If 'roids, rules, refs and paychecks weren't an issue, professional football matches might look a little something like NFL Street 3. The latest game in the franchise once again lets you play as beefed-up cartoon versions of pro footballers knocking heads in 7-on-7 helmet-less matches set in the back streets, lots, alleys and hangars across the US. It looks and plays a bit too much like the roughly two year-old NFL Street 2, but it still hits hard.
As with previous games in the series, NFL Street 3 shrinks the playbook to de-emphasize strategy and tosses out real world simulation in favor of faster-paced, arcade-style action. Your favorite pro ballers will run along walls, vault 15 feet into the air to heave or snag a pass, and toss the ball laterally to a teammate just before a tackle with alarming frequency.
At least, the CPU will. Those without finely-honed reflexes and timing will find several moves harder than expected to execute, making it a little too likely that you'll go careening into a brick wall or an onfield trash can (obstacles are new this year) instead of trampolining off of it and making a circus catch high in midair. This was a concern in the previous game, and it remains one here - many of the best moves are just too tough to pull off reliably. Another reappearing injury is that running plays are still far preferable to passing, thanks to easier special moves and the computer's uncanny knack for interceptions - especially with the new "lock-on interception" Game Breaker move.
Speaking of which, the visually explosive Game Breaker moves are toned down and renamed Power Moves, which feels right to us. Granted, effects like a lock-on tackle or a super-stiff-arm aren't always as exciting or effective as the moves in NFL Street 2 - double leaping and landing with a thunderous BOOM! may look great, but defenders who aren't close enough to get blown back by the impact will still manage to stop your run. But they're a little more balanced than last game's breakers, which seemed like automatic "I win" buttons.
Also new is a game type called Playbook Elimination, in which you and an opponent start with only a handful of plays, and every time you run a play that doesn't move you further down the field - say, a runner gets tackled in the backfield or a pass gets dropped - that play is then removed from your playbook for the rest of the game. When you or your opponent run completely out of plays, the team with the most points wins. It's both tense and infuriating. Other game variations count total yardage or defensive points instead of touchdowns, or pour points steadily into a pot, but then award the whole pot to whomever scores next.
Of course, you've also got customizable teams, a career-style "Respect the Street" mode, some great mini-modes like Hot Potato, tackle-fest Crush the Carrier, and online support for head-to-head football or four-man minigames.
Yes, the action can get tedious over time, as you realize that strategy takes a back seat to cheap super-moves and quick fingers. But there's something here. If you haven't played this series and the stat-crunching of Madden tires you, consider strapping on this bruiser's pads.