By James Bregman
Fifa Street is a football sim with a difference, hauling the world's favourite game out of the stadium and into a variety of down-and-dirty urban settings.
Dribble better than a toddler with Fifa Street
Out go referees, stoppages, touchlines and grass, in favour of a simple four-versus-four set-up where you can bounce the ball off walls and the action stops only for goals and replays.
But if this sounds like football at a bare bones, nostalgic, jumpers-for-goalposts level, it
The backdrops may be inner city wasteland, but the protagonists are drawn from the world's flashiest players - Messrs Beckham, Ronaldinho, Totti and co, all of whom seem unable to do anything in a simple way.
You can do a straightforward along-the-ground pass, but the game will encourage you to try a chipped backheel through the legs of an opponent, whilst moving - backwards.
Laws of physics rarely make their presence felt in this game, which may not endear it to football purists.
On the other hand, once you come to terms with how little it resembles actual football, there's a lot of fun to be had.
FIFA STREET: SCORES
Format: PS2. Xbox, GameCube
Enduring Appeal: 7
The "story" mode lets you design a likeness of yourself to drop into a team, which then sets out to accrue points and respect by taking on all-comers, beating them, and doing lots of showing off in the process.
Credits can be spent on introducing new players to your gang, increasing skill levels, and most importantly, buying new clothes and haircuts.
A quick-match option picks players along national team lines, pitting them head to head either to score a set number of goals first or to be in the lead when a time limit runs out.
This being a product from Electronic Arts, the front-end design immensely slick and the music - of an appropriately urban nature - rarely lets up, even during the games.
The game is full of preposterous tricks
Graphical likenesses are pretty good and the overall graphics and animation are fine. The gameplay itself is where several problems crop up.
Shots on goal are struck in particularly satisfying bullet-like fashion, but goalkeepers tend to have a superhuman ability to stop them.
This gets annoying, although it does help restrain the scorelines and works both ways, giving you a fair chance of defending your goal in a seemingly hopeless one-on-one situation.
The real flaw is that controls are oddly sluggish, and the ball moves like a leaden lump.
Gritty urban backdrops set the street scene
Pulling off a deft trick isn't a problem, but stringing together a feint with something as useful as an attempt on goal is not easy, particularly since the shoot button seems to take an age to react.
Still, these niggles tend to dictate a feel and style of play rather than take all the fun out completely. The game proves curiously addictive, somehow adding up to more than the sum of its parts.
If you want a proper football sim, opt for Pro Evolution Soccer 4 or Fifa 2005.
If you prefer style to substance, think the game needs a hip-hop soundtrack and your favourite players are the ones with the highest salaries and most girly hair, Fifa Street will do the job with aplomb.
Football may not lend itself quite as readily to this concept as basketball and American football do in EA's other 'street' titles, but for a first attempt, it's a decent try.
And if the inevitable sequel can tweak some of the glaring flaws, Fifa Street is an idea with a massive amount of promise.