Streets of rage.
Though it's in bad form to offer a disclaimer at the beginning of a review, I'm going to openly admit that I have never ever played street football. I've thrown a ball around in the suburbs of rural Illinois, but have I ever crushed a buddy into a cement wall in the name of sport? No. Have I ever worn a diamond-studded dollar sign from my neck? Not in public. Have I ever used the phrase "To da Hizzy fo Shizzy"? Quite possibly. You say funny things after enough Miller High Life.
But by and large I am not street, at least not the kind of street that has been promoted and packaged in the three installments of NFL Street to date, and I'm not sure if anyone is. The latest is a reincarnation of NFL Street 2 for the PSP, titled NFL Street 2: Unleashed, and you could save a lot of time by skipping my review if you read Joe Dodson's able coverage of that game when it was released for the PS2 and Xbox. In his review, Joe points out that NFL Street 2 is a lot like its predecessor, a fact that remains unchanged here as well.
Unleashed features the same pared-down, seven-on-seven football that made the first two console games best-sellers, and it translates beautifully to the smaller screen. What was great about the first NFL Street was that it delivered a quick, arcade-style football fix. With its bright graphics, simple control and readable menus, the quick-fix element fits snugly with the on-and-off nature of PSP gaming sessions.
The game includes three different single-player modes. In Own the City, you build up a character through playing pickup games, gaining and spending points on attributes, and unlocking new playing fields. In NFL Challenge you play as a single NFL team and try to achieve certain prescribed goals like "grab two interceptions in a game to 26." In NFL Gauntlet, on the other hand, you must simply defeat a long series of NFL teams in a row. Of these, Own the City, with its light RPG leveling-up, is the best while NFL Challenge can feel tedious and NFL Gauntlet redundant.
In addition , the PSP version includes several mini-games. While we saw "Crush the Carrier" and "Jump Ball" mini-games in the console versions, Unleashed introduces a few new pastimes such as "Street Slalom," which has your player running down a trash-ridden alley, jumping off walls and over fences like a felon on angel dust. Given the budding romance between the NFL and our federal penitentiary system, adding a few cops to the chase might have offered some degree of humorous realism. Still, with six mini-game modes and three longer game modes, Unleashed certainly offers some solid content for your baby PSX.
The gameplay itself is mostly identical to the console versions. You can still run up the walls, juke the socks off your opponent, and deliver no-look behind-the-back passes with Jedi-like precision. Although there is obviously no controller vibration, the screen still shakes with big hits and the sound complements asphalt ass-handings with satisfying crunches. The finesse trick maneuvers and bone-shattering hits are the biggest draw to NFL Street, and thankfully none of those are missing.
Gamebreakers, an EA Big staple, are also back. Rack up enough style points by doing such dubious dances as "raising the roof" and "showing the rock" and your team gets a huge energy boost resulting in a guaranteed turnover or touchdown.
The few omissions are barely noticeable. Without all four shoulder buttons, the variety of style moves has been reduced. The console versions run a little smoother, but Unleashed still moves at a quick pace and in solid color on the PSP, without any drops in framerate.
But making a perfect replica isn't always a good thing. We complained that the defensive A.I. was slow and stupid in NFL Street 2, and Unleashed has done nothing to raise its I.Q. A reasonably quick quarterback can always scramble for ten yards, and by reading defenses and calling audibles you can make the PSP processor look like a Commodore 64.
Though the numerous modes and variety of challenges give the game a lot of options, the actual gameplay remains an almost hypnotically repetitive experience. There is very little strategy in the playcalling and the action is eerily predictable. Pitching the ball or juking will occur at nearly the same place on every run play, and defensive backs bite on ball fakes all the time.
The load times also bite, usually running about thirty to forty seconds - well over the limit of my attention span. At worst, these can be longer than some of the challenge-type games that are being loaded. While you might breeze by the computer on the field - I mean, street - the computer definitely gets you back in the end.
Then again, you can always play a friend with a PSP using Ad Hoc wireless. Competing against a living and thinking human derails many of your computer-spanking plays, significantly raising the number of active brain cells needed to score a touchdown. Given the upside to Unleashed's multiplayer game, the lack of Infrastructure (online) support is a bummer.
In a nod to those PSP owners whose friends are too stingy to buck up for one of their own, a few of the mini-games can be played in "party play." The party (or is it par-tay?) consists of handing the PSP from player to player like in a hot-seat, turn-based game. While not revolutionary, it's is a decent menu addition for the mobile platform, one of the few changes in the game that seems particularly unique to the PSP.
The hip-hop and hardcore soundtrack is middling to abysmal. While there aren't as many tracks in Unleashed as there were in NFL Street 2, the music retained is by no means the cream of the crop. Both the angry punks and the í¼ber-cool hip-hop playuhs sound identically whiny and self-absorbed. One of the tracks even repeats ad nauseum, "I want to be respected!" Unfortunately, respect is one of the very few things in life for which one can never beg.
It is, however, something that can be commanded. Though it's probably one of the better PSP sports games in its own right, NFL Street 2: Unleashed won't command much respect from anyone who has played the other NFL Street titles. While EA scored big with the original, each successive Street has felt more and more like the repetitive plays in the identical playbooks - rote exercises to be performed in the endless pursuit of bling.