Around this time of year we see a influx of releases doing their annual rounds, but a few are more welcome than Sports Interactive’s addictive football management sim. With so much foundation to build upon and years of winning formula under its belt, can Football Manager 2015 deliver another title winning year or is it in need of an off-season shake up? Read on to find out.
Developer: Sports Interactive
Reviewed on: (Review code provided)
Like every year, new features and upgrades are slowly drip-fed into the gaming public and whilst many may have not dabbled, it’s important to know that the core gameplay behind the series has remained the same for an absolute age; it’s statistical-based football management simulation and it does it rather well. However, there are some more noticeable tweaks this year and this is what I’ll be focusing on throughout the review.
Football Manager 2015 gets a shiny lick of paint that freshens up screens you’ve spent endless hours peering at – even to merely help differentiate it from the last iteration, if nothing else. This year the sidebar interface makes a comeback and it’s very welcome. Not only does it look cleaner to my eyes but it feels more accessible. Moving through menus is a breeze and you’ll rarely be caught clicking endlessly to reach the desired page.
It’s a similar story for the majority of the presentation that sees a number of changes; certain stats presented with circles rather than percentages; the scouting and player searches work more in unison and the tactics screen feels considerably different in the way you select players from drop down menus. That’s only a few of the interface tweaks, but in this kind of game the interface is directly influencing the gameplay experience, and in general, this years efforts see some of the best improvements in that area it has for quite a while.
There’s plenty of fans that bypass the visual match engine in favour of the retro-styled match text and although they might not be converted with this years tweaks, it’s certainly moving in the right direction. There’s a ton of superficial enhancements such as stadium, weather and crowd beautification, plus new animations to players means that things look more natural and smooth than they’ve ever been. That’s not to say it’s perfect; there’s still plenty of ‘skating’ going down, but in large it’s much nicer to look at and match day feels a little more authentic as a result. Whether it represents a true reflection of your tweaks and management skills before it kicks-off is something I’ll probably never know.
At the start you’ll be asked to move a slider that dictates how much your managerial style leans towards being a ‘tracksuit’ coach or ‘tactical’ connoisseur. Doing so swaps your managerial stats around which adds further confirmation to Football Manager’s RPG tendencies. It’s actually quite cool and something you would have thought might have been added sooner, especially as it adds more detail to your role and the effect you might have in the game.
Detail is something you’ll still be able to dictate from the get go. The standard mode can be as complex as your micromanaging skills can tolerate, with new additions to scouting, team selection and media handling. Sometimes it’s easy to get carried away into the managerial role and in all honesty the game can suffer for it. Endless media questions, coaching advice and player requests can get tiresome but thankfully there’s always the option to hand over to the assistant and be on your way. Picking players for the reserve team to get them back to match fitness is a great example of the excellent streamlining that’s been implemented. All the information is presented with the request to help either make a decision or allow the assistant to deal with; no digging through screens to do so.
No matter how much I try to enjoy the press conferences and media questions, it’s always felt lifeless and repetitive. Of course, in real life these play a big part mentally on players and staff but Football Manager has never captured the drama and meaningfulness of those events and this time round, whilst showing a little more variety, it still suffers from that problem. Ultimately, they’re just no fun. The robotic choices of tone when selecting your reply feel more like an answerphone message you’d leave before a beep and that translates into team talks and other interaction with AI, too.
One nice addition is the touchline team talks where you can spatter out nuggets of wisdom such as ‘calm down’ or ‘get creative’ to your players right in the middle of a match. The pre-match and half time talks are still there but it’s nice to feel a part of the action instead of just hitting go and seeing what happens. Obviously any visual feedback to your ramblings is either non-existent or particularly subtle, but I guess real life managers might feel the same whilst yelling helplessly at their players. There seems a greater amount of player interaction all round, which is great from my standpoint.
Out of the main game you’ll still find the excellent Classic mode. It, itself, has seen a few minor tweaks that help refine your experience to something a bit more fast moving, for those who like getting down to business, rather than mulling over it. Changes to how much of the training side of things you deal with, plus quick results will get you through the seasons in no time at all if that’s your style. Challenge mode is back, too, although not much has changed in regards to the types of crisis scenarios you’ll be having to deal with.
The design of Football Manager has felt like a game of chess over the years; moving one piece at a time to see how us, the fans, will either embrace or counter it. Whilst part of me wishes they’d embrace a gap year with just player updates whilst making more substantial changes to a full release, the truth is the series is still as addictive as it’s ever been and is only getting stronger – even if it’s gradual. At least there’s been some superb changes to the interface as well as match day detail to make you feel a part of the action, but it’s still essentially the brilliant game you’ve been playing for years, only a little better.