For many Career Mode is the only way to play FIFA. A purely offline experience without having to worry about the actions of others to spoil things for you.
Offering 15 seasons to grow your virtual pro and sculpt your perfect team either starting with a whopping budget or taking a team of minnows from the lower leagues to top flight and European glory. In previous years it’s been heavily criticised for being both lightweight and buggy, which is fair, but this year there’s a new designer in the driving seat.
In the interest of disclosure, the below is purely my experience in taking control of Arsenal, including my Virtual Pro, for the first season of Career Mode. The others are covering gameplay etc, so this is based on my experiences off the pitch.
The UI isn’t a massive overhaul from what you’ll be used to in FIFA 11, however the changes that have been made are extremely welcome. You no longer need to sit in the calendar and watch the days tick by as it’s now presented across the top of the screen as a ticker of sorts. This means that you have near constant visibility of the news pane, which shows news from around your career mode, ranging from players talking to the press about being unsettled to other managers complaining about injustice in previous matches. A personal favourite was a Martin Jol rant about the importance of goal line technology after conceding a goal that wasn’t.
The posts are varied and although they might tire after a few seasons there’s certainly plenty in here. As well as news you’ll also have players recommended and get to see players that are unhappy elsewhere which can change the way you approach the transfer window. The key thing about the news this year is that it’s not just superficial, it’s also a way for you to find out more about your club, i’ll touch on that more in player stories. My only criticism of the news posts is that although it cycles through them whilst the days are simulating, you don’t have any control. When the simulation engine isn’t running, you have full control of the news pane. The time this control would be most useful is whilst simming days, as there isn’t anything else you can do, which makes it a great opportunity to catch up on what’s happening.
Another new feature on to the ticker is the talk to press option. For the few days prior to a match, you have the opportunity to interrupt the sim cycle and chat to the press about the upcoming game. It’s then up to you whether you choose to slag off the opposing team or praise their manager amongst other things. Depending on your choice you’ll see a news post regarding the remarks you made and occasionally it’ll pop up in the commentary. Alan Smith was a little miffed that I’d been less than pleasant about Harry Redknapp before the derby, whereas I was upset I wasn’t given a choice of colourful language to use. We’ve been told that your choices and comments have an actual impact in game, but I can’t say I saw any evidence of this happening.
The email system hasn’t changed, but there is a little more going on now. From suggesting prospects that aren’t getting enough first team action be sent on loan, to providing you with your scout reports, it’s rare more than a few days will pass without receiving a notice that needs actioning. This does sadly break things up a bit and we’ve discussed before the idea of an “admin day” where once a week you spend some time sorting out loose ends, catching up with your scouts and making squad changes as needed before heading in to that weeks match. I personally would prefer that to having the events pop up as and when and it would speed up the process of simming during the week.
Another new addition that ties in to the above are player stories. Again there’s plenty of variety, and the player stories will spread from the newspapers to pop ups to make you fully aware of the situation. You’ll get players complaining about not getting enough time on the pitch, asking outright to be transfer listed, requesting a rest and more. The best example I’ve had in the final game (you can read another one here) was with Alex Song. Around November stories started to surface in the paper that he was unhappy at the club. I proactively checked the squad report screen and it showed him to be happy, so assuming it was a bug I moved on.
About a week later I was approached by Song (through an on screen pop up) and he told me that he was in fact feeling out of sorts and was unsure of his future. He did however, reassure me that he would continue to give 100% for the club and his teammates until he had sorted his head out. Returning to the squad report screen I found his status had changed to unhappy. Throughout December he continued in the starting 11 and occasionally reassured me that he would decide on his future soon, but before he got the chance the board stepped in and told me that he would be sold for the greater good of the squad, rather than have an unhappy player around lowering the moral. I took this as a prompt to list him, which I did, but as the transfer window ticked by, having received no offers, I received an email saying he’d been sold to Man City, for slightly less than his market value, without any involvement from me, and that I needed to start looking for a replacement.
The whole process was not only interesting, but also interactive, and made a huge difference to my transfer window activity as one of my starting 11, who I had no intention of losing, was prised away from me and there was nothing I could do apart from rethink my squad and make some moves in the market.
Another sore topic for hardcore CM players has been injuries, with in game injuries being as elusive as bigfoot or the loch ness monster. In the season I played, I didn’t experience any on field injuries, but (and it’s a big but) I did experience them in the preview code we played, and have also had them in Ultimate Team, so whilst they clearly aren’t as frequent as people would like, they are there. Somewhere. I did however pick up a lot of training injuries and injuries during simmed matches, ranging from pulled muscles to broken bones with varying periods of rehabilitation. I felt that most of the injury periods were short, frequently being less than a week and with the longest being just 6 weeks.
The ability to view other clubs injury lists properly (clubs within your league anyway) is a nice touch and players returning from injury will warn of being not 100% if dropped back into the first team straight away, I tried pushing my recently injured players to their limits, but sadly didn’t get anyone aggravate an existing problem.
Squad Report is the central screen for viewing your players progress and attributes, as well as their playing stats, mindset, form and growth. There’s a lot going on in here, with colour coding to help you make sense of everything. It’s a great touch to have everything visible all in one place, and it’s definately a screen to keep an eye on as you’ll find players that are unhappy either with the management or not getting enough game time, that aren’t vocal about it through player stories.
