Football, or soccer if you’re not European, is a fluid game that ebbs and flows. It’s about drama, passion and battling spirit. It’s about watching the last two minutes of injury time tick away with gritted teeth as your team is a goal behind and then erupting with euphoria when they draw level and take the game to extra time.
It seems that it would be impossible to replicate that tension, that sense of relief, in a management simulation. Yet year after year, Football Manager always seems to find that perfect balance between the intricate dealings of club, team and player management, and the moments of unpredictable brilliance on the pitch that just capture the game so perfectly. Football Manager has, ever since its first days under a different name and a different publisher, been one of the games I keep going back to.[drop]Football Manager 2012 (FM12) is a marked improvement on its predecessor. The usual raft of small changes and upgrades have accumulated to make a game which has so much depth that it would be impossible to describe it within the constraints of this review. Sufficed to say that there are enough differences that its worth upgrading from last year’s and enough new features that even veteran players will still need to take a while to adjust and adapt. That’s not to say that it won’t feel familiar. Another of Sports Interactive’s unexplainable magic tricks with this franchise is that it always retains enough of the spirit of its predecessors that familiar players will likely feel right at home.
Newcomers might be initially daunted but a fairly comprehensive, if a little nagging, help system and the ability to leave many of the intricacies to your AI assistant manager mean that the game can be almost as simple as buying and selling the players you’re advised to and setting a solid formation. You will have to make the transition on your own terms but gradually switching back manual control of features like the stunning degree of tactical control and player talks should eventually yield a much greater sense of satisfaction when you find a blend that works for your team.
There is so much to control here that it would be impossible, not to mention fruitless, to list features and mechanics. Rest assured that almost every angle of managing a football club is covered from dealings with budgets and the board right down to youth team training sessions. You can, if you wish, control everything yourself. This means that, for those committed to a steady and productive pre-season, there can be several hours of gameplay before you send your team out to play their first competitive match.
Transfers and contracts are the glamourous side of pre-season but in truth they are probably less important than balancing your team, preparing formations and finding systems and combinations of players that work well for you.
Formations and tactics are a particular love of mine, although you can now put as much effort into raising and keeping the morale of your squad via the massively improved team talks and individual chat systems.
It’s telling that there now exist many very serious, very technical discussions surrounding the tactical aspect of Football Manager games. If you have a desire for it, Football Manager can help teach you why certain formations work and how to get the best out of certain types of players. The tactical system in FM12 (and its predecessors) is really that robust. Luckily, there’s a tactic creation wizard which will help you get the basics thrown together but, again, you can drill down into very precise instructions on an individual level that have a noticeable impact on how your team performs.[drop2]The Tactics screen is probably the most apt place to demonstrate the new interface tweaks too. Key aspects of tactical instruction have been put along the top of the screen so you no longer need to drill down too far for team instructions and set pieces. Things have generally been moved around and put into drop downs and hover-over menus in a way that will take a little getting used to for those who have built their menu-clicking muscle memory on the past few year’s of Football Manager. Once you become used to the changes though, they’re clearly much more intuitive and economical.
Likewise, the newly nuanced method of talking to players and coaches is a welcome change, although I would have liked to have seen it extended to the stilted press conferences. Basically, you now have control over the tone of your commands and comments so you can be calm or you can turn on the Fergie-style hairdryer. It makes the interactions with players – who will now also respond to other manager’s public comments – much more personal.
It would be fruitless to continue to point out the many improvements and alterations that I’ve noticed during my thirty plus hours with the game and, to be honest, Football Manager is the sort of game that will still show you something new after a hundred hours so I won’t pretend that I can offer a comprehensive overview of every new feature.
It’s enough to say that this is still very definitely Football Manager. It has made enough improvements to keep its fans, ever hungry for an even richer experience, happy without changing so much that it could alienate. It’s an involved, compelling game that will yield hundreds of hours of gameplay for fans. Newcomers to the franchise could easily lower themselves in gently and gradually reveal the intricacies as they become comfortable with them but some degree of patience is definitely required to get past the daunting number of options and information screens.
- Deep, involving gameplay.
- Improved engine that makes 3D matches more believable.
- Interface tweaks end up being very welcome – after some initial adjustment.
- As a value proposition, it’s peerless.
- It can be difficult to find that first gratifying pay off for newcomers.
- The new conversation options don’t extend to all areas.
Football Manager 2012 looks set to be another year-long love affair for me. There is nothing else even remotely as good in this genre and if you have the time to put in and the desire to keep playing, it gives you more hours of play than anything else you’re likely to get for the price. Fans of the franchise won’t need convincing, they’ll already be well into their first season or beyond by now and that is demonstrative of the power this franchise has. While there is still room for some improvement, this is an absolutely massive game with so much to discover. Football Manager is simply brilliant. Again.