Monday, October 17, 2011
Football Manager 2012
Review platform: Microsoft Windows (also available on Mac OS X, PlayStation Portable, iOS)
New, improved, pretty much the same as ever: Football Manager has been established as the management simulator par excellence since it began life as Championship Manager in 1992, and only rarely has it taken great strides forward. There are, apparently, 800 changes for this latest edition - some immediately noticeable, most welcome, but strictly evolution over revolution.
The cosmetic changes to the layout are clear from the off, and seasoned users will have initial struggles navigating the system with numerous areas rejigged and relocated, but it's no more than a passing frustration. For some it will be a significant plus point: those with high resolutions will benefit from an adaptive layout system that scales up the amount of information available on one screen.
The watching of games also comes with an eye-catching change: the default 'Director Cam' mode attempts to take the rather rudimentary 3D match engine into the realm of TV highlights with multiple angles. For corners, for example, it might switch to a camera behind the goal. It can take some getting used to, particularly when it threatens the 180 degree rule, but it does take the match-day experience forwards and you can, of course, revert to more traditional modes. The general quality of the animation has marginally improved, too.
The less obvious changes are the most significant, and perhaps the greatest change comes with the option to add and remove leagues as you progress. If your computer power is limited, you can take a side from the Blue Square North to the Premier League before switching to La Liga for a stint in charge of Barcelona without compromising the game speed. It is a simple change that could hugely improve your game's lifespan.
The team talks have progressed, too. You can now set the tone of your remarks - aggressive, assertive, passionate, calm, cautious and reluctant - to make sure your message is getting across clearly, and with that comes some much needed variety in what was a needlessly restrictive system. There is also the ability to set the touchline instructions - retain possession or hassle opponents, for example - from the kick-off, while you can now bring a combination of instructions together into one if used regularly.
The press conferences, unfortunately, appear little improved, and the problems with the limited number of questions and answers are exacerbated by often nonsensical questions, and the temptation remains to send your assistant in your place in all but exceptional circumstances.
The subtle tweaks are valuable. Match fitness and condition are now detailed through two separate percentages, while the system for arranging friendlies is less time-consuming. In contract negotiations, you can now lock individual areas of the negotiation - if a player or agent is repeatedly asking for greater wages than your club can afford, just lock the basic wage offer and they'll have to focus on driving up the bonuses instead.
The game has become more in-depth and, though it's easy enough to sidestep the bulk of the ever-increasing complexity should you wish, the game's director, Miles Jacobson, said in a recent interview that the potential over-complication of the game is "very much something that keeps me awake at night". To counteract that, there is a new tutorial mode that will help even the game's annual devotees.
Many of the 800 improvements to the game will only reveal themselves over time, such is the subtle nature of Football Manager, but there is a definite feeling that the 2012 edition is enhanced. It continues to move away from its more simplistic origins but, for those willing to invest the time and effort, it remains an overwhelmingly compulsive experience.