It’s not exactly a great season to be a Manchester United fan. I know Sir Alex hand-picked David Moyes as his replacement but 8th in the table after a quarter of the season isn’t what you expect from United. Surely anyone could do better with this squad.
And that’s the premise behind Sports Interactive’s Football Manager series. Not everyone sees themself as the big hero on the pitch as you see in the FIFA series. FM is for the guy who has a couple of beers with his mates and says “I could do a better job running the team than that fool.”
I should make it clear upfront that this is a management simulator. Unlike FIFA, you don’t take control of the players on the pitch. Your job is to assemble a team, get them prepared for the next game and tell them what to do in order to win.
Football Manager really is an acquired taste. I first played the game in 2008 when a friend in university introduced me to it. He wasn’t a big fan himself as he preferred the hands-on aspect of FIFA but FM was far more inconspicuous for playing during lectures. If you’re into the tactics and mental game of football rather than just pretty footwork and Bend It Like Beckham goals, you’ll find something to like here.
So now that you have an idea of what the game’s all about, let’s get to the game modes.
There’s the Football Manager mode which is the full simulation mode of the game. This is the mode that gives you complete control over your team from training regimens to talking to staff and players to very specific and detailed in-game instructions for your team.
I mention those things because they’re not in the FM Classic game mode which is the second game mode available. It streamlines some of the more intense simulation aspects of the proper FM mode so it’s a bit gentler on newcomers to the franchise. It’s also a bit faster to progress through should you not want to sink hours into the nuances of the game.
The other big difference between the game modes is that FM mode allows you to simulate action in all 51 of the playable nations and manage in them as you move locations as you get new jobs. In Classic mode, it’s recommended that you only pick three playable nations. You can play more but that disables cross-play with Football Manager Classic 2014 on the PlayStation Vita. By the way, that’s a new feature this year. If you play in Classic Mode, you can cloud save and cross play that saved game on your Vita.
Speaking of classic mode, that mode forms the backbone of Challenge Mode. This is about as close to a short mode as FM14 gets. You pick a scenario to face, select a team and try to pass the challenge set before you. There are eight challenges to choose from at the start but there is a challenge editor
If there’s one thing that’s lacking from this game, it’s a sort of single-game or single-tournament single player game mode. As fun as it is to drag Scunthorpe United from the brink of relegation in the Challenge Mode, I’d much rather try a Champions League mode or a Wold Cup mode or even play El Classico. It would probably appeal to the more casual fans among the players of the FM series but I could see the appeal of adding that.
However, it’s not like it may never get added. This year’s edition of Football Manager adds a Challenge Editor (among other things) through the Steam Workshop. Sports Interactive says that integrating Steam Workshop will allow for people to add new player pictures, team logos, new teams and leagues (critical for people who want to play in England’s seventh division) and new Challenges in Challenge mode. Hypothetically, someone could create a World Cup or El Classico Challenge Mode. We’ll have to see how Steam Workshop adds to the game once people get their hands on the game at release.
Alright, I suppose that I should talk about the actual gameplay. The problem is that it’s hard to really describe.
You never actually control any of your players. You can dictate what aspects their game that they focus on in training, where they are on the pitch, who they mark on the pitch, how fast they make a break forward and how they pass and shoot but you can’t actually do it yourself. As such, you can come up with the perfect plan of attack for every game but if your personnel can’t or won’t execute your plan, you’re sunk.
You go into this game having to either having to build a team around your game plan or build a game plan around your team. It’s not like FIFA where you can just give the ball to one player and have him take it end-to-end. Your whole team needs to be in on the plan. Sometimes, a player could just randomly have a bad game and you have to decide whether you change your plan for them or sub them off. Sometimes, one player completely dominates and wins the game for your side. Basically, the RNG gods can either smile upon you or destroy you but your tactical prowess will go a long way to determine how sunk you are. A smart game could make the difference between a loss and a draw… Or the difference between a win and a draw. I’ve screwed that up too.
Helping you in this regard is your assistant manager who will pop in from time to time during the match to give you advice on player and team performance and suggestions to help your team. Your team can’t hit a pass from five yards away, he’ll tell you and you can adjust the plan. Can’t win a header in the box, order your team to carry it into the box. Your left-back makes your defense seem like you’re playing with ten men, your assistant will tell you to pull him off the pitch. It’s a great help since you’re not always going to be able to see the nuances of the game from stats and the occasional critical play snippet.
If there’s one area of the game that is in the greatest need of some work, it’s the actual in-match graphics. While you can clearly see the time and effort that went into the simulation model and digging up info on tens of thousands of players, the visuals of the in-game actual are lagging behind. The 3D engine may have been improved over last year (according to Sports Interactive) but the graphics aren’t anything to write home about and the player animations are stiff and robotic.
Outside of matches, the graphics are fine. It’s a very clean and largely intuitive setup that allows you to quickly navigate your way to where you need to go. I found that working through Classic Mode’s UI to player search was the only time I took far too many steps to get somewhere I needed to go. However, there are enough drop down menus and shortcuts around the interface to give you a quick path to managing your team.
Depending on how you approach the game, there could be a lot to do off the pitch or very little. You can hand off almost every off-the-field activity to your assistant manager like negotiating transfers and loans of players to and from your club based on your instructions, setting training regimens, dealing with the press and club ownership and setting the lineup. At first, it’s almost a need-to-have feature because you’re just overwhelmed with things happening at your club. As you mentally sort out what’s happening, dialing back features makes for a nice way of easing into the deep portions of the simulation.
The long and short of Football Manager 2014 is that there’s an experience in there for everyone so long as you’d rather be on the touchline than the pitch. I could talk about how I played for hours on end trying to save Scunthorpe from relegation or making something out of the part-timers that made up the Bromley FC to get promotion from Skrill South but the addictive nature of micromanaging to perfection just isn’t for everyone.
Everyone wants to be the hero but we aren’t all going to be Lionel Messi. Some of us are happy being Sir Alex Ferguson. Football Manager 2014 is clearly the Sir Alex Ferguson of games trying to make you feel like Sir Alex Ferguson. And if you want to be Sir Alex Ferguson, or just think that you can do better running a football team than David Moyes, you’ll definitely have some fun here.
Football Manager 2014 was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for Mac OS X, Linux, and iOS. This review may not necessarily be applicable to Football Manager Classic 2014 for the PlayStation Vita. A review beta copy of this game was provided to et geekera by Sports Interactive. Your impressions of the game may differ based on platform played on, PC specs and whether you had any aspirations of being a superstar coach rather than superstar player.