Football Manager 2009
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Unless you’re Roy Keane. Just this week, the “fearless”, no-nonsense, tough-tackling midfield general ran away from his job after two and a half years of kicking chairs around and demanding absolute professionalism, despite playing drunk in his younger years and that infamous leg-breaking tackle on Alf-inge Haaland. Sunderland are now a rudder-less ship, staring relegation in the face with no form to speak of.
Sounds like the sort of job I’d go for on Football Manager.
Roy kept his calm during when talking to the media and never gave much away, and Sports Interactive give fans the chance to do the same with press conferences occasionally before and after matches, taking questions from sports journalists to boost confidence in your team. Managers can avoid answering by simply refusing to comment and can end an interview early by storming out, which has dire consequences for your team and the fans, and can throw the press a curve-ball by typing in additional comments. Swear words aren’t advised.
Training has been tweaked to ensure playing staff don’t become ‘too’ good; in past versions, schedules could be a little intensive without many after-effects. Reality shows that too much training results in injuries, which in turn hamper progress towards maximising potential. At first the selections appear limited but as the game ticks on the scope becomes apparent that you should concentrate on what you’re good at – getting strikers to pass better encroaches their practice on shooting at goal, so whilst they will become better distributors of the pigs bladder, hitting a cows arse with a banjo at ten paces will become a harder task.
Of course, I’m just delaying talk of the biggest feature included this year. Quite a storm broke out when Si Games “abandoned” their text match engine for a birds-eye view, 2-D representation, but many have rejoiced at the evolution to a fully 3-D rendition. Somewhat reminiscent to the days of Premier Manager, the match engine at last brings together all your hard work and offers opportunity to watch your team with an eagle eye. Whilst hardcore fans will lap up the chance to see their best eleven get ripped to shreds thanks to over-complicated tactics, new-comers will likely be appalled at the visuals, which are anything but stunning. Players will turn their heads unrealistically, there’s an obvious limit to animation and stadiums are just a block of grey. Si Games put this down to maintaining system speed and performance by concentrating on the match, and much as I’d like to shoot anyone that spends their time watching the crowd than the game unfolding in front of them, the engine does look like a very early beta that should never have made it to the full release.
That said, it’s technically astounding. Given the visuals you’d be fooled into thinking this was a second-rate gimmick, but players behave in the game as you’d expect in real life. They make the correct runs, defences try to stay in line with each other, goalkeepers narrow the angle and strikers dart into the channels. A feature introduced recently allowing star players to stand out amongst the crowd with special moves, such as some preferring to round the keeper before shooting whilst others hit with power, and it’s easy to see which player has the ball as they behave alarmingly like their counterparts. Obviously your tactics have a big say in what goes on during the match but seeing Steven Gerrard pounding from box to box gives a warm fuzzy feeling inside.
Elsewhere, things look as familiar as ever. The transfer system has been reportedly overhauled, though I didn’t experience anything new or different over previous instalments.
Football Manager 2009 isn’t without its problems though. The much sought-after media interaction drags after the first few games as all you’re ever facing is a pre-determined set of questions tinted for the situation, and luckily there’s an option akin to Sir Alex Ferguson’s actions to send in your assistant. Maybe it’s dumb luck, but I found that your second in command appears to copy your stance when under the spotlight, meaning he won’t upset the harmony instilled at the club.
Speed has been an issue for the hardcore fans of the the series ever since the 2-D match engine was introduced, and you’ll be pulling your hair out this time round. On a top-end machine with three leagues selected, progress is snails pace compared to the text-based predecessors, and completing a season took an entire weekend before I decided to holiday between matches and send in my assistant to quench the thirst of the media people. The match engine isn’t helped by frequent pauses whenever the in-game tactics button is pushed, often waiting a good ten seconds to implement your latest master plan, if you hadn’t forgotten it during the wait.
My initial impressions of Football Manager 2009 were one of a small boy on Christmas day, because the game is a few steps from becoming entangled in my DNA given my reluctance to be separated from it over the years gone by. Once the excitement of the 3-D match engine dies down, and it will, the reality that you’re playing the exact same game that you played two years ago, albeit at a slower pace, ruins the experience. As stated in last years review, Si Games have rarely deviated from the successful formula, and if it ain’t broke then by all means don’t fix it, but Football Manager needs rejuvenating as well as a rocket up its backside. The fans that supported the company back in the good old days have jobs now, girlfriends, wives, children of their own, and we just can’t justify an entire weekend for a mere season of gameplay.
That said, what a weekend!