Football Manager 2014
To love Football Manager or to hate Football Manager? It’s a complicated relationship. Like football in the real world, Sports Interactive’s long running series takes you from the highest highs to the lowest lows, without much care for your mental well-being. One minute your star striker is banging in goals by the bucketload against the cream of European club football, the next you’re losing three-nil to Pisschester Town, said star striker is being stretchered off in six separate pieces, and your psychotic chairman is drumming his fingers on the director’s box with the air of a Roman emperor in the arena who’s about to do some serious condemning.
Football Manager 2014 continues the series’ reputation for providing the most harrowingly realistic football simulation around, adding a whole raft of welcome additions that streamline gameplay and bring the chaotic, unpredictable nature of football to life.
The greatest change this year is the removal of the tactical slider system. Instead of altering slider bars every other game, desperately trying to convince yourself that your hapless tinkering is having a positive effect, you now issue a series of general commands to your team, such as ‘retain possession’, ‘play narrower’ and ‘for God’s sake stick the ball in the net you useless, useless bastards’. Whether you buy into this major change depends on how deeply you like to dig into the tactical intricacies of the game. For journeyman players like me, who like things simple and clear, it’s a welcome departure from the vague and nebulous array of sliders previously used for team and individual player instructions. Obsessive minds who like to watch each match in full and tweak every tiny aspect of their tactic to their heart’s content will likely find this more basic approach too simplistic.
That’s not to say that FM2014 is an easy game to work out. There’s still a trillion factors at play in the immense, churning engine powering away behind the scenes. Finding the right tactic is only one part of the puzzle. In addition to the already substantial options for player management, you’ll find various new ways to interact with your squad. Most of these various options have been added to the player select screen, meaning that you can quickly set up a chat with someone while avoiding endless clicking through sub-menus. Training remains largely the same as last year, with a few new charts and graphs to make the results a bit clearer. Boardroom politics and battles with players agents are common, with owners taking much more of an interest in your performance, and prominent agents negotiating big fat paychecks by auctioning off their rights for promising youngsters. Each constituent element can be used to tweak the overall performance of your club, which in itself depends on the happiness of your first team, the future potential of your youth team, a successful and balanced training programme, and countless other factors.
In fact, the emphasis on improving the PR and player interaction in this year’s edition is one of its greatest strengths. There are more options than ever for handling your squad, and each fresh season brings a variety of new challenges to deal with. Flighty players like Mario Balotelli might bring the goals on the pitch, but just like in real life they might prove to be more trouble than they’re worth if your relationship turns sour. Fortunately there’s a raft of new options to maintain squad harmony, with level-headed professionals now able to be assigned to ambassadorial roles, as well as more ways to praise and coerce your players in public and behind closed doors. If you’re not the sort of person who like all this additional malarkey, you can still assign your assistant manager to take care of it, but it’s difficult to shake the feeling that you’re giving up on a potential advantage if you let him deal with every team talk and press conference.
Football Manager Classic, otherwise known as ‘the mode for people who have a life, hopes and dreams’ returns, bringing with it the same basic FM gameplay, minus the complexities of the press conferences, customisable training and other expanded features from the main game. Classic is just the basics, a welcome nod from SI to their many fans who don’t have the time or inclination to commit to the fully featured game. Not even the awkward and unnecessary presence of micro-transactions, in the form of various cheats and modifiers to your career (these are only available for Classic mode), can ruin its simple charm.
The match engine has also been improved. Rather than looking like something a dog threw up, it now looks like something a dog threw up that’s been scraped off the floor and arranged into a slightly more appealing pattern. It looks nicer, and some of the bizarre decisions that your players made in previous incarnations no longer occur so often. It’s not the complete article yet by any means, but it’s a step up from last year, and a viable way to watch your tactics play out. Challenge mode returns for the masochists out there, with various scenarios for you to solve ranging from injury crises to desperate bids to avoid relegation. If you’re bored of the regular game, these can be quite a challenge, a welcome little distraction to test your skills.
Very little of what Football Manager 2014 adds to the series is radically new. Aside from the simplified tactics system, most changes are small, refining the user experience rather than dramatically changing the way you play. That said, these minor changes are impressively numerous and universally welcome, and they come together to make this the best, most addictive (only) management simulation available. For football fans, it’s an essential purchase.