Review: Urban Freestyle Street Soccer
Posted 12 Oct 2003 at 04:16 by Bas van de Burgh
While I'm writing this, autumn is really kicking in. Strong gust of wind, driving rain and the tree across the street has already lost much of its leaves, turning the street into a slippery mess. The nearby square, usually the setting for some football action, lies deserted as even the most dedicated Beckhams-to-be (or could-have-beens) remain indoors. Will Urban Freestyle Soccer (or Freestyle Street Soccer for the football barbarians across the pond) keep them busy till spring?
Unsurprisingly, Urban Freestyle Soccer doesn't take place on a 100 by 50 meter field of smooth grass, but on small plazas behind a block of houses or in an industrial zone. The various arenas are a welcome change to the usual Camp Nou and Old Trafford inspired designs and are attended with much detail. There is a skater in a half pipe beside one pitch, and another features some spectators that seem to have walked out of Christina Aguilera's recent clip 'Can't Hold Us Down'.
Player movement is also quite good. Players move fast and most of the trick animations look great. The visibility on the close side of the pitch has been considerably improved since the beta version (see the preview on this site) and the standard camera is satisfactory. It can also be adjusted, in contrast to the replays, which are automatic and not always from the best angle.
Freestyle Soccer is one of the first football games since the 16bit era that lacks commentary. A sensible omission as there is usually no one on the streets to provide some thoughts on the action on display. I can't say I really miss it as even the best game commentators get repetitive after some time. You're not playing in silence, however (hey, it's no tennis!). Beside the usual ball sounds you can hear traffic, a couple of supporters and the players intimidating their opponents to make up for the lack of commentary.
So far so good, but on top of this, Silicon Dreams has added a soundtrack which consists mostly of rap and rock. Famous artists make their appearance such as TLC, Method Man and the Foo Fighters. Unfortunately the soundtrack get boring very quick and it gets annoying not much later. Each team has their own song which is played during one half of the match, while the other half you have to listen to your opponent's track. This means when playing tournament with the skater boys, each half match you're forced to listen to the same Foo Fighters song. This one song is even repeated till halftime, so think twice before setting half time to eight minutes. It doesn't matter if you like your team's song or not, within two hours you'll be browsing the menu screens to turn the music off. And fortunately you can. The soundtrack remains a missed opportunity, though.
"Well, it's football", so that makes a lot of explaining about gameplay unnecessary. "But not as we know it", I should add, because most of the rules have been deleted. No offside, no fouls, not even a referee (well that about the referee makes sense because he wouldn't have much to do, now would he?). It's four versus four; the team scoring the most goals wins.
Easy as that? No, not quite. Because even more fun than repeatedly knocking down your opponent unpunished, is humiliating him by using some incredible tricks to score. Freestyle Soccer allows you to perform some fabulous moves, which are awarded by fairly superfluous points. Showing off is still recommended though, just for the fun of it and because it will charge your netbuster meter. A netbuster, as you might have already guessed, is an extremely powerful shot with a high chance of scoring, or at least a means to knock out the goalkeeper for a few moments. This is hardly a new concept, I believe it has been in alternative arcade football games as far back as World Cup for the NES, but that doesn't mean it isn't a lot of fun.
When your netbuster meter is filled, a ray of light illuminates a part of the field. This is your signal to make your way to the beam of light and perform a netbuster move to make the goalkeeper dive – for his life (repeat twice). The netbuster beam remains for twenty seconds, which is both annoyingly short and exasperatingly long, depending on whose team you're on. Short if you first have to obtain the ball while your opponent is teasing you by making the beam change places by running into it. Long if you have to keep bashing down your opponent to keep him away from the beam. Netbusters require some thinking (complete the meter while you're in possession of the ball; charge the meter even in the last seconds of the game, because a netbuster is a great chance to level the scores) and thus adds a nice tactical element.
Beside the championship (turf wars, a knock out system against teams from other 'hoods', where winning gains points to upgrade your team) and quick match, there are a couple of extra modes, some of which have to be unlocked. In addition to Home Turf and Street Challenge, there is a Freestyle mode which is about scoring as much points as possible by showing off your moves. A training mode is included as well, but unfortunately it hasn't been finished off very well as there's too little time to both read the messages and practice the moves. Players should be given the opportunity to experiment with the controls.
Essential for any arcade type game are smooth gameplay and accessible, intuitive controls which fortunately are both present in Freestyle Soccer. Controls are easy to pick up and even special moves are relatively easily to perform. One-two's are pulled of by pressing the pass button twice, but combinations with the chip button are also possible. Tricks and dodge moves require holding down the R-button. This also works while defending, though not tricks will be the result but some really vicious fouls. Actually, foul is not the right word as these dark-side moves are allowed, but expect your opponent to get even with you.
Shooting has also been worked out nicely by displaying a moveable arrow in the goal, which makes quick aiming possible. To make shooting look cool, players automatically perform some tricks before they kick the ball, so there is some lag between pressing the button and the actual shot. It's not as frustrating as it sounds, but it should still have been left out.
One of the most original aspects of this game is the interaction with the environment. It's possible to pull off a one-two with the wall like playing indoors, and you can get out of a difficult position by running onto the wall and do a somersault. There are also various objects on the field, such as tires and trash cans, which can be moved to obstruct your opponent, but can also impede your own team. Small objects can be picked up and thrown at other players, though this often takes too much time when playing solo. It's a nice touch that your – for the rest not overly intelligent – CPU controlled team mates occasionally throw a tire at the opposition.
Few football games free of bugs, and I'm afraid Urban Freestyle Soccer is no exception. It's not really annoying, but within two hours I had already noticed two. They're not as bad as some in 'King of Bugs' Kick Off 3 (at least my copy sucked), where sometimes a players just didn't show up for a throw in, forcing you to reset the game. In this case the ball clearly ended up behind some fence, but that didn't seem to bother a CPU player who just ran off with an invisible ball and almost scored (but after some pretty nice defending, if I may say so, my team regained the ball after which the ball's invisibility seemed to have worn off.)
The various modes, tricks and difficulty levels will keep you busy for quite some time. In case you have three friends who happen to share your passion for arcade soccer, the four player mode may quadruple the lifespan.
Football purist may not be interested, but if you like over the top arcade sport sims in the tradition of NBA Jam and NHL Hitz, this is an excellent choice to satisfy your football needs during the winter. It's a good game, but I can't blame you if budget or spare time constraints cause you to pass up on this one during the Christmas triple-A-title frenzy.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Decent arcade football with a few touches of greatness.
Easy to pick up