The period from October to November is always an exciting time for gamers, specifically gamers that love football (yes dear readers, not all gamers are totally opposed to the concepts of sport and exercise). It’s the time of the year where gamers get their yearly FIFA or PES fixes, depending on your preferences regarding gameplay, graphics, commentary and licensing. For myself and a lot of gamers though, every year isn’t just about FIFA vs PES (although I’m sure we all still have our favourites) it’s also about the excitement of a new Football Manager being released.
Now, I know what you’re thinking… football management games? Stats? Tactics? Formations? Training? Passively watching virtual games of football? What an absolute bore-fest. I would forgive you for thinking that (I happen to think JRPG grind-a-thons are incredibly dull) but the Football Manager (and Championship Manager, R.I.P) series of games have never been developed, released or promoted as a series of games which are a) accessible b) interesting to everybody or c) perfectly catered for those who prefer to be stuck into the action when it comes to their football games.
Instead the Football Manager series has always prided itself on delivering an authentic experience when it comes to the behind the scenes world of football. Tactics and training, transfers and agents, press conferences and team talks, Football Manager is made for those with a hankering for a passive, yet more in-depth footballing experience, which has subsequently lead to the garnering of an incredibly dedicated and loyal fanbase.
Football Manager fans rejoice, as Football Manager 2012 is finally out and bloody hell is it good!
Whilst some yearly sports installments can be accused of putting out the same game year after year, Football Manager always seems to improve, tweak and change it up, and 2012′s edition is no different.
In terms of core gameplay, Football Manager 2012 is no different from any other Football Manager game and thus still provides an incredibly compelling experience that will have you playings for months on end. Assuming the role of a football manager, you manage your players, your backroom staff, the press, everything you’ve come to expect from Football Manager games is there. Which is why it’s so surprising that FM 2012 comes with over 800 new features, from minuscule tweaks, to revamps of previous features, and altogether new ones. Sports Interactive have certainly not rested on their laurels and have really gone to town on Football Manager 2012, taking the popular football sim to unprecidented heights.
All new levels of depth have been achieved within the game’s transfers, scouting and tactics mechanics. With a range of new contract clauses, scouting filters and increased detailed team reports at your disposal. Such additions give the player even more control, increasing immersion, yet is displayed and delivered in such a way as to not lead to confusion. Maintaining the delicate balance between complexity and simplicity. The controls are there, and are extremely useful for more advanced players and add even more depth to the game, yet they are not absolutely essential.
Team talk mechanics have undergone a transformation, with yet more depth added, allowing players to man-manage and influence the outcomes of games more effectively. No longer are players only allowed to address the team as a whole. They can call team meetings, give team talks to different positions, i.e. midfielders, or give individual team talks to specific players. These brand new mechanics, not only display that Football Manager’s A.I continues to become more and more sophisticated, years on. But its also an incredibly useful tool that can quite literally change a game, or win you the league.
Morale in any dressing room is key, and the way in which you can use the new variety of different team talks and team meetings to affect morale within Football Manager 2012 is extremely important. Just like the game’s added depth in its transfer, scouting and team report systems, Football Manager 2012′s improved team talk system allows players to affect player and team morale in a very simplistic, easy to use way. Firing players up, motivating them, giving them confidence or giving them a good dressing down is displayed visually, showing before moods and after moods, allowing you to try and pick the best team talks for the right time, and if that’s achieved, you can win games just off of that basis. Of course, you don’t have to go that indepth with your team talks, you can even ask your assistant manager to do it for you, but for those more advanced players, the improved team talk system opens up new possibilities and an even greater sense of involvement.
But perhaps the biggest and most exciting new feature comes in the form of an hugely improved league system. No longer are gamers confined to leagues, selected at the start of their game save, as you can remove and add leagues on the fly. This added flexibility may be seen as an easy way to cheat your way to glory, enabling you to manage pretty much any team at any time. However, for those of the more honest, dedicated nature, you can now gain experience in a multitude of different leagues across the globe.
Leagues’ reputations and prestige now also change over time (a much cried out for feature). Ever heard the saying ‘the Premiership is the best league in the world’? Well now you can make it so! League (and country, forgot to add that!) reputations can change depending on the quality and the success of teams within that league. So for example, if I managed SK Liepājas Metalurgs in the Latvian Higher League, leading them to glory by emulating their league win in 2009, and dominating the league year on year, my club’s reputation would increase and bigger names in the world of football would be more attracted to my team, also raising the profile of the league I’m playing in.
