Review: Football Manager 2010
December 2, 2009, Author: Brian Gourlay
I’m sure there’s been a moment in everyone’s life when you’ve watched your beloved football team getting absolutely hammered by Hamilton Accies and thought “This is a joke, I could do a better job than this.” Well for year the critically acclaimed Football Manager series has given potential tactical maestros the opportunity to prove that, well, you really can’t do a better job and are a bit of a rubbish manager (No? Just me?). After a year of unopposed market monopoly, Sports Interactive are now back in direct competition with Eidos, who released Championship Manager 2010 to unexpected critical acclaim. I’ve been placed firmly in the FM cap ever since the rather acrimonious split between SI and Eidos, but I have to admit that my head was turned by the new look Champy. Of course I wasn’t going to just flit over to the other side without any kind of prior research, and what better research than a whole life consuming season of trying to keep Falkirk in the SPL?
The best job in the world?
Football Manager 2010 starts you off as a young hopeful kicking a ball about the local streets of your hometown. You have to fight through adversity, controversy and struggle to keep your personal life afloat as you make your way to the very highest echelons of…nah, not really. Football Manager provides as much of a narrative experience as you’d expect; zero. Although that’s not to say the game is completely devoid of any drama, you’ll just find that you create it yourself.
After creating your manager and picking the team you’re going to take to the top, it’s straight into the deep end with nothing more than a two paragraph welcome from your assistant manager. From then on how the story pans out is entirely up to you, with even the smallest decisions affecting the public’s perception of you and of course, how successful you are. Each season you play will be full of controversial developments to keep things interesting, presented to you through news stories and e-mails from staff and agents.
Sports Interactive show that they have a deep understanding of modern football and particularly how big a part the media plays in it. A plethora of events can occur at any time in such a way that you could swear that you had read the story in The Sun just the day before. From simple thing like injuries, transfer offers and postponed matches to unreasonable player demands, fan revolts, consortium takeovers and the dreaded vote of confidence from the chairman, most of the bases have been covered when it comes to giving you a new headache to deal with.
A game of two halves (both of which you’ll probably lose!)
While most pre-release build up from Sports Interactive will usually see them talking about 1 or 2 big additions to the gameplay, it’s been pretty clear from the outset that 2010 has been all about consolidating and perfecting what is already there. As a result, FM 2010 is lacking any big wow factors to really draw in attention, although that’s not to say that Sports Interactive have been sitting on their hands for the last year.
As soon as I fired up my game it was apparent that the user interface had been given a pretty hefty overhaul. Team selection, tactics, player stats and most other screens look the same, but they’ve now been grouped into tabbed windows which make it much easier to switch back and forth between pages of data. The new tabbed layout also means that for the most part it will take a few less clicks to get to the page where you want to go, streamlining most of the processes involved in attempting to get Falkirk out of the relegation zone. It is quite a drastic change in terms of where the different options are located, which means teething troubles are inevitable, but once I got used to it I found it to be a far slicker design than in any of the previous games.
The way you change your tactics has also been revamped quite heavily. Gone are the abstract sliders from previous games that were used to define your teams behaviour, replaced with a series of more concrete pre-defined player and team instructions. The depth of options available is very impressive and, more crucially, changing your tactics with the new system seems to yield much more tangible results than the previous way of doing things. I often found that no matter how much I adjusted the sliders in older FM games, it was often difficult to see your instructions being adhered to. In FM 2010 however, a few clicks in the right places will see your tactics getting the desired results instantly.
It’s not just easier to set up your tactics before the game however, as a few options have been included to allow you to tinker with your team while the game is still going on. The most significant is the touchline instructions, which allow to you make changes to how your team shapes up without leaving the match screen. The options are fairly simplistic, but bellowing orders such “Use the wings more” “Play long ball” and “Stop passing to Kirk Broadfoot, he’s dire!” can often make a game changing impact. Especially the last one, he really is a donkey. It’s a shame that there aren’t any options to shout “instructions” to some of the match officials ala Sir Alex (“What do you mean that’s full time? We haven’t won yet!”) but I suppose including such dirty tactics would detract from the game’s serious, statistical tone.
FM 2010 allows for more interaction with your back-room staff, rather than just giving you an option to ask your assistant manager for pretty meaningless team reports. The main function for this is the addition of back-room meetings, which gives each of your staff members a platform to tell you about potential signings, weaknesses in the team, players coming through the youth setup and more. You have the option to act on most of the advice your given, but the decisions never really get any more complicated than “Sign or don’t sign”. You can also organise pre-match meetings, but unfortunately in my case they only ever involved Steven Pressley telling me how much better my opposition were in every department. What the hell do you know Steve!?
