I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll never charge down a touch line flapping my arms with joy at my team’s last minute winner, throw a pizza at an opposing player during a walk down the tunnel at half-time, or even have a public spat on pitch with one of my female physios. However, with the continual help from Sport Interactive’s Football Manager, I’ve been able to demote Diego Costa to the reserves, fine him once a week and spam-offer him to lower league Icelandic clubs. Worth the admission fee alone, I’d say.
Game: Football Manager 16
Developer: Sports Interactive
Reviewed on: PC (Steam review code provided)
Yes, it’s here. Football Manager is back for another one of its yearly iterations and as you might expect, it comes packed with a number of tweaks and features that attempt to freshen and hone the experience further. If you’ve been stuck under a rock since the early 90’s you’ll be pleased to know that you’ve just discovered the best football management simulator there is in existence. Those who know it well already will be pleased to know that it’s still worthy of the title, even if the competition isn’t quite in the same league.
SI slightly backtracked to a once-abolished sidebar scheme last year, and I liked it. This year it’s back again alongside a bunch of navigation tweaks that make sifting through everything much more streamlined. My one complaint is the sheer amount of onscreen statistics and information that’s crammed into one space. The text-based interface has always been Football Manager’s ‘thing’, even back in the original Championship Manager era, but there’s recently come a part of me that yearns for a little more room to breath; or at least be in a little more control over what information I want, and where.
In fairness, there is plenty of improvements in that respect, too. There’s more graphical feedback than there has perhaps ever been through various pie-charts and icons. The tactics screen serves as a great example. It might take a little while to adjust to the slight tweaks in the interface, but once you have you’ll find selecting player roles and positions much more accessible thanks to everything being one or two clicks away and appearing on screen in places that seem logical to the gameplay flow. It’s the least convoluted interface in an FM game I’ve played for some time in that respect, despite feeling a little claustrophobic at times.
The 3D match engine is a considerable improvement, with much better animations and from what I’ve played, a much better representation of your decisions on the touch line regarding tactics. Minor additions such as referees playing advantage and more realism in how players react to each other might seem irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but when they’re all combined they make a genuine difference to the immersion of matchday – Football Manager is finally beginning to push it in the right direction.
One of the new features this year allows you to customise your appearance before beginning a new game. On paper it sounds like a pretty cool addition; create a character and see him prance around the technical area during matches and interacting with players. In reality it’s pretty thin and janky. The character models themselves are pretty horrific and the design options are about as basic as you could get. Having a presence on the touchline during 3D matches is nice, though. Especially when incorporated with the touchline ‘shouts’ that enable you to encourage or berate your team into performing a little better. Like a lot of the game, the effects of shouts can be subtle, but there’s a lot going on under the hood that might not become completely clear until you’ve infested many hours into it – which many inevitably will.
Not all the engine interaction is completely welcome. Of course there’s plenty of variables that can change the course of how players and press react to you, but now it feels like you’re treading on eggshells with every tiny decision. ‘Well, that’s completely realistic then, right?’ I hear you ask. The answer to that is yes and no. It’s good to have that level of micromanagement in the game such as pre-match and half time team talks, individual instructions, player requests and press interaction. However, they grow increasingly tiresome to address. The team talks have been made more contextual and in fairness do feel important to the simulation, but can feel seriously repetitive and there always seems to be that sweet spot that’s eventually discovered, leading to a recipe for success when addressing the squad.
Then there’s the press conferences that will grind on you from pretty early on. Every year SI seem to be determined to make this work for them but the formula still isn’t quite perfected. Yes, there is some more variation but sooner or later you’ll be back to going through the motions or even just letting your assitant manager take charge of them. I’ve always thought that part of the game’s immersion was a result of leaving certain things to the gamer’s imagination, but a number of features do the opposite by reducing it to a paint by numbers experience. If press interaction is ever going to truly work, it’ll need to be far more dynamic or at the very least, more fun.
That aside, when it comes to the actual team management side of things Football Manager 16 continues to excel. The way you can build detailed tactics feels great this year thanks to a lot of informative feedback on what certain roles and settings do, all placed on an interface built with convenience in mind. One of the best new additions that has proved invaluable in building tactics this year is the ProZone analysis tool. The tool feedbacks information that’ll keep manager’s who love delving deep into their teams performances extremely happy, with tons of functionality and clear, easy to gather information. Together with a really in-depth set-piece creator, you could easily find yourself pouring over every minor detail for hours – the tools are certainly here to do so and they’re really intuitive to use.
So, the general management side of things are still fantastic, but what of the new modes? Fantasy Draft mode seems like such an obvious inclusion that you wonder why it hasn’t been here before. You’ll start with a fixed budget and build a fresh squad whilst competing with other managers to get the best players. Once you’ve formed your squad you’ll battle it out in a mini-league type scenario and overall it’s really good fun. There’s also the lighter version of the Football Manager experience that appeared last year, now under the guise of Football Manager Touch. A lot will prefer the faster-paced, less micromanaging type of experience you’ll find here. It’s a solid mode that’s more reminiscent of older versions that wasn’t so bogged down in details, so is a welcome addition if you need a quick fix without the headaches. Another bonus is that it’s cross-save compatible meaning you can take your addiction on the road with you via a mobile device thanks to cloud implementation – employers beware.
So, essentially Football Manager 16 is a nice step up from last years offering. The complexity and sheers size of what’s happening under the hood means I did hit a few crashes, but they were rare and SI have been quick off the mark to address issues like that in past experience, so it didn’t deter too much. Inevitably the core experience hasn’t changed greatly, so don’t come expecting a fresh overhaul. Plus, there’s a lot of player/press interaction gameplay that really needs to be taken back to the drawing board if it’s ever going to work. But, anyone who likes the sport will find a hugely addictive football management simulator that not only is the best in its field, but is one that every fan owes themselves to play.