Friday, February 15, 2008

FIFA Street 3 Demo: Fails to impress...

Great concept: Small court adrenaline soccer that should play like NHL Hitz or NBA Streetz. While the game may deliver as well as those titles once one gets up to speed on the game play mechanics and controls, the initial experience was rather lacking. I ended up losing my first game (default settings) 6-0 and felt pretty ineffectual throughout.

Problems with demo initial experience:

  • The default difficulty seemed a little high. I got slaughtered 6-0 and was pretty much unable to get any offense mounted. My opponent was also aggressive enough that I didn't have much time to actually goof around and explore the controls further than basic left thumb stick and face buttons.
  • The learn as you play hints were limited to two help text billboards in which the game pauses and displays text explaining the basic controls. While the billboards were displayed at just about the right moment (after I'd mashed around for a bit and figured out the basic move, pass, shoot controls), they were not helpful because they merely labeled the face button controls that I already understood via mashing face buttons.
  • I'm not sure what to think of the actual game shell flow. I understand the desire of the developer to show me all the cool options available in the full game, but because I couldn't adjust any of the options I basically learned that game menus were things to simply click through without reading (which probably exacerbated my issues with the pause menu UI that I detail in the next section). Moreover, because there was only one game mode, all the demo really needed was a "start" button that launched me into a match -- no need for all the additional A presses.
  • Related to the above point, while it was clear that there were different game options and arenas to play in, I was only allowed to see 2 teams and one arena and I could only play a standard 5 minute match. It would have been nice to see a bit more content or have a few more options. Perhaps more importantly, it would have been nice to include the tantalizing "practice mode" option so that I could have learned how to play the game.
More general problems:
  • While the pause menu UI is flamboyant and colorful, I had no idea that you could actually do anything useful (like review the control scheme) because it did not look interactive. It basically looked like a pause screen where you could only unpause by pressing A or B. I actually failed to exit the game (and launched a rematch by mistake) because I didn't realize there were menu options.
  • Why would player switch (defense) be mapped to a shoulder button instead of a face button? Almost all sports games I've played map the "switch player" function to either A (Xbox) or X (PS). This is a high use, high importance feature that should not be banished to the nether regions of the controller. Moreover, neither Y nor X are mapped on the Xbox controller -- there's no reason to require should button presses when those primary buttons are free. For shame -- I didn't even realize you could switch players until the game was almost over.
  • I couldn't figure out how to fill the power bar using default mashing controls. My opponent was constantly doing cool moves and building up its power bar. Me, not so much. Turns out that you need to do things like waggle the right stick and... well... I'm not sure what else in order to power up. This is very different than a game like Hitz where you just do lots of shooting and checking to power up. I can understand layering risk-reward onto the power bar and having more tricky maneuvers (when successfully executed) result in bigger power bar replenishes, but the beginning masher should still have access to these power moves.
  • Related to the previous point, why do the core mechanics for such a whimsical game need to be so complex? This kind of game should be accessible and enjoyable by all -- yet it seems like I am going to have to learn to execute a lot of complex sequences and patterns in order to pull off some basic strategy. I have no idea whether there are more basic and accessible control schemes available to the player in the retail game, but there doesn't appear to be this option in the demo. Many sports games try and accommodate more casual users by providing lighter weight schemes for players who want to have fun and do cool things right away instead of having to master the controller tap dance.

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