Although I did experience player stories relating to fatigue and dutifully rested the player that requested a match off, who was very grateful, I didn’t feel like on pitch performance was suffering in such a way that action needed to be taken. I also didn’t feel like players who weren’t 100% were any more or less prone to injury than players that were fully fit. I was able to play a large portion of my season without too much in the way of rotation, apart from injuries and suspensions. Definately more work to be done here.
Another area that’s had a decent amount of work put in and it shows. Scouting is now both interesting and quite challenging. Whilst setting up the network is straightforward, the choices of which players to bring into your youth squad becomes extremely tough as the list of scouted players grows. As you scout players month by month, you gain a better view of their current and predicted Ovr, as well as a detailed view of their attributes. The more you scout them, the more you get to see and the gap on their rating tightens. As an example, I scouted a 16 year Spanish prodigy called Juan Pablo. My first view of him was an Ovr of 42-54 with a maximum potential of between 67 – 89. After scouting him for a further month, the gap tightened to 69-87 and then 70 – 84, at which point I decided to bring him into the youth squad.
If you leave your youth players unattended for too long they’ll get grand ideas and threaten to leave, at which point you’ll need to check their profile and decide whether you want to offer them a first team contract or not. The youngest scouted player I was presented with was 14, which is too young to sign into the main squad, so if you find a young gem, you’ll have to watch their progress closely in the youth squad until they hit 16.
In honesty these haven’t changed but the new UI does present different ways for rejection. Rosicky decided not to accept my offer, which I heard about in the papers before I received the rejection email. A small touch but nice nonetheless.
Transfers now take a two tiered approach as we’ve mentioned in previews, with fees needing to be agreed with clubs before negotiations with players can begin. The two windows I played through were very busy, both for me and other clubs in the premiership. I was constantly batting away offers for unlisted players and received a fair amount of interest for listed ones.
Generally the sums were believable as were the types of clubs approaching my players. In the first window Man Utd sold three players to Tottenham which is unrealistic, but in the same breath, Tottenham had sold Modric for a whopping £40M, so they had funds at their disposal.
Transfer deadline day is a massive change to the way the the transfer window closes, and is an excellent addition. Being able to see the final hours play out in “real time” adds a much needed touch of tension and drama to the proceedings, especially when you’re trying to close a deal, and even if you’re not, there’s plenty to see with all of the news being dedicated to player movements and availability and the interface changing to present a list of the biggest transfers of the window so far.
Player growth appears to finally work well and can be easily monitored through the squad report screen. Over the course of the season I saw Jack Wilshere, being both young and a first team regular, grow from an 82 Ovr to a 85. In contrast Aaron Ramsey, similar age but who had pictured in the first team slightly less than Jack Wilshere, mostly playing from the bench, grew from a 77 to a 78. Whilst there was no growth on short term loans, players did experience growth on season long loans with all 6 of the players I had out on season long loans growing by 1-2 Ovr.
There has previously been a bit of a disconnect between what’s happening behind the scenes in your CM and what happens on the pitch, but to help bridge that gap, the commentators will now react to certain events off the field during the course of the game. From comments you’ve made through talk to the press to transfers, you’ll occasionally pick up on lines specifically relevant to something you’ve been involved in behind the scenes. It’s a great touch and bundled in with the other changes does a lot to help that feeling of being in your own experience.
Always a sticking point for CM players, given that in recent years there have been a variety of bugs and niggles that can end up ruining hours and hours of work, leaving no option but to start again or retreat to a backup save if you have one.
The bugs I experienced myself were firstly some issues with the news, mostly duplications of news stories on the same window, hardly gamebreaking, but slightly annoying.
There is also a problem with the times that matches are being played and the time of day that’s used. I frequently played night matches in the sunshine which is a real immersion killer. Evening cup games should look and feel the part and it sounds like a minor detail but it’s really not. Worse still, the option to edit the weather pre game isn’t there, so you can’t even correct it. Once I hit the european games in the second season they were played at dusk, which is close, but not close enough.
More concerning was an issue with a player being bought by two clubs. I bought Coentrao from Real Madrid for £20M and went through the process of agreeing and accepting terms with the player, but in the same set of emails that I received signing confirmation, I was notified that he’d signed for AC Milan. I finished TDD and checked my squad, no player, then checked my budget to see that the funds had gone, so I was left without the player I’d targeted and no funds left to look for another suitable player in the next window.
Upon further investigation it’s a problem that was there in FIFA 11 and possibly even earlier, so it’s extremely disheartening that it can still happen.
As time rolls on, there will no doubt be more bugs that surface, but those were the only ones to come to light in the first season for me.
For the first time this generation, I have been 100% fully engrossed in CM. There have been some huge steps made and whilst some issues remain and some new ones appear, overall it’s the most fun I’ve had with the mode. There is plenty to see and do off the pitch and if you’re anything like me you’ll sometimes just sit there for ten minutes reading the news in the alternative football universe that’s being crafted around you. It’s not perfect, there are still omissions and changes that can be made, but I honestly believe that even that harshest CM critic from recent years will find something they really like here. The only thing that can spoil this for me now is more bugs popping up as I head into the second season.
*This is not the final score for the game. It’s the score for this portion. The final score based on all aspects considered will be live at 3pm*