Football Manager 2014 is a fantastic game. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you already know that. Chances are, if you’re seeking out information about Sports Interactive’s peerless football management sim, you’re keen enough and knowledgeable enough that you’ve already made your decision. There’s even a good chance that you pre-ordered it on Steam and have been enjoying early access to the beta for the past two weeks.
So I’d like to take a moment to thank you for reading. I know it’s not easy to dedicate a significant portion of time in front of a screen to doing something other than playing Football Manager.
I know your mind is probably already drifting to how you could tweak your formation so you’re less vulnerable to quick passing through the middle or so that your full-backs stop running past your wingers and leaving an acre of space behind them.
I know you’re probably drumming your fingers, wishing I’d get on with it so you can get back to your inbox and see if the creative midfielder that you’ve offered a contract is still holding out for more cash if he’s an unused substitute.
Football Manager is more than just a game, it’s a change of lifestyle. It grips you. It transfixes you. It absorbs your capacity to think about much else and it wraps you in a created world that infiltrates your thoughts even when your mind is supposed to be elsewhere.
Before long, you’ll know more about tactics and formations than any of the pundits or commentators on television. Before long, you’ll look upon real-world team selections and let out an exasperated sigh at their naïveté. Football Manager isn’t just a game you’ll play, it’s a knowledge-base and a learning aid and a startlingly realistic simulation that takes into consideration the slightest of details kept within its huge database of stats and figures.
Each new game in this yearly series is obviously more a case of iteration than sweeping change. It would be impractical to list every minor change to the way the game works or is displayed here so we’ll just try to stick to pointing out the most striking changes and the things that make the biggest differences to how the game plays.
The first thing you’ll notice is the overhaul of the graphics. It’s not a huge change but the whole interface has had a fresh coat of polish and there have been some useful tweaks to how it works and the information that is displayed by default. There’s an option to increase text size so it works well with Steam’s Big Picture mode too, if you’re viewing it on a more distant screen.
The game has become much more capable at giving you a bit more information in the places where it’s most useful to you. The calendar that displays as the game is processing other fixtures is a good example – things like fixtures and milestones are displayed, with news headlines popping up as they happen.
You can also respond to transfer offers, press conferences and reporters questions directly in your inbox, saving you that transition. Those conversations, including the staff and player conversations, have had a bit of an overhaul and some streamlining too. The attitude selectors (calm, assertive, etc.) are now a little less vague than they had appeared in the past, with the reciprocation of the person you’re talking to becoming a little easier to predict. You can also suggest terms of a negotiation and get feedback before you submit the offer, making transfers and loans much swifter topics of discussion.
Making it easier to react to events and situations seems to have been at the heart of most of what the team did with this year’s FM, lots of the ostensibly minute changes have altered the ease with which you can play the game exponentially.
For example, the dialogue boxes that pop up during matches, where your assistant tells you we’re not getting enough shots on target or a certain opposition player needs to be closed down, used to give valuable information that you then had to dig in to instructions in order to act upon. Now that notification has a simple “apply advice” button right there on the match screen. Click that and the assistant sets up the instructions he thinks best.
There’s also a bit more statistical information in your inbox when the next opponent is scouted. You’ll get to see at-a-glance percentages for when goals are scored – for and against – and what formations they’re most successful with or vulnerable to. You’re also shown a little pitch diagram that shows where the assists have come from so you know where they’re most vulnerable and most potent.
The 3D match engine has also had a significant upgrade. Animations are much improved, although collisions can still be a tad erroneous with players falling over several yards away from a perceived challenge. It seems quite power hungry now though, each match munches through a significant portion of my laptop (15 inch Retina MacBook Pro) battery when viewed in 3D and the heat pushed out by the switch to GPU for handling the 3D is quite unpleasant.
The tactical engine has also had an overhaul. It’s not a big step up in terms of appearance but there are some interesting tweaks to how it works and some new roles to assign to your more adaptable players.
You can now instruct an attacking midfielder, playing in the space behind strikers, to play as a more static “enganche” rather than a roaming “trequartista” or simply a traditional advanced playmaker. Your central midfielders can be box-to-box, ball winning, deep-lying or advanced playmakers, or simple central midfielders. The differences might appear subtle on first inspection but setting the correct role for a player, and those around him, now has a greater effect than ever before.
There is now an option to save your game to the cloud, and that will be cross-compatible with all operating systems so if, like me, you’re playing on a desktop PC with Windows (or Linux) and a laptop that runs OSX, you can simply save to the cloud and carry on playing on either machine. This will also apply to the PS Vita version of Football Manager Classic, which is a simplified game mode included in the PC/Mac/Linux version of FM14.
There’s so much depth to Football Manager that even the 30 or so hours I’ve spent with it barely scratch the surface of the intricacies involved in playing the game. This isn’t a normal game, which can be finished and moved on from though. It’ll be something you play for the next year or more and you could collectively give tens or even hundreds of hours to it.
It feels almost unfair and premature to be rushed into reviewing such a grand proposition but even with so much left to experience – the personal stories we all develop from situations that are unique to each of us – it’s clear that this is the best Football Manager game so far and that makes it entirely unmatched in its field.