Football Manager 21 Review

Not to launch into a review by immediately ragging on another game, but when FIFA gives me the option to react to a loss by throwing a water bottle across the changing room, I’m sure I’ll be playing it more. Football Manager 2021 knows its place very well at this point, and for want of a better phrase – runs with it. With a host of new additions, tweaks, improvements, and classic features; this is certainly a world-class game.

FM has always concerned itself most with what happens off the pitch, a dream for those of us enamoured with the beautiful game but equally addicted to strategy sims (there are more of us than you might think). This year’s edition comes even further to shedding its reputation as a fancy spreadsheet and gives some unique insights into the games themselves. Alongside all the basics that you would expect, including up-to-date kits and statistics, Football Manager 2021 has addressed some of the biggest issues hampering previous iterations.

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I feel it’s important to express that the relative clunkiness of former games’ match engines has been a part of the fun for many. Given enough practice at swapping players and ‘talking assertively’ in the changing rooms, a win was a sure thing. But a massive overhaul in texture and detail has made this year’s version a genuine challenge and a visual delight. Managers are invited to watch their players’ finest moves, participate in post-match analysis that blows previous years out of the water, and are encouraged more than ever to watch how they coach their team.

Some of the new statistics and visuals are a little overwhelming to new players, but after a bit of graft, they become one of your closest allies in building a champion team. If you’re hoping for another year of the game being as good as finished when you sign the big names, you’re out of luck. Your input really does matter this time around.

There is attention to a new approach in football managing, encouraging ideas of philosophy rather than simple statistics. Raw numbers contribute massively but are not the final deciding factor. So much of the game now relies on you understanding and bonding with your team, encouraging them and allowing them to flourish in their own unique ways. This has always been a factor, but FM21 does it with such smoothness that it finally feels properly integrated.

The talk of many-a-pundit has been the enhanced interaction with agents. I was curious as to how this would work, as sports agents are not the most well-loved part of the food chain in any respect. As it turns out, the relationships look much the same on the surface, but hold a bit more weight in the decision-making process. Getting on well with an agent can open up a whole arena of useful information, lending far more wisdom and foresight to any decisions you make as manager.

The inclusion of a “quick chat” feature means that you can tie up loose ends with your players individually, which is perfect for the micro-managers among us. Talking to your team as a whole is a little more of a pain than it used to be, as each player has to be unselected individually if you don’t want them all to be the recipient of the same message. These kind of criticisms come with enough up-sides to completely crush any dissent, however, and it probably just takes a bit of getting used to.

As always, with a bit of nifty shuffling of finances and firm-but-fair tempering of the stronger personalities on the team, it was possible for me to take my local Stirling Albion F.C. to (somewhat) greater heights. None of the classic exploits have been phased out, and the familiar interface is a reassuring sight – albeit one that has had a considerable face-lift. I can’t really believe I’m saying it, but FM21 is actually an attractive game. I expect for those coming to the series afresh this may be the most welcoming installament – but you will still need to wade through hours of statistics.

In fact, this is maybe my only criticism of the game as a whole. Personally, I don’t mind this at all – and let’s face it, for those of us in lockdown its hardly an issue – but this years edition seems slower than ever. Gone are the days of a quick sesh, every element of every game will have you bogged down for ages with an ever-growing set of customisable fields. Glorious statistics take centre stage more than ever this year, with an ‘expected goals’ interface really amping up what clever algorithms can do. For me, this is a wonderland, but understandably this may turn off some more casual players. The repetition of every action will either become calming second-nature, or irritate you beyond belief.

As mentioned earlier, there are some changes to your own personality as a manager. Being able to visually represent your emotions feeds into this new focus on philosophy, and the impact your actions have on each player will be fundemental to your success. Instead of the clickwheel of familiar ‘tones’, this year we have a focus on ‘actions’ that give your manager a more human countenance. For die-hard Assertives, there is probably an equivelent action, but for those of us up for a new challenge it certainly provides an interesting change.

Alongside this, in terms of making the experience an altogether more tangible one, press conferences are now held in an actual room and press opinion is centred in the games UI. Where it used to be possible to sidestep the press/fans element to an extent, FM21 beings it right to the front, meaning your players will notice and respond accordingly. Although repetitive and somewhat irritating, this is a very real irritation for many managers and this time around theres no more dodging those awkward questions.

The cold clinical precision of former FM games has been combined with a surprisingly warm and human tone this time around, infusing your management style with philosophy and personality. Stat nerds will still get their fill, but there is something curiously energetic about FM21 that sets it above its predecessors and makes it worth the occasional drag.

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Summary
Football Manager 2021 combines the best elements of previous games and undergoes a dramatic improvement that cuts deeper than the superficial. It’s heavy, detailed, and been given a new texture by a more personal take on management.
Good
  • Revamped UI makes it far more accessible
  • Interactions given texture by shaking up responses and relationships
  • Glorious statistics still take centre stage
Bad
  • No such thing as a quick game
9