As well as these additions there are heaps of small adjustments and refinements across the board that make the whole experience much smoother. For newcomers, starting up a game of Football Manager can be quite intimidating at first so it’s good to see that Sports Interactive are generally just being very helpful to the player without having to hold their hand. The game engine also seems to have been optimised as it runs much, much quicker on my PC than the previous installment (without the 3D match engine that is) which makes a big difference when you want to really ramp up the player database size.
A Premiership WAG? Or Sam Allardyce?
When it comes down to it, the core gameplay of FM 2010 is essentially a series of menus, tick boxes and sliders laid over the top of a massive statsitics database. While it’s important that all of these components are laid out in an intuitive and well organised way, how jazzy and flashy they look in the process isn’t so much of an issue. The default skin is pretty clean and minimalistic, and I never felt the need to change it. Players who want something a bit fancier however can create their own skins with custom backgrounds, text and menus, and can even reorganise the whole layout. In previous games there have been some pretty impressive home made efforts, so it’s definitely worth a look, although I’ve yet to come across any game changing flaws in the default skin that would give me reason to jump ship.
The 3D match engine that made its debut in FM 2009 has been fleshed out a bit this time round. A crowd has now been added to the previously empty terraces, although the camera flash effect is a bit overused and can get pretty annoying. The animations of the players have been tweaked and they look a lot more natural when passing and striking the ball. The whole thing still looks very basic, although I’m not expecting FIFA style animations, which is why I was so surprised that my modestly specced PC really struggles to run it at times. The whole thing does look nice when it’s running smoothly, but simply because it rarely ever does I often regress back to the 2D mode, which I find gives a better tactical overview of how my formation is shaping up anyway. In general, the 3D match engine comes across as much less of an afterthought than in FM 2009 and the goals are much more enjoyable to watch with that extra dimension. However, those who own PCs who can’t take the strain shouldn’t worry too much, the 2D engine does just fine when you’re bellowing orders from the dugout.
It ain’t no Hampden
As is the way of the Football Manager series, the aural delights of FM 2010 are few and far between. In fact they’re so rare you could go as far to say they’re non-existent, although I guess that’s just inherent in the manager sim genre as a whole. There’s no soundtrack to speak of at all, not even a funky little ditty to keep you distracted while the main menu loads up, but since I’m always listening to my own music when playing it doesn’t affect me at all. The sound effects during matches are pretty minimal as well, consisting of nothing but the shouts, groans and cheers of the pixelated crowed with the occasional thump of the ball whenever someone gives it a welly. Needless to say the virtual stadiums of Football Manager are pretty drastically lacking in atmosphere. It’s hard to say that this is a weak element of the game, since I’m more than happy to just mute the whole thing and stuck iTunes on, but it certainly hasn’t seen any development since the inception of the series.
The battle of bragging
You wouldn’t think it at first glance, but the Football Manager series provides one of the most immersive, fun and addictive multiplayer experiences around. You won’t find any new innovative online game modes or even a particularly user friendly lobby system (3rd party workarounds provide a remedy to this), but the fiercely competitive nature of football management in general gives FM 2010 an instant advantage, particularly when playing network games with friends, that other games don’t get to benefit from. Admittedly it takes a fair bit of commitment to organise a long term managerial contest, especially if you want more than a couple of players in the game, but if you can get past that hurdle it will definitely be worth the effort.
The concept of the network games is as simple as you can imagine; it’s the single player game with more players. No content is lost and all of the features remain when you join a network game, so you still have all of the freedom to be the kind of manager you want to be. Two words can succinctly highlight why this is such a wonderful thing: bragging rights. FM 2010 allows you to get much more involved in your own methods of success than say a shooter or racing sim, and as a result it’s an almost euphoric feeling being able to rub people’s nose in it when you leapfrog them in the league, snatch a player from them at the 11th hour or decapitate their star striker in the 1st minute of a game. My only complaint with the online play is that there could have been a bit more media interaction and Fergie style mind games geared towards the multiplayer side of things to facilitate a bit more banter between rivals. This side of things hasn’t been completely overlooked however, and it is a very minor complaint against what is otherwise an immensely enjoyable experience.
Buy it, try it or avoid it?
After spending some time with Football Manager 2010, I feel like I have unforgivably blasphemed by even entertaining the thought of giving Championship Manager a try. The lack of big hitting features being added to the roster is undoubtedly a disappointment, but every existing aspect of the game has been improved, and in a few cases perfected, to remedy this. All of the changes that have been made have been successful, although they can be regressed back to the previous methods very easily in case any purists take exception. I have no doubt that Football Manager 2010 is the most accomplished and well constructed game in the series so far. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just lost 3-1 to Rangers and I’ll be damned if I’m taking that lying down.