Back in 2001, when the PlayStation 2 was still in its infancy and not yet hitting its stride, EA Sports Big released NBA Street, to rave reviews and gave a rebirth of sorts to the dormant arcade basketball genre once owned by NBA Jam. The eventual sequel in 2003 was just as well-received, though not quite as noticed in what's a crowded lineup of PS2 sports games. With the success of the NBA Street franchise, it seemed to be only a matter of time before EA went ahead with a street version of what's easily the sport they know best ? football. NFL Street was born of that idea, and in the same vein as NBA Street in trying to revitalize arcade hoops, NFL Street is EA's attempt at taking a grip on the arcade football genre once held by NFL Blitz in the mid to late 1990's. And while NFL Street is not in the same class as NBA Street by any means, NFL Street is a solid, fun, and challenging arcade sports game that has enough depth and unlockable stuff for both single and multiple players that either side of the coin can find something to do. While EA's trademark gamebreakers and style points don't exactly work well with football all the time, NFL Street is an admirable attempt at it, giving hope that a certain NFL Street 2 will iron out the problems and put this franchise up there with other Big franchises like SSX and NBA Street.
NFL Street has a solid selection of different playtypes, many of them for both single and multiple players. In addition to a basic exhibition game (that counts towards your win-loss record on your profile) against any of the 30 teams and a bunch of special teams (including the vaunted legends team featuring some big-time superstars of the past), you can play a pick-up game for a bit of shaking things up. Here, you can pick your own players across all the teams to assemble a super-team; great for evening up multiplayer games. Naturally, Street has a full-fledged online system in place, for both dial-up and broadband users, with all the usual EA perks like EA Sports Talk for broadband users, and the EA Sports Nation features. There's also the NFL Challenge, which is the main single player game, split into a pair of different game modes. With this, you can climb the ladder and beat all the NFL teams with your own team of players, as well as slowly raise the skills of your players and even grab players from other teams. The 2 styles go hand in hand in not only offering some variety, but also balancing out the game as to not make your team overpowering immediately.
More specifically, the 2 styles consist of ladder and challenge. In the ladder mode, you battle a grouping by each of the 8 divisions, and then battle the all-star team for that division. This is accomplished not with a solid team of players like NBA Street did, but with a basic, generic batch of players with low skills. Naturally, this bad team won't last long against high-powered NFL teams, so that's where the challenges come in. Each division has a handful of challenges to tackle, ranging from basic requirements to intense challenges against tough opposition. In order to access these challenges, you must earn tokens from beating teams in ladder mode ? but they're well worth it, as they unlock attribute points as well as different clothing to customize your players, to make your team better, and if you're good enough, earn a crack at taking a player off a team you beat to replace your customized players. These two modes of play go hand in hand at conquering the NFL Challenge, as both modes must be played to build your team, and since you can only progress through the challenge events by winning ladder games to get tokens, it keeps your team from being too overpowered and making the game easier than it needs to be. It's a smart, smart move by EA Tiburon to force both sides of the game to be played.
NFL Street is based in traditional arcade football roots, only fixed up to be more ?street' like. It's still 7 on 7, like NFL Blitz made famous, but instead of having 7 offensive and defensive players, you pick from a pool of players to play both sides of the ball. It makes the game play more like basketball, rather than football, but it works pretty well and though it doesn't fall far from the tree in terms of player ability (as in, RBs's and Wide Receivers can play secondary well, and vice versa, and linemen can both block and attack pretty equally), it's a nice diversion from the norm. And of course, these guys are in street clothes, without helmets, uniforms, and heavy equipment. The games are fairly similar to the real game, with touchdowns and all that, but there are no kicks; instead, you run the ball for a 1 point conversion, and pass for 2. there's no clock, rather you play to a set amount of points (the default is 36, and you must play to 36 in each NFL Challenge game). So, none of that silly clock milking in NFL Street, which actually eliminates one of the cheap tricks online losers like to play.
Otherwise, the trick-based gameplay of NBA Street makes up the majority of the gameplay in its NFL counterpart. That is, you're able to ?style' by using the style buttons on the PS2 controller, pulling show-off moves that build up your Gamebreaker meter. Once this fills up, like NBA Street, you become invincible of sorts and you can destroy the opponents for a short time. In this case, triggering the Gamebreaker on either side of the ball will give you a major advantage until the remainder of the drive ? once you score, it goes away, or once you force a turnover on defense, it too disappears. It also can be used to cancel an opponent Gamebreaker if you don't need to use it for any reason and hold it in your ?backup' of sorts, since you don't have to trigger it as soon as you make enough style points to trigger one. Achieving all this isn't quite as valuable as in NBA Street, but getting multiple Gamebreakers per game can be the difference between a win and a loss. The only problem is, getting the chance to do these style moves is fairly tough, as doing them around defenders tends to cause a fumble, and that happens all the time. The best time to actually do style tricks is on a breakaway, or by just hard-nosed play instead of being fancy, since it leads to mistakes. It almost seems tacked on, in that regard.
