There are few games that truly intimidate me. The Football manager series in the past few years is one of those, but then watching friends rack up thousands of hours of game time between iterations can do that to you. So, when approached to get a relatively fresh approach to the genre given my near 20 year hiatus from its presence, I have to admit to a slightly increased level of trepidation.
Sports Interactive have taken the franchise to a new level of reputation since they took over the name a decade ago, and with each iteration taking a fresh approach they have garnered both praise and frustration in equal measure from their faithful devotees.
Based on what I played, (a modest 50 hours or so) and checking what features last years iteration had, it appears that the most significant changes seem to be with the UI and minor tweaks to the already significant changes made in the 2014 edition. Although confusing and convoluted at first, I found navigating these menus relatively easy once my time got into the double digits but without experiencing the previous versions first hand I cant really say if this is or is not an improvement, but if ease of use was the aim, I certainly found that to be the case. Most of the crucial screens from Squad, Staff and Schedule to Tactics, Team Report and Training are all available at the press of a button.
All of these screens are also easy to navigate, though I did find setting up the team frustrating at times with an overload of information, whereas the lack of information immediately available on the Tactics screen only irritated me further. These concerns were easily overlooked once the main game got underway.
As I was treading new ground, I started out with the Classic mode, mainly because it promised a streamlined approach. By this, it seems to mean less of the monotonous media interaction and administration that is part & parcel of a managers role.
During the game, Football Managers 3D match engine gives a blow by blow account of proceedings and makes it easy to determine any flaws in your formation. If you are unable to ascertain changes to your play style from this, the coach is always on hand to offer insight into where you are weakest and offer changes that could mean the difference between a solitary point or stealing the win. These tips can be actioned automatically if, for example, you are losing the ball in the air and must play a shorter game, but must be actioned manually if a substitution is required for a player performing below his prime.
This section is where I found the most difficulties crop up. Positional compatibilities and strengths are awkward to discern and when switching out players it was difficult to just transfer one for another, and more often than not had to switch several players around to find a suitable formation to make the change. Thankfully, the further I progressed with my new transfers the easier this became as the flexibility of each player increased.
This is mainly due to the wealth of positional roles that each player can hold, and allows for a complex, yet extremely flexible and fluid changing of strategy during a match. The vast array of options in all aspects, both outwith and within the match are at first overwhelming, but it is what makes Football Manager the game it has come to represent. Regardless of your skill level or familiarity with previous releases in this series, there is plenty of rewarding gameplay and it is understandable why people invested in the series put so many hours into its inviting depths.
I suppose the one question that was truly asked of me during this review is, would a rank novice be able to find the enjoyment that others have so readily available? The honest answer is no. This is not a game for those uninitiated, and even those like myself, who have some experience of Manager Sims can struggle, but persevere and you will find an immensely rewarding way to demolish hundreds if not thousands of hours.
MLG Rating: 9/10 Format: PC Release Date: 04/11/2014
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Football Manager 2015 by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 4 weeks on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.