If I then started to dominate on the European stage, winning tournaments such as the Europa League and the Champion’s League, the profile of my club would rise even higher, better players and staff would be more willing to come to my team, thus raising the reputation of the league my team plays in week in, week out. Perhaps the money from all the trophies I’ve won could be spent on youth academys and training facilities, bringing through a new era of Latvian football. Next thing you know, Latvia win the world cup, and all of a sudden they are top of the FIFA rankings and are the best international team in the world.
This dynamic system of unfixed reputations for clubs, leagues and countries carries a lot of weight when it comes to transfers, TV and sponsorship rights, potential takeovers and prize money. Adding an even more increasing level of realism.
19 years on from the release of the first Championship Manager (the series name changed in 2004 due to a rights related issue) you would’ve thought the football sim would’ve been created and perfected by now. But even Football Manager 2012 shows areas that could be improved in future iterations, despite being a highly polished, highly compulsive experience.
Although improvements have been made in FM 12, the series match engine still leaves a lot to be desired. The addition of a dynamic camera setting, which changes camera angle to suit the action unfolding on the screen is a welcome addition and there have been minor improvements to 3D player sprites, however there’s still a lot of work to be done. Its lack of sound, other than basic kicking noises, and primitive 3D graphics detracts from the atmosphere of each game (which at times can be quite intense). Football Manager’s match engine sees improvements made year after year, but in terms of sound, graphics and atmosphere, the match engine in Football Manager 2012 has a long way to go before it can truly compliment the game’s award winning gameplay.
As far as overall graphics go, the game’s interface takes some of getting used to which is a bit of an omnission coming from somebody who has played A LOT of Football Manager games. Perhaps its a case of getting too used to the previous interface, which was only slightly tweaked over the last few additions in the Football Manager series, but the game’s overall intertface has had a fairly dramatic makeover to accomodate the many new features added in FM 12. Which wouldn’t be as confusing if Football Manager 2012 was more accessible than previous instalments in the series, but it isn’t, so what you’re left with is an interface that’s a little baffling for experienced players as well as newcomers. That said, after a couple of hours play and some exploring, Football Manager veterans will likely take to the interface like a duck to water, its just that the initial few hours may cause some bewilderment.
Sports Interactive have helped would-be newbies get to grips with the new interface, as well as the entire game with a new tutorial system. Football Manager 2012′s tutorial system walks players through the very basics in easy to follow baby steps. The problem is that it doesn’t cover the slightly more in depth features which ultimately make the game so compelling and magical. It’s simply not engaging either, about as stimulating as a powerpoint presentation on different types of railway stations. Players are just shown where to click over and over AND OVER again. Sports Interactive’s efforts in making their staple series accessible is commendable but perhaps its time to go back to the drawing board when it comes to Football Manager’s tutorial mode.
With all that said, Football Manager 2012 is still an improvement on the typical Football Manager formula. Fans of the series have got the exact game they want, nothing too different but a ton of new features that improve on what’s been done before, some of which work better than others. Sure, there may be a lot of areas in which the series can still advance, but that’s healthy for a series that has run for such a long time, otherwise why would they bother putting one out every year?
As compelling as ever, Football Manager fans will waste countless hours of their life on this game and love every single minute of it.
Gameplay – 5/5: The same great football management experience you’ve come to expect from the series. However the majority of the 800 odd new features added really enhance and add to the overall experience.
Graphics – 3/5: The inclusion of over 800 new features has resulted in some farily dramatic changes in interface which Football Manager veterans will have to adjust to and would be newbies will find more than a little daunting. Some improvements have been made to the 3D graphics of the match engine and new camera angles make games feel more dynamic, however its still got a long way to go until it can compliment the brilliance of the rest of the game.
Sound – 1/5: Admittedly there’s not a lot you can do in terms of sound in a football manager sim. That said, the use of sound in the games match engine could be vastly improved to help recreate the atmosphere of football match, rather than feeling lifeless and incredibly dated. Definitely an area the series can better itself in future iterations.
Longevity – 5/5: As compelling and compulsive as it has always been. With an unlimited number of seasons, the possibilities are endless and new additions such as the new leagues system, gives extra incentive to waste literally months of your life (in game time) conquering the football world.
Overall: 4.5 out of 5
Simply put, Football Manager 2012 is not for everyone but is exactly what the fans wanted. The core gameplay remains but new features help to flesh out the experience into something even greater. Over a decade after the first game was released, the series still has areas to improve upon, especially in terms of presentation of matches, but that doesn’t make the game any less captivating. The Football Manager series has always been the best in its genre, partly because there aren’t many football manager sims and partly because simply put, nobody does it better. Football Manager 2012 continues that trend.
- Kieran Roycroft