the defense's gift to screw with the pass routes - a trait seemingly all football games suffer from. Receivers will constantly run up field all because the cornerback is in the way of his cut to the sideline. Luckily, these faults come in small doses permitting the passing system to be largely usable. Hitting the open receivers is as easy as tapping a button and the passing routes, when uninterrupted, are crisp and readable. A pump fake is also included in your repertoire, alleviating some of the pain caused by the problems mentioned above.
Like the passing game, the Defense could use some polish. The offensive mindedness of NFL Street is the main culprit. It's nothing out of the ordinary to see the computer lateral the ball about ten times, usually in a scoring effort. A glitch also makes it so the defender won't tackle nor react with the ball carrier. The error doesn't occur repeatedly, but it's there and will lead to a few undeserved touchdowns. Another major downfall of the defense is its overall cheapness. Along with what was mentioned earlier, you'll frequently see the whole defense blitz, break every single block, and seem to tackle the ball carrier simultaneously especially on the hardest difficulty. Oddly the computer also has some bizarre tackling motions. Getting to the player both through blockers and when its back is turned away from the ball is a talent I'd presume the defense was never meant to possess.
Fortunately, the modes offer a bit of support to anyone crippled by the gameplay's flaws. The NFL challenge is the backbone, pitting a user created squad against all thirty-two NFL teams. While not forcing you to constantly play the standard game, the mode gives you a set of contests ranging from out styling your opponent to holding the opposition scoreless. These competitions are vast and diverse presenting a nice touch of challenge to anyone wanting to do more than score touchdowns. The Pick Up Game is the second, more unique feature. With it a pool of forty NFL players are randomly chosen ready to be drafted or picked to play for your team. It's a nice feature with one exception; many players of the same position will have similar stats. There are some slight differences between power running backs such as Jerome Bettis and speed backs like Duce Staley, but on the whole all the tailbacks (and other positions) play equally making the choice between them redundant. Enjoyment can still be had if the random picks are varied enough; unfortunately, this is usually not the case causing the two teams to be far to identical.
All in all, NFL Street brings a nice, although somewhat unfulfilled, alternative to the arcade sports genre. Fast-paced, hard-hitting action is its main attraction making it an instant win for Blitz enthusiasts. The exaggerated, yet very recognizable, player models will further the game's success. But despite its robust pedigree, NFL Street simply doesn't do any one feature as well as it should. The atmosphere is phony, the modes leave you wanting more, and the diverse players needed for this type of game are completely non-existent. Surprisingly, both running and blocking are performed almost flawlessly, yet passing and playing defense isn't nearly as easy. In the end, if youíre simply looking for an arcade-based football title NFL Street will suffice quite nicely; bear in mind, however, the game's shortcomings are very apparent and keeps it from being anything past an average sports title.
Community review by evilpoptart937 (February 17, 2005)
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