Football Manager is like your team being 2-0 up in the 89th minute of the cup final. It would take a huge amount of effort for things to go wrong and for them not to be a winner. With the core game being, in the main, refined year upon year it should come as no surprise that once again Football Manager is very,very good.
Taking away the assumption that you’re reading this and know nothing about football, (Matt), then what exactly is Football Manager? The simple answer is that it’s a game where you are the manager of the digital interpretation of real life football teams, but Football Manager is so much more than that; how else can you explain the tales of over 5000 hours being logged against the previous game by some players, where I have managed to amass over 200 hours during the review period alone. When working from home it’s the first thing I turn on and I can tinker with my formation whilst on a conference call.
You have no direct control over whether a player shoots left, right, high or wide. You have no direct control over whether your player plays a killer pass to his team mate or directly to the opposition. Apart from the challenge mode, there is no “end game” so to speak. Stripped down to the bare bones, it is a text adventure that utilises one of the biggest and greatest databases in a game. Granted it is an acquired taste but my word, it is a fun one.
Being an acquired taste, trying to convince anyone who has little or no interest in the game is akin to trying to convince our very own Mantis Matt to play World of Tanks. It’s a mammoth task of epic proportions. If you do convince them to try the game then they will more than likely be as addicted as the rest of us and have a countless number of their spare hours devoured by the Football Manager beast.
I tend to, as a rule, avoid yearly iterations of games as the changes you see year on year are normally a little tweak here and a little extra Mr.Sheen there. Football Manager doesn’t need a graphical likeness in the match day engine and to be perfectly honest adding extra polish to the actual management screens would overly complicate what can already be a complex environment for the novice to the game. So what does Sports Interactive do with their development time each year? The answer is simply: a lot.
According to Sports Interactive, a lot is equal to over a thousand changes. Some of these are minor and barely noticeable unless you look extremely hard for them. Overhauls to the scouting and loan suggestion system make it more powerful and a godsend when managing a lower league club.
A lot of other tweaks, although previously not broken, are very logical and make much more sense. Selecting an “on-the-fly” tactic during a match now also displays the tactics which are opposite to your chosen tactic by highlighting them in red. For example telling your players to “Get Stuck In” for tackles means you cannot select “Stay on Your Feet” for tackles. A completely obvious revision, yes, but highlighting this makes it much easier and quicker to scan through your on-the-fly tactics during the match. If I was to list all of the changes and what they meant to your game would mean this review would probably take about a day and a half to read so, here my top five tweaks and changes.
Bribe your own players…..legally – the first small tweak I noticed was in the contract negotiation screen. Very often I tend to have two players for each position: my first choice A-game player, and my second choice, an exceptionally talented fellow as a backup for when my first choice needs a rest or gets injured. If things go as planned, my back up player will eventually get fed up sitting on the bench most of the time and requests a transfer so he gets some game time. There was no way of avoiding this eventuality and you then had to look for an equally skilled or better player to become nothing more than a glorified bench-warmer. Now you can offer the player a guaranteed bonus for being an unused substitute which stops them throwing their toys quite as quickly.
The Match Plan Creator – How much of a plus this is all depends on how in-depth and organised you wish to be. If, like me, you have spread sheets analysing players and tactics then this is a god send. Effectively, it operates as a way to prepare more detailed tactics based on various hypothetical scenarios. You can create the scenarios if your team are winning by a solitary goal at various stages in the game and implement that they fall further back as the match progresses with the same score line, eventually attempting to waste time in the final 5 minutes if you desire. The flip side of this is that the AI is always using this creator so you will come across a far smarter opponent during each game.
Loaning back players – One of the biggest tweaks is something that has come about in the real life game over the last couple of years and is something for which Chelsea have grabbed a lot of headlines. When you are managing a lower league club and have discovered the next big thing he was normally snapped up in a heartbeat leaving you a lot richer financially but bankrupt ability wise. Now you can request that that player is loaned back to you immediately as part of the transfer conditions allowing you to not only further develop the player for the big team but also giving you time to implement a backup plan for when the player does eventually leave.
