For as long as I can remember there has been one game that has been my go to when all I wanted to do was while away a few hours; Football Manager. I’ve yet to miss an instalment and played almost every version prior to its name change. It has come a long way since its days on the Amiga and with every iteration, it is slowly moving away from the rather unflattering tag of being called a glorified spreadsheet. Whilst the comparison isn’t entirely unwarranted given the wealth of data contained within, the series is slowly embracing the visual and enhancing one’s own imagination.
Before the days of a 2D, let alone a 3D match engine that the series boast, now players only had text commentary to convey how the match was going. What this then prompted was the use of your imagination to picture what was happening. You started to put yourself there, in the match, hanging off every word the game was throwing at you. The players stopped being just numbers and gained a physical manifestation and all of a sudden you cared. Your actions had consequences, the success of the club you were managing all came down to you and to you alone. It was this ability to suck you in and keep you there that has kept the series on top and it shows no signs of abating.
It’s true to say that a lot of what’s new in Football Manger 2017 is iterative rather than revolutionary. The match engine has been tweaked with AI managers now better adept at reacting to your changes on the fly. Visually the 3D match engine is better than ever with new animations making the flow of the game much more lifelike. Pre-match warmups adding to the game day experience. One new visual feature is the ability to get your face in the game. Similar to what you can do with EA’s FIFA by providing a photo of your face and selecting relevant data points the game will then generate a 3D model of it to put on your manager. A misconfigured scan can produce some nightmare material but on the whole, I found it to be rather accurate. Though it would be nice to have a few more hairstyle options to go with it.
One thing is for sure managing a football club at any level isn’t easy and it’s important to surround yourself with competent staff to aid you. Trouble was whilst in previous games you could organise backroom staff meetings they were often tedious to the point where I turned them off. Sure they probably had some gems of wisdom but I just didn’t want the hassle. What we have now is all the general feedback pops up regularly in your inbox. Here you can choose, in some instances, to apply their advice directly or in cases where they suggest to praise a player it will take you to the relevant screen. This is a fantastic new addition as it cuts to the chase and allows you to quickly and decisively act on any advice you deem credible. The rest you ignore and you move on.
What’s equally as useful is, whilst you click around your virtual club, if a member of your staff have some feedback relevant to the screen you’re on, e.g. training, it will prompt you. It’s this increase in availability to the all-important data that sets it apart from previous versions. It’s a small change, sure, but its impact is significant enough that the thought of going back to play last year’s version, despite its brilliance, makes me shudder. By giving players easier access it also encourages them to access and interact with areas of the game they may have previously handed to an assistant. You can still do that and it’s much easier too with an array of tick boxes setting your preferences, however, I’d urge you at least try some now your staff feedback is more readily available. It seems like one of the primary focus of this year’s edition was to get more information to you but in an easier and more digestible format and it works. I’ve been entering and tinkering with areas of the game I’ve barely touched in years gone by.
These small little tweaks to how the game approaches and interacts with you as a manager has had a considerable knock-on effect. Sometimes you could be at a loss as to why your team were underperforming. Sure you could download a tactic or read up on the intricacies of the match engine but for the casual player, it just seemed so complicated. Now, before each match, your assistant manager will approach you with some suggestions ahead of your next opposition. They’ll recommend some slight tweaks to your tactics, perhaps suggest a player change or even a formation shift. You don’t have to listen but now you don’t feel so alone in your task as manager. There’s also more tools to analyse each game which include a heatmap showing where all the action was. If there’s something going wrong with your tactic, now more than ever, you have the tools to figure that out and what’s more, it’s more accessible than ever.
Looking at the long-term aspects of the game it seems the AI’s ability to build squads has improved from last year’s outing where it wasn’t uncommon for top tier teams to have gaping holes in their squad and a flat out refusal to fix it. Instead, they’d buy the next wonderkid midfielder even if they already had eight on the books. Whilst it’s impossible to predict for everyone’s game it looks like they’re much better at managing their squads this time around. Youth development is as good as ever where as long as you have the right talent and coaches creating the next Messi or Ronaldo isn’t too far-fetched.
However, the biggest thing likely to affect your game, especially if you choose to manage a Premier League team is Brexit. For those who may not know the UK recently voted to leave the European Union. In terms of football, membership of the EU allowed clubs in member states to buy players without having to worry about work permits that can often scupper international transfers. Despite the fact that there’s no action yet been taken in the UK Football Manager’s developers, SI Games, took it upon themselves to program in several variations from soft to hard Brexit. It can have varying effects. If you’re lucky enough to have a soft Brexit, then the free movement of players continues. On the other hand, you may find that all EU players will require work permits to play in England with exemptions given to those currently employed. It is somewhat ironic that a computer game seemingly has more of an idea of what will happen should Article 50 actually get invoked than the politicians running the country. It is easily the biggest thing to happen to the region in recent history and it’s fantastic that SI Games was able to cram this into the game at short notice especially when you consider it’s one that plays out differently each time rather than just one knock on effect.
It’s a shame, given that attention is given to the day-to-day running of your chosen club and the implementation of Brexit, that player interactions and press conferences are still boring and rather unimaginative. I understand that there are only so many ways to present this feature but a bit more variation on the questions asked and your responses wouldn’t go amiss. Especially when the outcomes of which can influence your next game or the impression a player has of you. The new social feed, whilst a neat little feature, is a little messy but perhaps something that will be improved upon in future versions.
Overall though there’s little to fault here and that’s because SI Games takes the iterative approach. Whilst there hasn’t been a big shift on the game’s workings since tactical sliders were removed in FM 2014 each version is a step forward. For some these steps may not be as big as they want but when you have a formula that works and an underlying game that isn’t broke, why fix it? If you’re a diehard fan of the series, chances are you’re already playing. On the other hand, if you’ve perhaps skipped a few versions then now is a great time to dip your toes back into Football Manager.