Don’t you just hate it when developers and publishers mess around with your favourite game series in order to make them better? You know, when they (gasp!) make changes that improve them? I know I do. This obviously comes from the fact that I am a human being (although at times I resemble more of some sort of shabby swamp creature) and humans categorically despise change for the better or for the worse. It makes no logical sense, yet we do it.
Where am I going with this? Well, I find myself in this very situation when it comes to sumising my feelings about this year’s instalment of the Football Manager series, Football Manager 13.
Readers of my other work, my followers on twitter and listeners to the newbreview.com podcast (a small group of people then!) know that I am a self confessed Football Manager nut. I’ve played oodles of iterations in the series for far too many hours than which I wish to disclose. But with this year’s release, what has normally been a very pleasant experience is one met with mixed feelings.
Don’t get me wrong, Football Manager 13 is still the next evolutionary step in a long list of games which are without a doubt the best football management games ever made. It’s compelling, it’s stimulating, it satisfies urges that no other game series can. In short, it contains all the things you come to expect from the Football Manager series and for that it’s still spectacular. The mixed feelings come from the problems created by the sheer amount of new features packed into Football Manager 13. Say what you want about annual franchises but there’s no denying Sports Interactive have thrown everything including the kitchen sink into the mix this time around. There’s also no denying that the new additions will do nothing but improve the Football Manager experience… but the way they’ve been implemented has caused a whole heap of problems for me.
Aside from the entire brand new modes (I’ll get onto those in a moment) the other noticeable thing is that the series’ interface as received a new lick of paint. Football Manager 13 has more interactive and colourful menus (or at least as colourful as a bunch of spreadsheets can be) which seem to echo the spirit and production style of Sky’s football coverage. I’ve got to say such a style is not my personal cup of tea but that’s neither here nor there because the actual frustration with the games interface is that it’s also been tweaked to provide easy access to just about everything, and as a result achieves the opposite by making everything more difficult to access as a whole. Screens seem far too messy and cluttered with easy to access buttons for just about EVERYTHING at all times, creating the opposite effect of their intended purpose. The match engine is a prime example of this. There are so many features and options available to you during matches that you often find yourself spending more time navigating through drop down menus and buttons, trying to do the most basic of things like a tactics change, that you simply take your eye off the action and miss key developments.
Actually, whilst we’re on the subject of key moments in matches, there seems to be less of them, which is a funny thing to say considering how much you can affect a game on the fly. In contrast, Football Manager 12 felt like it displayed just enough highlights to allow for your own influence on the game, but Football Manager 13 feels as though its been honed to provide fewer (or perhaps focus on greater?) match highlights. Perhaps I’m being too picky, but greater match highlights means that, for the majority of the time, you’re spending most of your time passively watching a virtual game of football, which isn’t very exciting. Similarly the fact that you’re watching significantly fewer highlights meaning you feel like you can’t influence the game as much as you would like. FM 12 got the balance just right, allowing you to influence matches without them outstaying their welcome, FM 13 however feels like they’ve tinkered with the system unnecessarily. Which, in a lot of ways, is actually a great way to summarise Football Manager 13 as a whole.
It’s understandable and commendable that Sports Interactive would want want to make the series more accessible and add a ton of new features to increase authenticity. Despite my issues with their implementation, some of the new inclusions are very useful – the ability to schedule your transfer activity is particularly brilliant. In previous iterations of the series it was often a case of finding a player, wanting to buy him and then forgetting about it due to the strict transfer window. With Football Manager 13 you can select a specific date or time of the season to sign a player or member of staff, such as when their contract runs out, if you’re excessively frugal like I am. You can set parameters on how much you’re willing to spend, contract clauses, the whole caboodle, which is the perfect remedy for the aforementioned forgetfulness. There are tons of these little new features to aid your convenience, the only problem is they are hidden away in the mire, inaccessible to the naked eye thanks to a messy interface that tries to disguise itself as being simple and intuitive.
The biggest change this time round though is the inclusion of entire brand new modes that make mark their first appearance in the full Football Manager experience. The scenario based Challenge Mode offers a different take on the franchises renowned formula, setting players certain challenges to complete. They range from managing a team out of the relegation zone and avoiding the drop with only a set amount of games left in the season to going an entire half of the season without losing. Sure, the actual overall gameplay is the same but, with every match having an increased amount of importance, Challenge Mode ramps up the drama and tension, making it a compelling addition.
Classic Mode, meanwhile, delivers what it tries to achieve: a more streamlined, quicker way to play Football Manager. Needless to say the ‘full fat’ version of Football Manager is something of a time vacuum (case in point: I spent 115 hours of my life playing FM12) so the move to make the game less time consuming is understandable. For all intents and purposes, it works. Ok, you may not get all the detail of the full Football Manager experience, in fact quite a lot of features and options have been culled in an attempt to up the pace, but that’s why it’s so impressive that it’s still compelling enough to play. Streamlined without losing its addictive qualities. Bravo.
The cherry on the top of the cake comes in the form of the online Versus Mode. Players of previous Football Manager know and will tell you that it was an absolute BALL ACHE to set up a online network game in previous instalments, which is why Football Manager 13′s integration with Steam is a godsend. You still have to all be on at the same time, but network games are far easier to set up meaning you spend significantly less time pratting about with servers and more time destroying your friends for those all important bragging rights.
All in all, Football Manager 13 represents a mixed bag. At its core it still retains all the compulsion and tension you’ve come to expect from the Football Manager franchise. It’s full of new features and modes which should make this latest edition of the series the best yet but its inaccessible, new interface means that it unfortunately falls short.
Graphics: 2/5 – Drastic changes to the FM interface hasn’t paid off. It’s messy, long winded and ultimately makes the new features, which should make the game better, inaccessible.
Sound: 1/5 – See my review of Football Manager 12 nothing has changed.
Gameplay: 5/5 – The great Football manager experience we’ve come to expect but with even more options and features to make it better.
Longevity: 5/5 – New modes add to an already endless amount of playability offering a taste of variety.
Overall 3.5 out of 5
Football Manager 13 should be the best FM game to date. You can’t deny that the new modes bring even more gameplay time and some much needed variation. The game’s new options and in-game features continue to improve the series in terms of gameplay but the interface is so poorly thought out that it puts a real dampener on proceedings.
-Kieran E. Roycroft