The Sugar Daddy problem - Ever since Chelsea was taken over by a multi-billionaire, Football Manager implemented the Sugar Daddy aspect. This is where your team, randomly, could be bought out by some foreign tycoon who gives the club a huge cash injection and unlimited transfer funds effectively allowing you to buy who you want. This has been countered by the board philosophies aspect. Now your board can request that you raise the number of youth players in your first team, play attractive attacking football, or just sign a big star. A small tweak I thought, until my Dunfermline team was taken over by an Asian tycoon. Great, European football here I come. That was until the madman demanded that I purchase and play a number of Asian players, who I might add had lesser ability than the players I already owned and were now unhappy that they were dropped for these lesser imports. A small tweak but what a major difference it makes.
Job Interviews – Unlike before where you either applied for a vacancy and if the club in question wanted you, you were offered a contract, now you have to pass a job interview. If the club really want you then they will buckle to more of your demands before offering you a contract. Demand too much however and that’s you out of the running. To me this is a great addition to the game and means that if you are a manager with little success who wants a “big” club to manage than you have to sacrifice more of your own philosophies and pander to the board to stand a chance – that’s if they haven’t publicly laughed at your application. The flip side of this is obviously if you are a title winning manager you can apply to a “smaller” club and request the board pander to your “project”.
So what about the game modes? Well last year’s major addition, Football Manager Classic, is back with more nations and some minor tweaks. If you don’t have the time to put thousands of hours into a season then Football Manager Classic is the mode for you. A lot of the smaller tasks are managed for you, allowing you to focus on playing games and signing the next superstar. For fans of the Sports Interactive franchise, this will bring memories of running home from school to play Championship Manager flooding back. Although I personally prefer the depth of regular game mode I can appreciate this mode as well. Firstly it serves as a great introduction into the behemoth that is Football Manager. Secondly Football Manager Classic is coming to PlayStation Vita shortly and the promise of cross save functionality between PC and handheld console should be exciting for everyone whether a fan of Football Manager or not.
The next mode is the Challenge mode. In challenge mode you take on one of seven pre-set objectives from taking over a team mid-season and saving them from relegation, working your way through an injury crisis whilst achieving the boards goals or by going a full season undefeated. With Steam Workshop functionality implemented this section could grow with some amazing challenges generated from the community.
The main career mode is where I will spend most of my time, and although managing every single aspect of the club is daunting, there are tutorials which hold your hand enough to help and aid you through all of the aspects of management but stop short of breaking your immersion. When you, unknowingly, spend an hour between a match appeasing your un-played players, comparing skills for a certain role and position, sending your scouts to a far flung part of the world to discover an unearthed gem before looking at your opponents tactics all before you hit the continue button then, guess what? Football Manager has got its teeth into you and there is no going back.
The match engine continues to impress year on year. This is not FIFA and although the goal for Sports Interactive is for their match engine to be photo realistic whilst maintaining the level of depth out with the match there are a few years to go before this actually happens. In previous releases this was something I dabbled with occasionally; if I got to a cup final or the game that I need to win to get the team promoted or avoid relegation. This year I find it a necessity. If I tell the players to use the wide midfielders I can see it happen. If I tell them to shoot on sight of goal then I can see it happen. Put simply it allows you to “see” the changes you are implementing. You just don’t get this feedback when changing the settings to commentary only. It does increase the amount of time you spend on each match but to be perfectly blunt if you want a quick play through of a dozen matches or so, switch to Football Manager Classic rather than disable this amazing feature in the career mode.
Football Manager is such a hard game to review due to the amount of hours you need to invest to be able to see the majority of tweaks and changes. If you have skipped an iteration a lot of changes from the previous year all roll into the game as well. It’s almost akin to not playing an MMO for a year before going back and seeing what’s changed. Regardless of this, what is clearly evident is that Football Manager continues to be a definitive football management sim with absolutely no equal. If you are a fan of in depth simulations or football then Football Manager is for you. If you are a fan of quick management games or football with little spare time than Football Manager Classic is for you. Either way Football manager has been, continues to be and, with the exception of an injury time implosion, will be the leader in football management for years and a generation to come.
MLG Rating: 10/10 Format: PC/ PlayStation Vita Release Date: 31/10/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Football Manager 2014 for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.