NFL Street 2 Review (Xbox)
Here at Operation Sports, we usually focus on hardcore simulation-style sports gaming. But here we are in early January: the playoffs are starting and the NFL titles in our library have seen months of play already. It might be time for some new football, and we won’t be too picky about it’s “sim” qualities, either. Into this void comes “NFL Street 2”, ready to deliver arcade-style playground football - and this year it’s available on Xbox Live. Is it's flashy brand of pigskin enough to get you through the late winter doldrums?
As a hyperactive fantasy football experience, “NFL Street 2” plays like a dream. The controls are simple and responsive and allow for both moving the chains and looking good doing it. You’ll have the standard football controls at your disposal: the setup will be familiar to anyone who’s touched a console football game in the past few years. New this year is the inclusion of the walls as a playing surface, allowing you to run up them to avoid tackles, make a pass, or get up in the air for a circus catch. There are also “Hotspots” on the walls, posters that will give you extra Style Points (and unlock legendary players) if you do a special move using them.
My other problem with the Style points in “NFL Street 2” (as opposed to it's NBA counterpart) is that they don't really come from within the flow of the game. You'll find your biggest points opportunities not coming from the great run through traffic, but the strutting afterwards on your way to the end zone. In fact, the more field you have, the better your chances to rack up Style Points, and it's an odd NFL game that punishes you for taking possession deep in the opponent's territory. In fact, one online tactic I’ve encountered is using the extra tackle-breaking power of a Gamebreaker to run backwards in order to maximize Style Points. While I like the fact that there are two separate scoring systems, and a need to balance both, I don’t like them being that far separated. I’d like to see more points come out of the game flow, instead of strutting after the play is essentially finished.
There are a number of different gameplay modes in NFL Street 2. There are a few new minigames than can be played on their own; an “NFL Gauntlet” where you use an NFL team and take on each team in the league one by one, “Pickup Games” where you can choose from NFL players, and the two main modes: “Own The City” and “NFL Challenge”.
Though the amount of gameplay styles and options is impressive, I feel the game loses a bit of focus. I’m not sure what the main attraction is here, and what the side modes are, and managing multiple squads of fictional characters gets pretty confusing. Also, I don’t feel that any of these offline modes have real "replay-ability" – you’ll finish each in turn, and probably not touch them again. As odd as it sounds, some sort of true franchise mode would have added more legs to the single player portion of the game.
The graphics of "NFL Street 2" are a mixed bag. The jaggies and general flat textures of the player models betray the game's origins on the PS2, but the animations are fantastic. They are fluid and energetic and keep the game running at a frenetic pace. Bodies are flying everywhere; rumblin', stumblin' and bumblin' as they break tackles, deliver clotheslines, and generally wreak mayhem. You quickly forget about the jaggies as the game unfolds, as the game's animation is so impressive that it draws your eye away from the details of the player models.
"NFL Street 2" tries desperately to establish it's "street cred" with one of the better EA Traxx soundtracks, great costumes/clothing, and appearances by Xzibit. The cartoony players ooze style from their dress to their trash talk, and do make you feel like you’re seeing your favorite players on their off days. It all still feels a bit forced, though, as I don't think the hip-hop atmosphere goes quite as well with football as it does with basketball.
Online play is simply fantastic, and is the game's real selling point. I have not seen a team game play smoother online. In a game based entirely on twitch reflexes for it's fun factor, online lag or slowdown can be a killer. As a sports gamer, some slowdown from the offline game is tolerated and even expected, but after “NFL Street 2”, maybe it shouldn't be. I have played a number of games against random opponents using Optimatch, and have never seen a moment's lag or slowdown. I go from offline play to online, and can notice no difference in the gameplay at all.
Mixed in with all this praise for the online portion of the game, there are also some notable and significant problems. EA's first year on Xbox Live has had its share of problems, and “NFL Street 2” is continuing that unfortunate tradition. The interface is confusing, the Friends List is often incorrect or missing, there are problems connecting to the EA servers, and while I've never dropped from an online game in my life, I've been disconnected multiple times in "NFL Street 2", and been saddled with a loss each time. One of these disconnects even came when I had received the message that the other user had unplugged his controller, and I should wait. I did wait, only to be told I had disconnected, and would be credited with a loss. While I don't pay much attention to my online record, these sorts of connection glitches might affect those readers who want to climb the rankings. Don't say we didn't warn you.
I'm in a strange predicament with this game. While it sits on my shelf, I have no interest in playing it. The only reason this disc kept seeing the inside of my Xbox was to log hours for this review. Yet every time I sit down to play, I have a hard time putting down the controller. It's simple and addictive, and the sheer frenzied pace makes you feel like you could just always squeeze in one more game.