Sports titles, FIFA in particular, are regularly (and understandably?) criticised for being little more than data updates and a few tweaks. However one interesting development over the past few years is the Virtual Pro and the 2011 iteration is a well designed and structured addition to the game.
Earlier versions of the mode allowed players to customise their own footballer and by playing as this player, earn experience points and develop their stats. These “Pros” can be taken through careers, breaking through the reserves, earning a key role in the team and even getting that big move to a new club and an international call up. However it was pretty shallow and playing as a striker with a relatively low difficulty meant that you could earn crazy experience and max your stats all too quickly. You were also stuck playing the same position throughout your career (IIRC), which naturally was always going to be an attacking position.
FIFA 11 sees a complete overhaul of this system and to be honest, it is phenomenally well done. Stats are earned by completing “Accomplishments” which range from the basic score X with your weaker foot in any difficulty to improve your weaker foot to scoring free kicks in consecutive World Class difficulty or online games. Rather than every match being the same thing, earning the same rewards, players need to vary their approach and position to earn all the rewards available and develop their player. It also means that to truly develop your player you need to tackle the harder difficulties.
It also encourages players to get online, which really helps promotes the whole 11v11 aspect of FIFA 11. This in itself is an interesting game mode and use of your “Pro” adds an extra bit of flavour. Being able to form clubs and play matches with players in set positions is very exciting, although getting stuck with left back does feel like a bit of a booby prize. When not playing with friends there is also the challenge of getting a position that suits your player. My personal virtual pro is set up to be a nimble left footer, usually on the left wing or up front so naturally getting stuck at right back or centre half makes it nigh on impossible.
There is also the issue of everyone wanting to score, mainly for the glory but also to work towards to completing their accomplishments, any time the ball is near the box you can have 5 or 6 people from each side charging in to get on the end of it. Throw in a potential clown playing as a goalkeeper and it can be a little shambolic. I know that leaving me in nets will result in a goalie running around in circles to keep myself occupied, maybe pouring a drink, when the ball is down the other end of the park. This would no doubt cost my side, annoying ten other people. However I do have to say, with time the play is maturing and sometimes you have a genuine shape to teams and quite entertaining matches.
I’m curious to see how EA will develop this feature further in the inevitable FIFA 12 (which I’ll be getting on 360 over PS3 now!), although I’d be tempted to argue “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”.