Me reviewing Football Manager is a bit like an addict reviewing crack, while I may find it fantastically moreish, others wonder why on earth I thought it was a good idea to try it in the first place.
Like most addictions, the first step is admitting you have a problem, I’ve had this particular one since the release of Championship Manager 4 first introduced the 2d (now 3d) match engine. A revolutionary step for the series which had previously (don’t laugh) relied on players watching the commentary text, with no visual representation of the field. FM 2010 represents another massive leap towards user friendliness and accessibility, but in a very different, far more subtle way.
First some background, for those unfamiliar to the series, Football Manager does pretty much what it says on the tin, you manage a football team. You buy players and backroom staff, you organise your training systems, you put together your tactics and then you sit in the dugout, desperately fiddling with tactics and bellowing encouragement at your players, unable to directly influence events. The last bit is what puzzles most people; it’s very much a game of number crunching and planning, rather than direct participation, in essence it is a turn based strategy game, in fact it has a lot in common with games like Civilisation, only with sport instead of war.
This changes everything
It’s the tactics that have always proved the barrier; new players can usually get the hang of buying and selling players, and the training system has slowly turned from an opaque mess into a streamlined, self explanatory slider system, but tactics, the fundamentals of playing and winning games have always remained a mystery wrapped in an enigma, hidden behind a baffling interface. Until now. FM 2010 introduces a new ‘tactic’ creator, which seems humble at first, but is in fact massive boost to the series as a whole. The old system, full of jumbled sliders that interact in complicated ways never fully understood even by the game’s community, is still there, but laid over the top is a simple interface that anyone with a passing knowledge of football can understand.
You go through a simple series of options, selecting your base formation, how long you want to pass the ball, how disciplined or fluid you want your players to be, and then you’re given the option to select ‘roles’ for your players. This is the real innovation, previously anyone wanting to create a Pirlo style ‘deep playmaker’ had to guess how it was done, what options to set where and how it would work, now you simply select ‘deep playmaker’ in two flavours, defensive or support (medium) and off you go. It’s simple and effective, it allows new players to rapidly assemble a tactic and gives veterans the ability to swiftly put together a base for further tweaking, you can then change the stance of the base tactic (attacking, defensive, counter etc) mid game, and use a variety of ‘touchline shouts’ to quickly tweak things without having to micro manage.
These numbers make strong defenders weep
While this is the big new thing, it really is only a gateway, like Eve, or Dwarf Fortress, Football Manager is a game that has always made acolytes of those who struggled past the awkward interface, and this merely lowers the entrance requirements. What’s fundamental to it is the inexplicable attachment you form to your little bundles of stats, there’s a real pleasure to see that your gamble on that star striker paid off, or that a youth player you gave a chance to has blossomed. You start to leave on players you’re particularly attached to even when they’re having a bad game, because you trust them to make right, you begin to grumble at the referee for playing too much extra time and even give your monitor a half time ear-bashing when the defending has been too lax. After the first season new young players, dubbed ‘regens’ start to appear, with their strange computer generated faces these guys inspire more attachment than ever before, I know of at least one player who deliberately seeks regens from obscure nations, always on search for a Bhutanese winger or Lichtensteinian striker.
This is the end game of the addiction, when you realise that ‘just one more game’ has kept you up till 3am, when you start pronouncing judgement the new french youngster Sunderland have signed based on his FM stats, when you realise that you’re a hair’s breadth from buying a sheepskin jacket to play in. And before you know it, you’re hooked.