Football Manager 2013
Football Manager was a huge part of my life growing up and remains so to this day. Many times did I successfully master the challenge of taking my beloved Derby County from the doldrums of the Championship to Champion’s League glory in the space of a couple of days (signing talents like Lee Trundle almost guarantees you overnight success in the Championship). But as the series moved on each year, I found myself having to manage an increasing burden of tasks and responsibilities in each iteration and the series felt more like a chore than a pleasure to play.
Sports Interactive have evidently listened to my anguished cries of “WHY CAN’T MY TEAM SCORE ANY MORE???” with Football Manager 2013, the ninth instalment in the Football Manager franchise, because the key new features revolve around simplifying gameplay in the manner of classic FM titles.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t a great deal on offer for the management simulation addict, in fact the opposite is true. The main career mode is still one of the most in-depth simulations available to gamers and has come with its own raft of updates for would-be gaffers to sink their teeth into. Your team’s training is now a more customisable experience: gone are the sliding bars of Football Manager 2012, replaced instead with a calendar and planner. You can give your squad days off following hard-fought victories, or bring them in for extra sessions if they’ve let you down in the previous game by marking them in the in-game calendar. Coaches can specialise in more areas than in previous games, allowing for more in-depth training and more accurate reports at the end of each month. Managing the fine balance between being too lenient and overworking your squad is difficult but rewarding if you get it right.
The match-day experience is a familiar fare: set your team out, give a rousing team-talk, highlight dangerous players and watch the action unfold on the much glossier 3D match engine. Seeing your created tactics play out on the pitch is still fun even if creating a tactic capable of winning matches has been made harder than ever. If your formation and strategy isn’t catered specifically to the players in your squad, you can kiss goodbye any hopes you have of garnering so much as a point, let alone an assault on the league table. Monitoring fitness levels, player runs, opposition danger-men, setting defensive lines and timing your substitutions are just some of the options you’ll need to keep an eye on in the middle of a game: you need a relentless attention to detail if you want to pick up the three points when the final whistle goes.
This level of simulation speaks volumes about how the franchise has evolved over the last eight years and Football Manager 2013 continues this trend. Everything from what you say in a press conference to the state of your club’s finances under your regime can have a potential impact not just on your next game, but on your overall season. Thankfully if you feel like you need extra assistance at any point, you can hire a director of football to handle your transfer negotiations and other background tasks.
Sports Interactive have left no stone unturned this year in their quest to create the ultimate football management simulation but unfortunately the career mode still suffers from the same problem as last season. It’s far too easy to get swamped down in the endless sea of menus, options, sliding bars and tactic boards. You can leave certain tasks to your assistant manager but you know ultimately he’ll take a different training session to what you want or overspend your budget to land a player you’re interested in, meaning if you want to manage your club effectively you’ll have to navigate the deluge of different menus and options yourself. It makes the experience feel engrossing but somewhat laborious.
Arguably this is where Football Manager Classic mode appeals to the more frustrated Football Manager fan. Classic mode removes all the press conferences, background meetings, team-talks, opposition instructions and long-winded scouting missions to bring you an experience more akin to Football Manager 2005 while retaining the mechanical upgrades of the modern-day title. It’s a good concept to bring a more fast-paced game to the fans of the series but unfortunately it doesn’t quite go far enough. Tactics still require hours of dedication to get spot-on, transfer negotiations remain relatively long-winded and you still need to create training schedules yourself if you’re going to guarantee that your players are doing the right amount of work between games. Classic mode is definitely quicker to get through than the regular game, but it doesn’t allow you to complete a full season in a day like in years gone by.
Sports Interactive managed to resist introducing DLC to the series for a long time but, having tested the waters for the first time in last year’s handheld release, the main Football Manager series now comes with micro-transactions aimed at helping struggling players. Available only in Classic mode, the game allows you to spend real money in boosting your club’s bank balance to fund transfers, abolish transfer windows, build a new stadium or even grant you immunity from being sacked by your chairman. Many of these power-ups can be unlocked by achieving certain goals but when the main game comes with its own data editor capable of recreating these effects, it’s a mystery as to why anyone would even be tempted to spend £1 on extra money for the coffers.
Challenge mode was a popular addition to last year’s handheld version of the game and it makes the step up to PC here. Four challenges await the player (with a fifth available at a price) and generally take place over the course of either one full season or the second half of a campaign. Challenges range from winning a piece of silverware with a team of young prodigies to avoiding relegation before the end of the season and all are equally entertaining and taxing. Whilst Challenge mode is certainly a novel concept for the football management simulation genre, only introducing four separate scenarios in the release version makes the entire experience feel somewhat limited. Sports Interactive have promised to introduce new Challenges over the next year if there is demand for them, though you should expect to pay to get them.
Football Manager 2013 is still fun to play and those who were addicted to last year’s offering will no doubt be glued to their PC screens this year around. Nothing will replace that amazing feeling of seeing your team beat their title rivals with a 90th-minute winner, thanks to a last-minute substitution you’ve made. But the overall formula is now beginning to feel a little tired and the deluge of menus and sliding bars mean you really have to dedicate an unprecedented amount of time to the game if you want to achieve any form of success. You’ll be spending a long time between each 90 minutes of football perfecting your formation, tinkering with your training and dealing with players, agents and the press.
Sports Interactive have created one of the most engrossing and detailed simulations ever released with Football Manager 2013, but the game just doesn’t feel as fresh and exciting as it did a few years ago. In wading through the endless menus and screens, you focus less on the actual football as opposed to the background banality that comes with it. Classic and Challenge modes help breathe some new life into the series but they don’t go far enough. Football Manager, enjoyable as it still remains for the most part, is beginning to enter the Heskey years of its existence: it still does its job more effectively than any other striker on the market, but the tired formula is beginning to show.