Feature Article
Three Point Thursday: Be a Pro

Point #1: MLB 08: The Show’s Road to the Show mode created a new standard for single-player sports gaming.

Earlier this year, I wrote about how MLB 08: The Show’s Road to the Show mode allowed sports gamers to live out their dreams as professional athletes. EA has attempted to bring this concept to their football games recently with NCAA Football’s Campus Legend and Madden’s Superstar Mode, but neither came close to measuring up to Road to the Show.

EA introduced Be a Pro last year in FIFA Soccer 08, laying the groundwork for the expanded system we see in NHL 09. Be a Pro now features a player-centric element similar to Road to the Show, which boasts full create-a-player and a goal-oriented system for improving your player. But while Road to the Show has set the bar high for single player modes, it has room for improvement in certain areas where Be a Pro shines.

Point #2: Road to the Show falls short when it comes to representing one of sports’ core components.

As kids, we participated in sports for a wide variety of reasons, but we played primarily in order to have a good time and to learn the importance of teamwork. These objectives carry over to sports games, and while having fun will always top the list of reasons to play, the introduction of player-centric modes like Road to the Show and Be a Pro bring teamwork to the forefront as well.

Road to the Show does a fantastic job of making gamers feel like professional baseball players, but it falls considerably short of the mark when it comes to convincing them that they play for a major league ball club. Baseball stresses individual performance more so than any of the other sports in this discussion, so Road to the Show understandably deserves some leeway in the teamwork department.

In spite of these allowances, Road to the Show needs to push the envelope in terms of making players feel as if their performance and decisions effect the rest of the team. It provides this sensation in a limited fashion -- through faceless messages to your inbox due to your (usually poor) performance at the plate or on the mound. This system fails to convey any realistic sense of your importance to the team, and it also completely ignores glaring mistakes on the base paths and in the field.

The inability to take pride in your team’s performance strikes a crushing blow to the mode’s replay value. If SCE San Diego can address these shortcomings in time for MLB 09: The Show, Road to the Show will have improved by leaps and bounds regardless of core gameplay changes.

Point #3: Where Road to the Show flounders, Be a Pro scores a hat trick.

Be a Pro capitalizes on the importance of teamwork in hockey by not only tracking traditional statistics, but also grading players on how well they play positional and fundamental hockey. This approach rewards players who put in the effort to become productive members of their squads in all aspects, while penalizing those players who fill up the stat sheet at their team’s expense. The game also provides helpful feedback that communicates concisely both a player’s strengths and the areas in which he needs to improve in order to best help his team.

However, while the game succeeds in making you feel like a member of a professional hockey team, it still lacks key human elements offline. Fortunately, Online Team Play and the EA Sports Hockey League more than compensate for that issue by giving you real teammates and making teamwork and communication the name of the game. When playing with your club in the EA Sports Hockey League, the importance of each player’s contributions grows, and your impact on your teammates and the game at hand becomes immediate and apparent.

The Point: Be a Pro not only eclipses Road to the Show, but it represents sports in its purest form and has raised the bar across sports gaming.

Back in March, I called Road to the Show “the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.” It would seem that I spoke prematurely, because NHL 09’s Be a Pro mode essentially reproduces Road to the Show and adds an incredible amount of depth and replay value. Road to the Show still exists as a good feature in its own right, but SCE San Diego has to make certain upgrades –- better user feedback with an emphasis on team performance –- if it aims to compete with Be a Pro mode as a headlining feature. Until then, I’ll continue playing NHL 09’s Be a Pro mode until nine in the afternoon.

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Member Comments
# 1 Beantown @ 09/25/08 09:49 PM
So ****in' true.

Good article, Matt.
# 2 StormJH1 @ 09/26/08 02:16 PM
I played Road To the Show back on last gen in MLB '07...I don't believe it has changed significantly since then. I found the move fun, and I think it's nice that they skip only to parts of the game where you're involved, but the nature of baseball makes it difficult to execute this properly. And other baseball games (MLB Power Pros) have done more with the "off the field" stuff, but at some point, it ceases to become a sports title, and you're basically just playing a text RPG.

I've played a little bit of Be a Pro in NHL '09 offline and online, and it's pretty darned good. Being online with 11 other human players 6-on-6, playing as yourself is exciting, challenging, and sometimes hilarious (when it goes poorly). I wish they did a little more with presentation, in terms of displaying your career stats in-game, etc. And it would be nice if your progress did something other than a simple ratings boost (new equipment?). But it's a lot of fun.
# 3 Matt Diesel @ 09/26/08 04:36 PM
Note to 2k sports:

You dont need officially licensed teams when you can make your own or participate in another user's team as a player. Take BAP football style.

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