A few months ago we featured a review of Football Manager 2014 on the PC, and just as we’ve been doing every year since about 1994 got totally addicted in both the full mode and the nearly new Classic mode. The Classic mode stripped out a lot of the more bulky features that had started to bloat the main game, allowing a much more streamlined experience without losing any of the relationship-wrecking addictiveness that had become a trademark of the series. And so, not long later, we got the see how the Vita version of Football Manager Classic holds up.
FM Classic keeps most of what you’ll find on the desktop version – there are dozens of leagues across numerous countries, thousands of players and a dazzling amount of statistics, tactics and playing styles. There’s a fully fledged scouting and transfer system, the 3D match engine which lets you see the actions as it unfolds and the ever-present press involvement, asking those intrusive questions that the British press have come to be universally hated for. Everything is in place for this to become the definitive handheld management sim, another excuse to be awake into the small hours of the morning and another opportunity for your other half to walk out as a result of feeling neglected. You can even sync your game saves with the full desktop version whenever you want, letting you play almost anywhere. So why, all things considered, isn’t it quite as amazing as it should be?
The answer is in the very idea of what FM Classic is all about: speed. This game mode was brought into the desktop version to give a speedier, more streamlined playing mode which allowed seasons to zip by at a rapid rate without worrying about the insane depth of the full game mode. But running on the relatively light Vita hardware the game struggles to keep up. Matches can only be sped up to a certain speed, one which will have your Vita turning its screen off to save power just while you wait for the next highlight. Dragging players to various positions is hit and miss, and it sometimes takes a while for the game to catch up with your fingers, leading to some bizarre substitutions as you accidentally bring on your world class striker in place of your keeper. The touch screen controls don’t really lend themselves to a fairly small screen either – it feels like everything would be more at home on a tablet rather than a smaller console like the Vita.
But that said, there’s a definite draw which keeps you coming back for more. Whether you’re chasing that big new signing, dipping into the loan market for some hidden gems or trying to dodge relegation which your team of bargain basement low-wage players it’s easy to finish a game and want to do just one more, see how your new formation of tactic will work out or see if you can leapfrog the team above you. There’s always something making you want to fire the game up and try again, and while the game’s problems will always be in your mind, it’s possible to adapt your playing to minimise the affect that has on your game – I found, for example, that moving players around the screen quicker actually responded better than being careful, and more often than not the players started to go where I wanted them to. Not all of the issues are solvable by doing this, and there’s no avoiding the tiny boxes that you’re given sometimes (it’s very easy for example to accidentally insult a fellow manager instead of praising them) but when you’re engrossed in your 5th season, three matches away from finally gaining promotion to the Championship and having your heart leap every time a match highlight fires up on the screen you’ll forget everything.
And that’s the great part of Football Manager Classic. It’s not perfect, it’s not what many fans would have been hoping for, but there’s undeniable quality and when the right things come together the result is unforgettable. Make no mistake about it, if you’re the impatient type or have no desire to experiment in order to find a way round some of the more annoying problems then go and spend your money elsewhere (this is, after all, not a cheap game). But for football fans who are convinced they can be the next David Moyes (ok, maybe not the best example) or play the desktop Classic mode and want to carry on when they’re on the train to work then it’s difficult to keep away from it.
Reviewed on PS Vita