NFL Street 3
Presumably NFL Street 3's release was planned to co-inside with the this year's NFL Super bowl, America's biggest sporting event and garnerer of the country's largest television audience each year. Outside of the US (here in Britain at least), American football has limited appeal, but still there are those that pick up Madden NFL each year and perhaps might even plump for NFL Street's third and latest incarnation. Aside from a few new additions, the title is as familiar and reliable as cynical gamers have come to expect from EA's relentless sequels, though there might be enough on offer here for those newly touched by the thrill of NFL to give it a whirl.
The premise behind NFL Street is what you might view as a relaxed approach to the norms and values of ordinary American football, reflected in the urban-orientated 'stadia' on offer and the streetwise attire of the players. Similarly, the sport's rules have been altered to allow extended flexibility, and a little more flair to the occasion. Players can scurry across walls; perform gravity-defying leaps and use litter and fixtures strewn across the pitch to gain a tactical advantage. In addition, so-called 'gamebreaker' skills momentarily trigger a superhuman streak in any given player, affording him the strength of ten men, pinpoint passing abilities or an unstoppable burst of speed, all in the hope of unhinging the opposition.
The 'killer', new-fangled addition to NFL Street 3 is a new single player mode entitled 'Respect the Street.' Underneath the hiptastic label it's a career mode in which you can play through a huge number of different matches in order to better yourself and your team. Winning matches unlocks a selection of new locations to play at, while cash bonuses can be exchanged for a fresh change of clothes. However, none of that is important in the grand scheme of things, because earning the respect of your peers is your ultimate goal. The better and more experienced you get, the easier it becomes to influence you and your team's future performances. As an example, bearing your mighty ego can result in tempting players from a rival team to yours, easing your future progress as a consequence and encouraging you to change your gameplay tactics in order to adapt to new additions to your team.
The single player mode is stuffed fuller than the padding of an NFL pro's gear with game variations, not just the traditional 'most points win' American football. New additions include Play Elimination in which unsuccessful plays are removed from your repertoire if unsuccessfully executed in terms of sufficient yardage. As such, the winning side is that whose opposition runs out of options from their playbook first. Bank employs another off the wall objective; this time the victorious team is that which can pull off the most impressive array of tricks and gimmicks within each play in order to win 'style points.' Another new game mode, Yards for Points does what it says on the tin, with teams scoring points for the individual yard marks that they pass. These fresh gameplay shenanigans undoubtedly add an additional sprinkle of variety and enjoyment to the title's offerings, but whether their inclusion warrants a sequel is highly questionable indeed.
Despite the fairly cheap new additions, the most dilapidating aspects of NFL Street 3 are the gameplay and aesthetical touches that really shouldn't be appearing in a franchise now in its third outing. For the most part the gameplay grievances manifest themselves in the form of the unbelievably inconsistent performance of the AI opposition. You might be trouncing them one minute, thinking that you're easily on the way to toasting victory, when out of no where a flurry of awe inspiring successive plays leaves you for dead. Fair enough you'd think if it was your own fault, but when the game forces you into the uneasy position of not feeling completely in control of your team, you'll want to take your console and kick a field goal to next door's garden with it.
And while NFL Street 3 is in some respects all about appearance and looks and showing off, in terms of graphical prowess it comes about as close to the grandeur of the Super Bowl's half-time as setting-off a firework in broad daylight might. The player models' animation is as smooth as the game's solid, unbroken frame rate, but watching the teams charge, bump and perform around the selection of uninspiring arenas is at times a haphazard, grainy mess of polygons. The PlayStation 2 might be reaching its last hurrah and pale in comparison to its next-gen siblings, but visuals as hit and miss as those in NFL Street 3 are inexcusable. In-game music is provided by a selection of rap and rock artists, so if neither genre tickles your pickle, you're likely to be disappointed - but at least you'll have the repetitive, supporting lingo from a pick of NFL stars... great if you have any idea who they are.
Unlike EA's FIFA games where a real attempt has been made to enhance the series in the light of competition from Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer, NFL Street has no real rivalry. Maybe EA just need a few more sequels and a brand new console to perfect the series, but this writer has a sneaky suspicion that EA knows that a brand name and a few famous faces will be enough to encourage strong sales. Ignoring the scepticism, NFL Street 3 isn't a 'must-have' title by any means, but for die-hards and curious newcomers it presents more of a touchdown than a Janet Jackson Super Bowl booby.