In the future you can imagine what Football Manager might be like. Think a Star Trek holodeck, you acting as manager, a virtual press pack grilling you on why you lost at home to North Ferriby or perhaps why you're still picking a 72 year-old Ryan Giggs. You could even pace the digital touchline, literally shouting out instructions to your team of part-timers and septuagenarians. It's enough to get even the most world-weary footy fan excited.
For now, though, we have text and slightly fleshed out stickmen. And, to be honest, we're quite happy with our lot. Each year, FM get more expansive, a major selling point in the pre-match bumph being the 10 trillion changes from the previous version. This year is no different, with lots of interesting additions to make you go "ooh, that's new". Like, for example, how some players might get a bit miffed with the poor standard of your coaching staff, or how you might be fired for ignoring a request to meet with the board after a bad run of form.
Last year's version, it has to be said, was disappointing. The match engine was heavily debated on forums and one point that emerged was how complicated it was to develop a tactic that could consistently win. Well, win for those who weren't going to spend an eternity tweaking everything to match each opponent.
Whatever your opinion, it's fair to say that 2013 wasn't as well received in the long term as previous efforts. This will not be the case with 2014, as the match engine, the most important part of the whole affair, is definitely better than last year. It makes more sense. Does that sound strange? Essentially, it means you're watching things happen and you're seeing what's not working, but this time it's not a mind-melting exercise to figure out how to correct it. Because there are no sliders.
A hallmark of the series for many years, now the sliders have all gone. No longer do you define your width of play or line of defence on a sliding scale. You just say "Defend deeper" or "Play wider". It's the same system used before for giving players new moves to learn and, more obviously, for shouting out instructions mid-match.
One of the reasons for this is because of how fiddly the sliders were making things and how they nullified those same shouts, often without you realising. The 'true' player would be ok, but the vast majority would tweak something before a match and then forget about it, employing a shout that was meant to change the way the team played, but the previous tweak would still be in place, cancelling out the shout. And so players would get frustrated, wondering why things they did had no effect.
Does the new system work though? It's probably the most important change this year, which is why it's being discussed at such length. Every other addition, nice though they might be, is irrelevant if the match engine and tactics are borked. Thankfully, as you might have guessed, they aren't. It works well, delivering a much-simplified tactical experience without losing that much depth. The really hardcore will moan, of course. They had a system they did well with and now it's gone. For the rest of us, it's a breath of fresh air.
There are some niggles with the match engine, of course. It's a ridiculously complex bit of coding, after all. Players do seem to ignore instructions more than you might like. Taking charge of Bayern Munich saw Robben do his thing of constantly cutting inside and shooting. Realistic, sure, but you don't want it happening all the time. However, telling him not to shoot so often didn't seem to do that much.
Worse is how the keepers consistently boot it long instead of playing it short, which is what they've been told to do. It's strange to see Victor Valdes lumping it up the pitch for the giants of Messi and Neymar to battle for in the air. There's also an issue with defenders sometimes not putting in enough tackles when the opposition runs at them, especially when tackling is not set to Hard. There's also a niggling feeling that putting the ball on the head of a 'big lad up top' could well be the prevailing tactic.
Having said that, it's clear that straws were being clutched when searching for criticism. Also it needs to be said that lots of issues with FM games appear over hundreds of hours of play. So don't get too upset that there was no warning about newgens not being good enough or the Turkish league not having accurate attendance figures. Or whatever. There are bound to be issues or niggles.
What can definitely be said is this is a better game for the majority than 2013. It's clearer, easier to get to grips with and still adds an incredible number of little things. There's still room for improvement, with perhaps a button allowing for players disliking their training to be taken off said regime with one click. That doesn't exist, but it very well might next time.
What's left? Well, Classic mode is still as it is, good for a quicker game as a big team, but lousy for exactly the same reasons as last time. That is, if you're doing badly there's very little you can do other than hope a change of tactics works or that a shout makes a big difference. There are no (that we can see) opposition instructions, no teamtalks, no ways of making morale any better when on a bad run. And morale is crucial, so crucial that being unable to change it with a team meeting or some kind words in teamtalks makes the Classic mode very hard indeed.
And multiplayer? Well, it's there. More options would have been nice. How about, say, the ability to pick a Dream Team of players with a fantasy football-esque budget and then go head-to-head with your chums? A free one for next year, SI.
It's good, it's better than last year, it's worth the money and you will probably top 1,000 hours of play again. Get it, play the proper mode, have a ball.
- Many, many issues from last year have resolved
- Match tactics streamlined, not dumbed down
- So many cool little additions and features
- Classic mode is still infuriatingly lacking
- Some small match engine issues