Football Manager has been at the pinnacle for quite some time now; destroying the social lives of many who adore the beautiful game. It isn’t just an exercise in simulation though, it can become all-consuming and for those who play into all hours of the night it can blur the lines between game and reality as it suddenly dawns on you that Liverpool haven’t signed X, Y and Z up front and actually have quite a limited set of strikers at their disposal.
With this sort of hold on a community the team at Sports Interactive could easily rest on their laurels and simply churn out some updated rosters and a new interface and know that people would go out and buy it in their droves. This year they’ve done quite the opposite in an ongoing quest to maintain a supernatural level of success with the introduction of some new modes and options. However, when you get into the habit of adding more and more into a game that already has so much it can get pretty damn confusing as to what you’re supposed to be doing and when, but as you read on you’ll realise that it’s both ends of the scale they’ve tweaked and it serves to please all.
The best place to begin is with FM Classic that takes the game back to its roots and cuts out all the nitty-gritty and clogged up inboxes in favour of a more streamlined and direct approach to how things progress. You’ll still have full access to over half a million players and coaches, but now the process of signing a new player or an addition to your backroom staff is a lot less intricate and for the most part comes down to the right price and the desire for them to join your club.
Much like the handheld versions everything is a lot simpler across the board, with no need to stress about team-talks, the board is more lenient with you and the interface overall is a lot cleaner with many of the options of the full mode either cutback or removed completely. Switching formations becomes an easy task, changing tactics isn’t a long and drawn-out affair and you’re not required to individually train each member of your squad with specific instructions and regimes.
To the uneducated this may sound like you’re paying more for less but that’s not the case whatsoever. You still get all the benefits of a perfected engine but without the stress of having to make every tiny decision and with that you can blow through a season in a night as oppose to it taking closer to a week depending on how meticulous you are as a manager. This takes away that willingness to give up when things aren’t going your way and recreates that magic ‘just one more game’ feeling that its predecessors were famous for.
My favourite new function is the instant result shortcut that offers you the option to skip a game and fast-forward right to those important numbers. You’ll still be punished if you haven’t set your team up correctly, but if you’re confident you can etch out a decent performance without studying every minute of play, especially in those pre-season friendlies, then you can move on and put more of your time in to what you feel are more pressing matters.
On the flip-side, delving into the main mode steps up the level of depth and intensity ten-fold, not just compared to Classic but when paired against any previous iteration to date. There is a plethora more options in what feels like almost every menu, specifically allowing you to cater to every preference, right down to choosing a new Director of Football - a new backroom staff addition - whose personality best meshes with your own. These can now be delegated important tasks to handle if you so wish and that will grant you a little more freedom to focus on things pitch-side.
Players now have stronger and more magnified personalities to better reflect their real-life counterparts, with characters such as Terry having a lot to say for themselves and Balotelli causing conflict for the sake of it. The media also plays a much bigger role, with what you say to them being twisted and turned to make for a better back page headline. They can also be manipulated to create rivalries with other teams and coaches, or to praise individuals you may have your eye on. The latter is nothing new, but this can now be done in a more realistic fashion and you can go into a lot greater detail about how and why you’ve took notice.
Each match now also has a live feed as things progress, keeping you fully updated on what is happening pitch-side and advice is handed to you from your entourage on what course of action is best to take next. This is a highly welcomed addition and makes it easier to control the game and to ensure thing’s come out in your favour.
Challenge Mode offers something new and places you in a scenario where you must complete a specific task within a set number of games. It could be that you’re asked to save a stricken team from relegation, or do well with a bunch of unhappy and injured players, or even both. It’s really an interesting spin and doing well acts as a training mode in a way, allowing you to master individual aspects that could help if a particular situation ever arises. I’ve personally had a lot of fun tinkering with this and it’s anything but easy, and I saw myself failing as many as I passed, but had fun doing it either way it fell.
Online play is now handled via Steam and is a far more pleasant experience than in games past, with more options here than ever in pitting your team against like-minded players. A lot of the refinement comes from its ease of use and allowing a little flexibility when setting up a game, tailoring to each individual. There are now also custom competitions that can be entered and they can be done so with the team you’ve spend hours perfecting in solo play, which is a huge plus and two raised eyebrows to anyone familiar with past online set-ups. There are also the long-awaited Leaderboards that had been sorely lacking for quite some time and are now there to peruse at your leisure.
Graphics-wise everything looks more crisp, clean and tidy, with a certain sharpness to both the menus and the texts. They’ve also nailed the transitions as the calendar sweeps in and out between loading and other small touches that all go some way to making the interface pop. The 3D match view has also had some work done and while it’s some way off looking the part, it sees players moving with more variety and realism than ever before. Even in the good ole’ 2D view you can see your mini-circles covering key areas on the pitch and attacking free space.
Ultimately they’ve got the balance just right and introduced enough new modes and features to keep everything feeling fresh and desirable. For me, FM Classic is the pick of the lot and I find it a pleasure to play. Offering up the right combination of nostalgia, simplicity and fun without having to dumb the whole thing down and is sure to keep me going for many a month. In all, I take my hat off to them on a splendid job and all that’s left now is to explain to the missus why my future sleeping patterns are going to be seriously messed up.