NFL Street 2: Unleashed Review (PSP)
Sometimes it seems like there's no "offseason" in the NFL ... and in keeping with that, there's now no offseason for NFL gaming. Though the Sony's PSP released in the heart of spring, there was still an NFL launch title: EA Big's NFL Street 2: Unleashed.
I reviewed this title on the Xbox back in January, giving it 3 out of 5 stars. While it was a solid game, there wasn't enough depth to elevate the game from a rental. Now that's it's been ported to a portable platform, does the game get any better?
The gameplay is identical to its console brethren. It's an over-the-top arcade football that places an emphasis on style and special moves over strategy. You'll execute wildly animated special moves like running up walls and midair spins that will build up your "Gamebreaker" meter. Once your meter is filled, it will increase the power of those moves, or you can save up more for a "Gamebreaker 2", which will trigger a cutscene that leads to an automatic score. The basics are unchanged, and my basic concerns remain unchanged: there isn't much balance between offensive and defensive "Gamebreakers", and the tricks still feel tacked on to football.
The controls have been incredibly well adapted. I know that because there are only six available buttons (instead of the eight on Xbox and PS2), that something is missing, I just don't know what. The game plays like it was designed for the PSP, and you never feel that you are playing a version that's been adapted from a more complicated controller.
The major addition to the PSP version is "Party Play". This new mode is really just an extension of the minigames available in the console versions. The twist is that you'll hand the PSP off to another player for their turn, then the game will tell you who won. In addition to the minigames from the console version, there are two new entries in Unleashed: "Street Slalom" and "Style Standoff".
In "Street Slalom", you navigate your player along an obstacle course, trying to make the best time you can while avoiding and hurdling the obstacles. When you hit one, your player flickers like you'd see in an old 2-D side scroller, and then passes through the obstacle. It's played from a top-down perspective with limited courses, and generally feels like something that belongs to the early nineties and should have stayed there. "Style Standoff" is almost a rhythm minigame, where you'll need to imitate button presses to mimic touchdown celebration moves. However, there's no rhythm involved, so it really feels more like a football themed "Simon Says". I think the best that can be said about these new PSP-exclusive modes is that they can be easily ignored. It's certainly not worth the purchase if you were excited about getting two new minigames.
Beyond that, the game modes are almost the same as the console versions. The heart of the game is "Own The City", where you'll work though various ladders playing a variety of game types while building your created player. There are other game modes, and they all end up feeling well suited to the PSP. There's not a lot of strategy or depth, and the PSP's "Sleep" feature means you can jump in and out while minimizing the abominable load times.
Ah, yes … the load times. All the PSP launch titles have suffered from bad load times, but I haven't experienced any quite as bad as those found in Unleashed. Going into games feels like an eternity, and the initial load of the game is even worse. Be prepared to use the "Sleep" function, because you'll want to avoid loading as much as possible.
The only game mode missing is true Internet multiplayer. Though you can play "Ad Hoc" multiplayer with local players, there's no ability to hop on the Internet and find games against players from around the globe. This was one of the highlights of the Xbox edition, as the gameplay really lends itself to trash-talking multiplayer, and it's definitely missed in the PSP version.
The graphics definitely take a hit when compared to the Xbox. Those graphics weren't anywhere close to cutting-edge, and the PSP version falls even further behind when compared to some other PSP games. The textures are flat, the players don't look much like their "real" selves, and jaggies abound. Though the PSP has some impressive showpieces for it's graphical power, this certainly isn't one of them. Where the game shines, however, is in the animations. They are fluid, detailed, and responsive. Even with 14 players on the field performing complex animations, there's never a framerate hit.
Voiceovers are missing in this version, but it certainly doesn't affect the game much, and the on-the-field sound remains stunning. The "EA Pocket Trax" mixes rock and hip-hop, and is uniformly forgettable. EA has put some marketing push behind the "EA Pocket Trax", promising that each EA game would allow you to watch video and other visualizations of the soundtrack in order to capitalize on the media capabilities of the PSP. The idea was that you could watch the videos, or even just play the soundtrack, put on some headphones, and put the PSP in your backpack. If this is a feature you were looking forward to, you should be warned: it's not implemented in NFL Street 2: Unleashed. Though I've seen reviews and previews mention the feature, it's just not there. You can edit the songs that will play in-game, and listen to one song on a loop. No videos, no visualizations, no playlist. I don't know that it's a feature that I'd ever use, but I'd at least like to know what's there.
The new content is useless, the lack of Internet play is disappointing, and the load times are excruciating ... but this is one of the rare exceptions in gaming where the port is better than the original. It's almost as if the console versions were the port, and Unleashed finally found it's true home on the PSP. The game structure is perfectly suited to portable gaming, and the concerns I had about its depth prove to be strengths on the PSP. It's fun, fast, and easily digestible in bite-size portions. Though I wasn't expecting much from NFL Street 2: Unleashed, it's become one of my favorite PSP titles.