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FIFA is generally a known entity. Like with my other reviews, I'm going to put one mode under the spotlight - Be a Pro.This little known mode is a great and realistic way to play as part of a team. I found it strangely similar to the team tactics of Ghost Recon, just as engaging and at times just as absurd.
The most recent batch of mainstream football games include a new feature where you can choose to control one player, taking responsibility for his every move, kick and tackle and you can also influence play by asking for the ball, or compelling others to take a shot. It's an interesting twist and a new idea, as far as I am aware. I am going to zoom-in and review this game mode alone here, rather than passing comment on the game in its entirety.
I have commandeered James Brown. Not the Sex Machine Godfather of Soul, no I'm controlling the Godfather of Goals. James Brown is the bright, young, free spirit that fronts the muted attack of Hartlepool United. Or at least what used to be a muted attack, before I took control of him.
FIFA 09 Be a Pro Mode, now we're playing in the Barclays Premier League (though the rest of my team remains unchanged from back when we terrorised League One) and he's captain of the England Squad. Through long hard graft, a life-question-raising 106 games, he has proven himself to be an incredible player averaging 39 goals per season for club and country.
You get four years worth of a career in FIFA 09 Be a Pro Mode, and the target is to have led your team to victory in the World Cup. I'm well on my way to realising that goal. But how did I, I mean he, get here?
It's tough to hold responsibility for a team's result whilst only being able to control the actions of one player.
Initially, times were tough. I didn't have to work my way up from the reserves' bench, at least, with Brown being a regular part of the Hartlepool United starting line-up. But still, it was a genuine challenge and when the ball was with the opponent right near your goal you do feel powerless to change things - again, a new gaming experience. It's quite different to simply not being any good at the game. You might be playing out of your skin, but you still need the rest of your team to pull their weight. Frustration abounded. It is tough to hold responsibility for a team's result whilst only being able to control the actions of one player.
It's easy to see how a few losses might stop you from playing with a weaker team, but EA have found a crafty way to keep you involved. They borrowed some role-playing elements from the likes of Mass Effect or Fable. They hook you into playing time-after-time by giving you a certain number of Skill Points which you can then spend on altering your player's statistics. The better you play, the more points you can spend on your player, the better player he becomes. And because you are controlling this one player on match day, there's a big incentive and pay from these improvements.
You also get given a list of tasks (take 10 shots on target, score two goals, etc) to achieve in each match and get bonus skill points for completing them. The better your player becomes, the easier it is to achieve these, the more skill points you can farm into making him a better player. It's a very addictive cycle.
There is a strong sense that whatever training you make him do makes a real difference on the pitch.
Deciding how to make your player a better footballer in FIFA 09 Be a Pro Mode brings some interesting decisions. My player was quite weedy easily knocked off the ball, or even flat to the ground whenever he comes within smelling distance of an opposing defender. So, I could boost his strength.
But then, he needs to be fast to be able to outrun defenders so maybe I should improve his acceleration. Or, I could plough the points into his dribbling skills to try and make it easier for him to get around them. There is a strong sense that whatever training you make him do makes a real difference on the pitch. I ended up focusing on making him incredibly fast and a clinical finisher, but through the first two years of his career as my football puppet he was frequently upended by simply bumping into the other team.
Unfortunately, I had decided to give myself an easy life and kept the difficulty level at Average. I don't like losing, and as we progressed up the leagues I knew my shortcomings would be too frustrating. But, this easy level meant that I limited my experience of the game. My skills progression was too fast. I was scoring a stupid number of goals per game - my record was 9, in an International friendly with China. I ruined it for myself by making it too simple. It took a bit of the fun out of it, but I continued to play for the thrill of scoring and the desire to reach and ultimately win the World Cup. Maybe that's what it's like to be Brazilian?
My player delivered a beautiful header which Joel Porter, my strike partner, volleyed forcefully into the back of the net.
The fact that your team doesn't get updated with transfer information makes for some interesting match-ups. In my last game, a thrilling and tense 5 - 3 home victory over West Ham, my player delivered a beautiful header which Joel Porter, my strike partner, volleyed forcefully into the back of the net. I had to remind myself that he doesn't play for us any more, he's gone home to Australia to play for Gold Coast United. This cognitive dissonance between what you see on the screen and what you know to be true in your head drops the level of immersion a bit.
This is a genuinely new way to play a football game, and probably a more realistic way to play as part of a team. It's certainly engrossing. It's sort of akin to Ghost Recon, or the Tom Clancey family of Tactical Shooters. It's great fun, and at best fully absurd.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: