Every year Football Manager gets bigger, more complex and more involving. This year, it peels back those layers of complexity to offer a brand new game mode that removes most of the intricacies added in recent years and pares back the Football Manager experience to one which is more reminiscent of how the game was played ten years ago.
Has the creation of this whole new branch of Football Manager meant less spit and polish for the regular way to play? Fewer innovations, perhaps?
Let’s forget about the new Classic game mode for a moment – we’ll get to that later – and concentrate on what changes have been made to the standard mode of play.
The most striking change that regular players will notice is in the way you navigate the game. The interface has been overhauled and after an initial period of adjustment it should be much more intuitive and natural to use. Several hours into the game I was still finding myself taking an extra couple of seconds to locate some rarely-used menu item which would have been a matter of barely considered muscle memory in the previous version. But I’ve spent hundreds of hours with the previous version so I’ve formed habits that are tricky to break. By the time I’d reached my first season run-in, everything felt natural to me again. And it’s much better. The navigation bar now features pop-up menus and some reorganisation of the options that make for a much slicker presentation of the myriad options involved in running your club.
Everything seems to run much more smoothly than last year’s outing too. I’m playing primarily on a 15 inch Retina MacBook but I’ve also done some brief (and in FM terms, “brief” means 5-6 hours) testing on my PC and the game seems to take less time loading and switching between screens and menus. Football Manager has never been a huge resource hog (although the 3D match engine pushes the fans on my MacBook pretty hard) but the new look isn’t merely of benefit to aesthetics and user interface – it makes the game faster.
That extra speed between your selections and choices is very welcome. Not least because there’s now more layers of complexity to wade through. Press conferences now have the same tonal options (calm, assertive, etc.) that player interactions have had, there are tweaks making staff management more intricate and the training system has been totally overhauled to allow much more precise instruction. There is also more encouragement to tinker with things during matches, which led me to play the matches themselves at a slower speed than I usually would.
You get a lot more real-time feedback from your assistant and from match incidents than you used to. It all appears via a little drop down box from the menu bar which resembles a Twitter stream of advice about closing opposition players down and who on your team might be in need of a rest, among other hints.
Of course, many of the finer points of team management can be left up to your backroom staff but with so much variance in the results of each sequence of options you might make – through training, tactics, interactions and team talks – it’s often difficult to trust so much to your Assistant Manager, especially at a poorer club where he might not be the greatest footballing mind of his generation. Managing it all yourself, there’s a constant feeling of nervousness that you might be mistaken in one minor aspect and undermining the others. With more complexity in these options, there’s more opportunity for mistakes to be made. Football Manager is the act of balancing that insecurity with your own belief in a system, holding your nerve, or deciding to make a bold change, when you get a dip in form can be incredibly tense.
The new Classic mode we touched upon earlier relieves you of a lot of this tension and makes the game a lot simpler and quicker to play. You can click through an entire season in a few hours if you don’t want to change much, have a decent squad and just want to see a string of scores and a league position.
Classic mode initially feels like a bit of a throwback to the late days of Championship Manager, before Sports Interactive left that name behind and took their unrivalled expertise to a new publisher. In truth, it’s not simply the older game remade in the new style. It’s the combination of all the best parts from the past ten years of the franchise. It’s much simpler, yes, but there are still elements that were only recently introduced to the series which give the gameplay some modern nuance.
It has been pitched by the developer as a kind of less engrossing style of playing – a way to enjoy Football Manager but not dedicate your life to it. It’s been asserted that this is an easier way to play the game for those who used to love the series but now have a job, children and other real-world responsibilities that preclude them from spending 48 hours unwashed and unfed at their PC.
In reality, it’s just as engaging as the “full fat” version but there’s less to worry about. Instead of spending five hours on your pre-season, engaged in protracted transfer negotiations, intricate tactical fiddling and crafting complicated training regimes for individual players, you’ll spend five hours reaching an FA Cup semi-final and watching your left winger make a strong case for player of the season. If you’ve got a valuable free weekend to dedicate, you can now do it by taking a championship team into the champions league in three seasons. Any dip in form lasts an hour or two rather than a week and the tension that this precludes is replaced with some of the fun which might have been missed from the last couple of years.
Classic mode is also the home of those unlockable perks that you may have heard about. Essentially, there are a range of special abilities that you can, via the wonderful method of the micro-transaction, bolt onto your game. You might remove the barrier of Work Permits or give yourself a transfer budget boost. You can even make yourself unsackable. I’m sure plenty of FM purists will be alarmed at this but restricting it to the Classic mode, making them entirely optional and bundling that Classic mode on top of the substantive normal mode for no extra charge means that Sports Interactive can be instantly forgiven for selling these “cheat” unlocks.
Throw in the hugely improved multiplayer options now managed by Steam and this is a substantially improved package on previous iterations. Being able to more easily configure leagues and competitions to play online, with your single player squads too if you wish, is a big boon to that side of the game. Online leaderboards are also introduced, with a clever weighting and balancing system, offering a new way to show your friends who the best gaffer is.
- The most involved football management simulation ever.
- Classic mode is like an extra game, perfect for faster play.
- New interface is much better, once you’re used to it.
- New online options make things much simpler to set up.
- Very occasional glitches in the 3D match engine.
- If you’re a newcomer, it’ll take a long time to get to grips with.
Football Manager is peerless, it has been for as long as I can remember. With the almost complete lack of a viable competitor, it’s perhaps surprising that they always seem to put so much effort into improving the game every year. Yes, it’s often iterative and incremental but this year is much different. This year sees a massive interface overhaul, some depth added to systems and some intuitive new ways to access informations. On top of that, the Classic mode is almost a different game that would be easily imagined as a subscription or freemium spin off and it’s right there within the same package.
Sports Interactive may not have any real challengers to their football management sim crown but they still strive to present a better package for their players every year. This year, they’ve outdone themselves.