Few things in my life have such an all-encompassing grip on me as Football Manager. I’ve lost hours, days, even entire weekends, due to pouring over tactics, training, and trying to discover superstars of the future to fit into my perfectly balanced side. I’ve popped on for a quick game mid-evening and ended up crawling into bed at 4am with bleary eyes, laying there unable to sleep as my mind races with changes to my sides defensive routine at corners. I make no apologies for using this somewhat tired analogy; Football Manager is my heroin.
It’s almost been a relief then that my only way to play the series has been glued to a computer, as the smartphone versions of the title were somewhat underwhelming for devotees. The idea that a full featured portable version of Football Manager could be allowed to infiltrate my life is a fearsome notion. And yet here I am, typing in the 15 digits for my review copy of Football Manager 2014 Classic for the PlayStation Vita, and I’m literally tingling with excitement.
Football Manager 2014 Classic, as the name suggests, is the version of the game that players will recognise as the somewhat stripped down version included within the PC version of Football Manager that harks back to earlier days of the franchise. Stripped of the more in-depth aspects, in essence it gives you the fundamentals of Football Manager; you pick players, raid the transfer market, choose tactics and play matches. Unlike the full fat version, you can fly through a season in no time at all and it’s a pleasurable experience for those who don’t fancy obsessing over the minute details. Impressively, the PlayStation Vita version is functionally the same as the Classic Mode from the PC.
The full 3D match engine that was implemented a few years ago in the PC version is present and correct on the Vita, although the substantial difference in power between machines means it is a touch juddery and runs a bit slower than we’re used to, an issue we’ll come back to later on in the review. None the less, it’s impressive that Sports Interactive have managed to cram this onto the Vita. As anyone who spends a lot of time with the franchise will tell you, being able to watch the match as it happens and being able to spot a weakness in either yours or the oppositions side can mean the difference between winning and losing. As included in the PC version, all the standard match day functions are included, such as being able to shout instructions from the touchline to ask the players to follow quick changes to tactical instructions, such as asking them to attack specific areas of the pitch.
Despite Classic being somewhat stripped back, one look at the game’s UI makes it clear that there’s still a wealth of options. One of my concerns prior to release was how on earth all this could be squeezed onto a vastly smaller screen. Have they succeeded? Well, yes and no. Pressing the right shoulder button brings the menu bar down, revealing your standard top bar options as would be recognised by seasoned players, and I feel this is an elegant solution to the reduced screen estate problem. On the other hand though, it’s very obvious the Football Manager is primary a mouse driven interface and it’s very awkward to use a finger instead. It’s a struggle to accurately use your digits for the small selectable options, such as player selection boxes, and you’ll often find yourself frustrated by mistakes. For example, it’s well worth double checking any substitutions made as on a couple of occasions I’ve caught myself making terrible tactical errors, such as accidentally bringing Tom Cleverley on.
As addictive as the standard game is, the Challenges offer a different way to play. You’ll take charge of a team of your choice and are given a hindrance or an objective. For example, one example is an injury crisis scenario where I picked up the team in January and found my Manchester United side decimated with injuries to key players, with De Gea, Carrick, Rooney, Van Persie, and others all injured for various time frames, yet the board still were targeting the title. Did I manage it? No, but I felt second place was a respectable position for any side that needed to play Anders Lindegaard for an extended period of time. There’s no David Moyes-esque challenge for turning a championship winning side into a mid-table shadow of its former self, but I can only assume that’s coming in a later patch.
Earlier in the review I mentioned a lack of speed in the match engine and it’s unfortunately a theme that runs throughout your time with the game, although completely understandable due to the vast differences in spec between computers and the Vita. Playing with more than one selected league really drags the game down further, for example selecting a English game with all leagues from the Premier down to the Skrill North and South brings the game’s in-built speed estimation down to 1 out of 5 stars. I believe that whether this is will be an issue or not comes down to the individual’s reason for playing Football Manager on this particular format. Can I imagine staring at the Vita screen and sinking anywhere near to the 400+ hours I’ve put in on my laptop? Absolutely not. But picking up the Vita to crack out a few matches during a commute or to distract yourself from I’m A Celebrities Big Brother Dancing On Ice Factor, or whatever passes for reality TV these days, to continue your Barrow A.F.C. side’s meteoric rise from the Skrill North and upwards through the leagues seems like an entirely viable option.
As briefly alluded to previously, the killer feature with this Vita version is the ability carry on with your PC playthrough. The cross platform save functionality between PC, Mac and Linux has also been implemented with the Vita. Personally, I’ve taken great pleasure in jumping back into my game during lunch breaks at work, switching back to my laptop when back home, before a final few matches back on the Vita whilst settling in bed. After a brief and painless initial set up involving linking your game to to your Steam account, I’m pleased to say I’ve had no issues with failed saves or lost progress.
Yes, it’s fiddly. Yes, it’ll take a bit of getting used to, even for those of us who’ve sank years into the game. Yes, the lack of speed can be frustrating and, of course, it certainly won’t convince anyone who hasn’t already been bewitched by the franchise’s charms. But for those of us whose waking moments are filled by thoughts of trequartistas, training routines and scouting wonderkids, there simply isn’t anything better than being able to delve into Football Manager on the move. Strongly recommended purchase if you’re a fellow addict, it might just be the fix you need to get you through the day.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Format: PlayStation Vita Release: 11/04/14
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Football Manager 2014 Classic for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 5 days on a PlayStation Vita. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.