Sports games. If ever there was a genre of games which was the epitome of consistency and ‘sameness’ its sports games, in particular Football games (soccer games for our counter-Atlantic readers). The core mechanic of the experience hasn’t really greatly changed in the time between playing Fifa 1995 (in 1994… it’s a sports game thing) on my Megadrive and playing Pro Evolution Soccer 2013 on My Xbox 360 about 30 minutes ago. Yes, the flash and sizzle may have changed, but the basic experience, puppeteering a plethora of pixelated players (alliteration is fun!), is largely unchanged. Why would it be? It’s still the same sport that forms the basis of the game, so why would there be any major dynamic change? Indeed, the sales of the Pro Evolution Soccer and Fifa series of games have been ample demonstration that the genre isn’t broke, so why would developers try to fix it?
That being the case, imagine my surprise at seeing a new logo on the menu of my new copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 11 a few years ago called ‘Become A Legend’. Being the curious sort of fellow that I am, I chose this option just to see what it was. What it was, it turned out, was something extremely surprising. For those who don’t know, Become a Legend mode on PES (Pro Evolution Soccer) is a game mode where you create a player (or in later iterations alternatively choose an existing player) and develop them over their career, from 17 year old academy graduate through to seasoned veteran.
That’s right, they only went and made a Football RPG!
Now, PC stalwart Football Manager this isn’t. While initially promising much, the mode, even in recent editions, is somewhat limited. While you can choose the areas to focus your training on and what position you prefer to play, these are essentially the only meaningful decisions you make, aside from transfers. While this is understandable, owing to the fact this is a sub-feature mode of a game as opposed to a fully-fledged game on its own, it is rather disappointing. Little of actual merit happens between matches, other than your agent telling you you’ve won some new boots (which somehow can make you kick harder or run faster… yes realism takes a hit with this recent addition), meaning that the game itself does tend to become something of a repetition of game after game.
This is not helped by the…questionable… teammate AI, which is at best inconsistent and, at worst, spasm-inducingly frustrating. It’s clear that the AI is designed purely for the full game, ensuring correct positioning for the Player’s team members and a challenge as opponents. This does not, however, translate completely seamlessly for a game in which you play as one player alone and have to rely on the AI teammates for support. Through balls are consistently played about 2 seconds after they need to be, if at all or are played straight to opponents. And you would think that in this day and age developers could stop AI players blindly dribbling off the pitch for no reason… Perhaps AI technology is still at a point today where this is the extent of what can be achieved, but it would be interesting to see what could be done if a game was developed with the Become A Legend as the core mechanic.
That said, this mode is a breath of fresh air, breathing new life into a fairly stale genre. There have been suggestions of this sort of game previously and even some “pick an option” sequential RPG games, but nothing to the extent of this mode. Perhaps it’s my RPG gamer roots, but I love the Become a Legend and Be a Pro modes in the modern football games. They may be limited in scope and somewhat superficial, but I find these modes far more interesting and captivating than the full mode. As with many games, imagination is the key driving force for the narrative and you readily find yourself imagining the trials and tribulations of your player. Many a time I found myself actually twitching with anticipation as a shot narrowly skimmed past a post. When a game can get your twitch reflex going like that, it’s on to something.
While not yet the polished article, the Become a Legend and Be a Pro modes in PES and Fifa respectively are a novel adaptation of an RPG framework on a football game and give a fantastic new gaming experience (something all to rare these days) and are only improving with each year.
I can give you no stronger recommendation that I haven’t played the traditional team mode of any football game properly for 3 years, yet I have owned each of those year’s football game editions, purely for the Become a Legend modes.
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Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod or @FaultyPixelUK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org