On the other hand, the actual game of football closely resembles what Madden would be like if they took the rules out. Most of the plays are familiar and though the controls are way different from the simulation NFL game, it works well. What's neat is how the different fields affect play ? while the basic field is wide and grassy for traditional football, places like the west coast beach field is sandy which slows you down, and some fields are narrow with little room to run east or west, making your runner learn to be a north/south runner instead. Street is one football game, however, where you absolutely positively must be able to play defense smartly if you're wanting to win games effectively. In Madden, and most other football games, you can, most of the time, let the computer AI handle stuff and not be penalized, but in this game, you'll be the one in deep trouble letting your AI teammates handle things. Seeing as the AI can use the same tricks as you with style points and Gamebreakers (and of course, human opponents as well), letting a dumb defensive player make a move by themselves can be costly.
That leads to one problem with Street that really hurts it ? unbalanced, arcadey difficulty. By and large, Street will challenge until you really learn the game, but with EA's famous catch-up AI in full force, the game becomes weird. It's actually better in parts to let opponents score, to keep the AI honest and not suddenly grow much stronger and topple you after you've been walking on them most of the game. This leads to the cheapest trick in the book ? sticking to one or two plays all game long that you know work well enough to score efficiently, simply to get by the AI and score enough times to reach the destined score before they do. This is also a problem in the multiplayer games ? like NFL Blitz in the past, 2 equally-skilled players will not engage in a game of skill, rather a game of luck instead ? especially since the rosters are balanced so that no team is really better than the others, aside from the Legends and other secret teams. Whoever gets the ball first, whoever makes an unlucky turnover, whoever hits their Gamebreaker first, etc. will have the advantage. Granted, a better player will smother an inexperienced one, but otherwise, the back and forth scoring will get boring and wear thin after a while, just like NFL Blitz did back in the day. It's not quite as bad as Blitz, due to some intangibles that can mix things up, but it's there and will wear thin on those looking for competition rather than back and forth games of luck. For single player, however, the NFL Challenge is deep enough that even though you'll be calling shenanigans more often than you like, you'll keep coming back around to stick it to the computer and take home the gold.
Despite that, there's no question that NFL Street has that deceptively addictive gameplay style that you might not even notice ? it's one of those games that can get frustrating and even annoying at times, but at the same time, you're still playing it despite these problems, battling the ranks online or getting your name on the short list of those who've beaten all 32 teams in NFL Challenge. The incredible amount of depth in the single player, along with always-fun online playability makes for a game with a lot of replay in spite of the game's balance, enough to perhaps keep football fans going until Madden NFL 2005 releases later this year. If you can deal with games between equally skilled players sometimes becoming more about luck rather than ability, and the sometimes annoying computer AI in 1 player contests, NFL Street will be a good purchase for PS2 owning football fans.
NFL Street looks good visually, though it does seem dated at times. The players are designed very cartoony, with monstrous linemen and small DB's and receivers, and it's a nice change of pace from the realistic player models of the simulation football games. With only 14 players on a screen at once, on smaller fields, it runs fast without slowdown at 60 frames per second. The different fields themselves are also done well, each with unique features like traffic moving around on The Pit field, or the details (interactive details, mind you) of the urban locales, like watermelon stands you can crash through, or beachballs on the sandy West Coast field. The entire thing is sharp, with smooth textures and little to know visual flaws, aside from the overall look seeming like it came out of a 1st generation PS2 game. It's one of those games that nice to look at, with some cool touches, but it doesn't particularly have that ?wow' factor that I'm sure it was shooting for. With overall style resembling NBA Street, it probably wouldn't get that response anyway.
On the other hand, most of the audio presentation is excellent. The best part is without a doubt the on-field chatter. The players never, ever shut up from the opening plays, talking trash, bragging, and insulting their opponents every down. While the phrases get repetitive after about the 3rd game, the endless chatter fits the theme of the game well. Plus, a bunch of them are totally hilarious no matter how many times you hear them. The soundtrack of the game is split into the EA Trax side, which has music from both rap and rock, such as Killer Mike, Korn lostprophets (who are turning up on quite a few EA games lately), Bravehearts, DJ Kayslay (w/Three Six Mafia) and Fuel amongst a bunch of others. If you don't like a track, you can disable it in the music menu, and never have to hear it again, as it should be. On the field, funky, beat-heavy music that's both low-key and catchy occupies the games, fitting the urban environment exceptionally.