Your average football game is all very well and good and countless hours have been swiped from my life by the likes of FIFA and PES, but when you talk about addictive footballing games, and really think about those titles which give you months of late nights, burnt dinners and stroppy partners then there’s only one King: Football Manager. For over 20 years now the series has been drawing in football fans with the promise of leading their favourite team to glory, dragging a lower league team out of obscurity or just trying to sign that amazing player that you reckon could make your mid-table team a world beater. This year, with Football Manager 2014, SI Games have done it again and produced a game which you’ll jump straight into and find it almost impossible to escape from.
It must be difficult for the developers to make each version of Football Manager a worthwhile purchase over previous years. There is already a huge number of leagues and players from around the world, deep media involvement and realistic player characteristics. We’ve had the 3D match engine for a while too, as well as the ability to assign various elements of the club’s day to day running to other members of staff to save you the bother. We also had Classic Mode last year, which stripped out a lot of the extra depth to leave a more 90s version of the game – still insanely addictive, but just letting you focus on the players, the formation and the matches themselves.
So where next? Well for starters there are dozens upon dozens of small tweaks, fixes and changes to make the game more feature rich and more complete. Some of these will most likely be missed by most people, such as the Danish Work Permit system being revamped or the newly acquired official license for the Gibraltar national team. But other changes will be clear for all to see, and it’s these changes that continue Football Manager’s journey away from a fancy looking spreadsheet to something more akin to a real-world RPG.
Additional player roles now give you extra ways to get your team playing your way, adding roles such as False 9s and Shadow Strikers to increase linkup play between your midfield and strikers. It takes a bit of experimenting to figure out who is most suited to which role (and that’s assuming you’ve got anyone suitable) but it’s giving you more flexibility and more control, something which the improved 3D engine does well to portray. The animations during the matches are still way off what you’ll find on FIFA, but that’s not the purpose of it. The reason it’s there is to show the ebb and flow of the matches, and which players are pulling off great passes, impressive runs past defenders or making a hash of a backpass to lose you a crucial match in the final minute. For those requirements it does its job admirably, and I was surprised by how many games I ended up using the TV view for when watching the key moments.
There are all the obvious updates that you’d expect in terms of personnel, finances and player attitudes, and season expectations for each team have been reconsidered and made more realistic. You can hold team meetings at the end of the season now too, passing on your joy, anger or uncertainty about the season that’s just finished and your targets for the year ahead. Everything feels tighter, more complete and more like you’re actually in charge. But it’s still very heavy going, leading us nicely into the wonderful relief of Classic Mode.
Last year the new mode brought a whole new way to play. Well, strictly speaking it gave a whole OLD way to play. Classic Mode, as mentioned earlier, took away a lot of the depth that had been building up over the past several years and left a leaner, faster and less intense game style. You still feel pride when you win, you’ll still throw something at the cat when you throw away a 3 goal lead in the second half, but it’ll happen quicker without all of the worry about keeping players settled or spending hours in training schedules and the like. One nice touch was the ability to jump to the end of the match, useful for speeding up a season but something of a lottery when giving up control for the game ahead. This year though you can set up strategies for your assistant to follow, how to defend if you’re 2 goals up with half an hour left, when to make substitutions and so on. It means that even when skipping a match you retain an element of control, letting you save yourself some time without sacrificing the chance of winning. It’s hard to go back to the full mode when you get engrossed in faster seasons and a much lighter workload, but for those looking for the full package the main mode delivers by the truck load.
In making the changes, be them small or slightly more sizeable, SI Games have made Football Manager feel more about managing people than managing numbers. It’s less robotic, less predictable and far more realistic. That’s down to the additional relationships you can form, the extra playing styles and the way you deal with players and staff, and once you’ve noticed the changes you’ll wonder how the series ever managed without them. You might still find it too much at times, and new players will find the main mode overwhelming, but the Classic Mode will tick any boxes still missing. Whether you’ll want to upgrade from 2013 depends on how much you play it – the huge number of tweaks are mostly that, just tweaks – but FM addicts will do well to grab the new features. More casual players though might think twice about whether it’s worthwhile, but that’s how things are when you’re making tiny changes to perfect an already winning formula.
Reviewed on PC