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.

While you are executing these fantastic moves, you’ll accumulate Style Points that will add up to “Gamebreakers”. There are two levels of “Gamebreaker”: a first level that powers up all your special moves, making them more effective, and a “Gamebreaker 2” that triggers a non-interactive cutscene. Whether offense or defense, a “Gamebreaker 2” will most likely get you a TD, unless the other player uses a "Gamebreaker" to cancel yours. Unfortunately, it’s a bit unbalanced, and there is little reason to use “Gamebreakers” on offense. Offensive “Gamebreakers” will power up your moves, while the defensive version is almost certain to result in a turnover. An offensive “Gamebreaker 2” may net you a score, but a defensive one will give you a turnover as well as the likely score. In a game of “first to 36”, where offense rules and it’s usually a matter of possessions, turnovers are king and only the desperate will pass up a turnover for an immediate score.

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”.

“NFL Challenge” lets you create a team of 7 players, either from scratch or let the computer generate them for you. Once your team is set, you have 150 days to prepare your team for a tournament against the best in the NFL. You’ll do this by traveling to different parks in Bay City, and completing challenges there. You’ll be playing against both NFL teams and fictional ones, but most of the challenges don’t have you actually playing standard games. Instead you’ll be completing specific challenges such as “Have 2 user sacks in a game to 24” or “Calling only run plays, score on this drive”. Completing these challenges will cause you to spend days out of your allotted 150, but will also earn you development points, and the more difficult challenges cost more days, and earn more development points (and even the chance to add NFL players to your roster).
In “Own the City” you will create one character, then work your way through Bay City by playing pickup games, minigames, and full squad games against fictional players. You’ll recruit players from the pickup games and minigames, and build your roster until you can compete with Xzibit’s All-Pro squad of NFL ballers. All the while, you’ll earn development points for your player, and the ability to buy new equipment for him in stores. Once you’ve completed the mode, you’ll be able to import your player into ‘Madden 2006” when that releases this fall.

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.

In addition to the technically stunning gameplay itself, EA also offers up some fun gameplay modes. You'll find not only the expected ability to play as your favorite NFL team but also a full collection of minigames, the ability to use your offline “NFL Challenge” team, and the brilliant “NFL Pickup”. In this style, you and your opponent will be presented a random selection of 40 NFL players, and you will take turns selecting players. It adds strategy and fun, and is a good place to find more players who won't be resorting to the usual online antics of plug-pulling, rampant pausing, and glitch exploiting.

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.

As a single player experience, it's a bit empty. The interface is not very intuitive, and the varied game modes really diffuse the punch of offline play. There's lots to do, but as Gertrude Stein famously said, "when you get there, there isn't any 'there' there". None of the modes feel developed enough to support the replay value I usually expect from a sports title, and the games quickly start to feel repetitive. In multiplayer, online or offline, is where this game shines. It's got just enough simplicity to be accessible to a wide range of gamers, just enough strategy to feed the hardcore, and just enough insanity to provide some really memorable moments.
If you are looking for a multiplayer experience, this game could be an excellent purchase. Online play is very smooth when it's working, and the opportunities for trash talk are abundant. If you’re mainly looking for a single player experience though, you may be better off with a rental. There’s just not enough meat in "NFL Street 2" to provide a complete single-player experience.

NFL Street 2 Score
out of 10