The Football Manager series has been consistently sucking in fans for longer than pretty much an other game series on the market. Having released a new title pretty much every year for the past 20 years or so you’d have thought that SI Games would know what they were doing by now. And you’d be right. Since they dropped Eidos (and the Championship Manager name) in 1995 the Football Manager series has blossomed beyond comprehension, and despite a couple of seasons that hardcore fans weren’t keen on, it’s once again the most in-depth, challenging and addictive sports game available. Whether or not you’ve bought a football manager game before, Football Manager 2012 is genuinely something to behold.
An annual version of a game is always hard to make new and different. Nobody gets it right every time, and recent years have seen the excitement levels in FM fanboys drop a little. The addition of too many new features made the interface very click-heavy, and seasons took forever to get through. Football Manager needed to be streamlined, while still maintaining that addictive quality that sucks months of your life away without you even realising it’s happening.
Guess what? SI have managed to do exactly that. The changes are relatively small in relation to the game as a whole. Being able to give teamtalks in a different tone of voice sounds like another thing to worry about in amongst loads of already complex number crunching, but it’s seamless and allows you to give the same feedback in different ways. Being slightly cautious when telling the team they’re doing well won’t give as good a reaction as a passionate burst of excitement, but your assistant will do a good job of guiding you along your way if needs be, and you’ll get an instant response from your players to let you see just how successful the talk was. It’s not always about being nice either, sometimes you need to give them the hairdryer treatment, otherwise they’ll switch off and wonder why they need to try if they can play badly and still be praised.
Elsewhere you can add or remove leagues from around the world whenever you want. Had a nightmare first season and fancy something different? Why not pack your bags and move to Brazil to take a lower league team through the ranks? In previous years you’d have needed to predict such a decision, but now you can just leave dive into the options, tick the leagues you want and the game will do the rest. Considering just how hard this game can be, it’s a valuable addition.
And the game is hard, there’s no doubting that. As soon as my Steam download finished I signed up for a job with Villa, keen to get them back into Europe by doing everything I keep saying every Villa manager should’ve done for the past several years. I pictured the fans falling in love with me as we progress through the Champion’s League and become one of the driving forces in world football. I was certain I had what it took to turn over the likes of Manchester Utd and Barcelona and be the next great manager in the world of football.
I got sacked after 12 games.
To be fair to the board, I was in 19th place after winning 5 points in 12 games. Nothing I did worked, I was scraping home draws against QPR and getting thumped 5-1 at Wolves. I was clearly out of my depth and in too big a job too early in my FM career. Or maybe I’m just crap at the game. Either way some months went by and I eventually took a job at Oxford Utd, struggling in League 2 and with far less pressure to get a high finish. Down here with less riding on each result the game felt different, I felt like I had more breathing space and more chances to try things out without having my every move scrutinised. I brought in a new assistant, found some players to bring in on loan and got an excellent response from the board and fans for finishing in the top half of the table with no real transfer budget to speak of. There’s a reason why managers in real life tend to start in lower leagues before taking jobs higher up, and I just experienced it. Football Manager 2012 was mimicking real life almost to a scarily accurate level.
This, I feel, is the game’s biggest weakness. New players have an all new tutorial to play through to get them up to speed with the interface and workings of the game, but it’s very difficult initially and hugely unforgiving. You might lose your job a few times before getting fully up to speed, and when you consider that might be over 10 hours of doing badly and losing a lot before figuring out how it all works, it’s a big test of your resolve and commitment. But take the time to learn, take the time to work out exactly how to motivate your players, how to use your scouting teams effectively and how to decide on your strongest formations and that 10 hours will turn into 100 before you even realise what’s happened. In terms of value for money, you’ll be hard pushed to beat it.
There have been other changes obviously, a more streamlined interface for less clickages, tweaks to the 3D in-game modelling and (according to SEGA) over 800 other under-the-bonnet adjustments, but despite the number of tweaks the core game is still very similar to that which has claimed so many hours from so many people before, except the key parts of the game that were starting to drag or feel clunky have now been given a new lease of life, and the overall effect is mindblowing.
Yes it’s a bitch to get into if you’re a novice, and it’s still far too detailed, deep and unforgiving for many players, but if there wasn’t a challenge then it wouldn’t be as enjoyable and satisfying when it all starts to come together. Failing is just a step on the way to succeeding, and with Football Manager 2012 succeeding has never felt so good. Ignore those who say it’s just a spreadsheet; people who see FM 2012 as a spreadsheet clearly don’t have the passion for football that FM2012 demands; anyone else with half a love of the sport will pick this up, play for a few hours and get engrossed for months.
Get it. Just be a bit patient when you do.
Reviewed on PC