Sports Interactive’s Football Manager has grown hugely since the mid-nineties when it first took over my PC. It’s now regularly the best selling PC game here in Europe and it has a gargantuan database of meticulously rated players and staff that has even been used by some professional teams as a step in their real-world scouting process. It’s huge, it’s comprehensive and it’s almost troublingly compelling for many.
A couple of years ago saw the introduction of Football Manager Classic, originally as a game mode in the PC title that would be a bit quicker to play and cut out some of the more intricate details of dealing with your players and managing your club. It’s this game mode that has made the leap to Vita and it’s a markedly more involved experience than the mobile versions of the game that I’ve always found to be quite frustratingly lacking in features that I routinely used to get the best from my teams in the PC game.
Football Manager Classic still has all of those tactical and strategic features that are such a game changer in the more detailed PC version of the game. Classic misses out on things like half time team talks and complex scouting instructions but you can still set positional instructions within a formation and issue instructions to the team as a whole. This ranges from being able to tell one central midfielder in a 442 to play defensively while the other plays as an attacking playmaker to telling your wide players to play as inside forwards rather than traditional wingers.
Instructions allow you to impress upon your team even more detailed requests like encouraging them to play wider or more narrow, increase the tempo, float or drill crosses and many more incremental differences in approach that make a noticeable difference in your game. In short, FM Classic still gives you intricate enough control over your team’s shape and approach that it’s possible to beat a team that has better players than you simply by knowing where they’re tactically vulnerable.
The game itself plays well enough, although there are some minor performance concerns. The load times, including times waiting for the game to simulate all of the background results and data, are a little longer than ideal and the 3D match engine seems to struggle for frame rate quite often. Those aren’t too worrying though, and certainly less of a concern than the biggest issue for some of us: the touchscreen buttons are often quite tiny.
I’ll readily admit that I’ve got larger than average hands and my skills with an iPhone keyboard will attest to how imprecise I can be with touchscreen inputs. But FM Classic seems much more difficult than most simply because some of the touchable areas are so small and close to others.
Regularly, when substituting players, I had to have a few goes at picking the player I actually wanted to bring on, rather than the one above or below him on the list. Likewise, when faced with a scrolling list selection, it’s tricky to scroll up or down with the touchscreen but this is negated once you realise that the right and left stick will often move the list up and down for you. Working out the less-than-intuitive control quirks in a game from a team used to giving you an entire keyboard and mouse to navigate their game is half the battle. For example, swapping players’ positions on the pitch requires holding the L1 button and touch-dragging them.
Many of the deeper options are kept off screen, behind an R1-activated drop down so there has been some attempt to at least keep unnecessary clutter out of your way. That said, it’s going to be tricky for newcomers to get used to the locations of certain key information on any given screen, especially when you take into account how tiny some of the text can be. Left on the d-pad will take you to the previous screen, right to the next and the X button can be tapped in lieu of the “continue” touch-button.
It’s quite impressive just how much is crammed into a portable device – it really is the entire game mode from the PC version – and if you’re a fan of the series, it’ll only feel like a slightly more fiddly, slower version of your PC game. That’s useful for another very good reason too – cloud saves. You can transfer your PC game to Vita and continue playing on the go and then shift it back to the PC when you’re in the house. This is an excellent excuse for PC players to make that second purchase and an ideal way to set up your more fiddly instructions and tactics on a big screen before loading up your saves on a Vita and playing through a few games on the train (or on the toilet).
The vast selection of teams to choose from and leagues to manage in is this game’s stand-out selling point and the trophy list will encourage you to perhaps play outside of your comfort zone, and for longer than any sane person might initially plan – there’s a silver trophy for playing 30 consecutive seasons. That’s going to take hundreds of hours.
It’s a slow paced game and the Vita version is a little less than swift about its transitions, simulations and loading screens but that’s a small price to pay for those die hard fans that want to take their Football Management career on the road. For newcomers, it might be a little alien to spend so much time just sitting watching a largely non-interactive set of match highlights or progress screens between the many menus and options but if you have some patience, a love for the sport and a lot of time, Football Manager Classic 2014 on Vita is likely to consume you.