Football Manager. There are very few games as close to my heart as that hard-as-nails gaffer simulator. Since booting up Championship Manager 00/01 and thinking “hang on, I don’t get to control the players?”, the series has roped me in year after year with its promise of new features and updated rosters. If there’s one game that I know will always be there for me when new releases have dried up, it’s Football Manager.
To be honest, however, it took me a little longer to get into this year’s instalment, Football Manager 2013, than it usually would, for all the right reasons. It’s just so different. Not since the change from 2004 to 2005 has a new Football Manager game daunted me this much. I admit, at the time, updating to 2012 was hard enough, but trying to drag myself away from the now-familiar FM2012 and make the step up was truly frightening. Simply due to how different it was to the last instalment.
So, let’s get started. Firstly, the interface is 100% completely different. Not only is everything more modernised, but button placements and sub-menus are now intuitive. The loading screen now includes news such as transfer rumours and player updates, as well as recent results and hints. In your news feed, every update that is given to you due to one of your subscriptions has its source on the right-hand side, so no longer will you be confused as to why you’re receiving a certain piece of information. The introduction of slight colour gradients to virtually every screen adds an organic, professional touch that was missing in previous games.
The “home” button has been omitted – I’m not sure why, but I rarely used it in 2012 so I’m not complaining. I guess that’s why. Sports Interactive seem keen to emphasize just how much they’ve listened to their fans this time round. They understand that Football Manager is a game in which any player needs everything exactly how they like it, even the experienced managers among us. If even one button is out of place, we tend to get disorientated – well, I do at least, so props to SI for understanding this. For the FM bloggers among us, there’s an integrated post to Facebook button. I know at least one person who’s going to get excited about that, even though the extent of it is uploading individual screenshots.
Many people believe that the match engine is the most important part of any Football Manager game, and there has definitely been some huge improvements to more than satisfy those people. In probably the biggest change to the engine since the 3D camera was introduced, the players actually look like real players now. Not just blobs in jerseys. They even have distinguishable arms, and they jump around and wave their fists when a goal is scored.
An experienced 2012 player will also instantly note a difference in the way the football itself is played when making their way up to 2013. Lower league teams now feel far more like lower league teams – they’ll make a lot more mistakes then they ever did in 2012. Additionally, the style of play feels far more fluid and natural than any Football Manager game ever has. Disappointingly, however, there are a few instances in the match engine that feel totally unrealistic. Players hit the uprights just to have a teammate capitalise on the rebound far more often than in real life – like, I’m talking every second game here, people. Every couple of games, an indirect free kick will float over the keeper and into the back of the net. Again, yes, it does happen in real life, but with nowhere near the frequency as it seems to in 2013.
Additionally, the entire manager’s match-day experience has been overhauled. While the game waits for a highlight to show, you are now presented with information of your choice – personally, I use my team’s ratings and body language, but there’s a whole host of options to choose from.
A Twitter-esque feed from your assistant manager is presented on the right hand side, the quality of which is obviously dependent on your right hand man’s mental attributes. Occasionally, he’ll point out certain things that you may not have noticed by yourself, such as the need to mark a specific opposition striker tighter. With this advice, suddenly your role in the match-day screen becomes far more important – no longer will it feel as though the only important duty on your part is selecting your tactics and hitting “submit team”. Features such as sideline shouted instructions, swapping strikers, and opposition duties have a far more noticeable effect then they’ve had in any Football Manager to date.
Also worth mentioning a few of my favourite new features – I’m not going to harp on about every change that has been made as there’s simply too many of them for that, but there are a couple that really made me internally smile.
Firstly, a major gripe that I’ve heard repeatedly about FM in the past is this: your club is going through a bit of a tough time financially, and a number of your star players are due to have their contracts renewed. Of course, they’re going to ask for near double what they’re being paid now, however your board has placed limits on how much a single player can earn – in your financial crisis, this limit is going to be far lower than what the player’s looking for. In previous FMs, that was it – if you couldn’t agree on a wage, the player(s) would be out on a free transfer and your fans would be mad as all hell for letting their star players go. All this has changed in 2013 – now, thank the heavens, you can have a private chat with your players and ask them to lower their wage demands as the club hasn’t got much money. Provided they’re enjoying playing for the club, they will accept, and the next time you offer them a new contract they’ll look for a shorter deal, but generally drop their demands to half of their current wage. Can I get an amen?
My second favourite feature is transfer deadline day. In previous instalments in the series, deadline day would pass with nought more than a message in your news feed. This time around, however, you’ll be asked by your press officer if you want to take part in the publicity surrounding deadline day – just accept, I always do. Upon accepting, a countdown to midnight will appear on the top of your inbox, including transfer rumours. You’ll be sporadically answering questions from members of the press with regards to your players and their future at the club. It just adds to the realism – in real football, transfer deadline day is mayhem for managers and press alike, so it’s nice to see that feature included in my fantasy too.
Man, twelve hundred words in and I haven’t even mentioned the other games packaged with FM2013. Well, they’re not other games, but seeing as that they weren’t included with 2012 and no one would have felt particularly aggrieved if they weren’t included this year, I like to consider them as nice little bonuses. Football Manager Classic is an all-new game mode that streamlines the entire FM experience – an entire season can now be completed in a night, rather than a fortnight like it will generally take you in the full game. To be honest, I initially wasn’t entirely interested in sacrificing even the smallest feature, but after playing a bit of Classic I can happily confirm that it’s a fantastic, and very worthy, addition to the game that will be highly appreciated by those of you who don’t have much free time on their hands for FM.
There’s also the Versus mode, which (finally!) makes multiplayer games incredibly easy to find and join. They’re still a bit of a bitch to play, unless you get together with a group of friends and coordinate daily/weekly/whateverly times that you’re all going to be in-game, but they’re much easier to set up now. Hooray, I guess. I don’t have enough FM playing friends to get too excited about it. Oh, and there’s Challenge mode, which includes – you guessed it – challenges, such as attempting to start from mid-season and play the remainder of the season undefeated. This feature has been inherited from the handheld FM, and is more than welcome for experienced FM players who are looking for a way to test their managerial skills.
And there’s some sort of a leaderboard, which compares your points to those accumulated by other managers across their game. The leader has been playing with OM and has 23 million points – I’ve been playing for 3 seasons with Cremonese, and have 320 thousand. I have absolutely no idea how the points work, but the purist inside me hopes that they can detect editor changes/FMRTE/Genie Scout/save-reloading and that they allow for people who start with lower division teams and ensure that their achievements are ranked higher than those who start with Manchester United. But I digress, this is me being picky – I don’t even have to look at the leaderboard.
At the end of the day, Football Manager 2013 is so full of features that I guess the Classic mode really had to be included. Not only that, it acts as a perfect stepping stone to those gamers who’ve always been a bit daunted by the fully-featured game. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t help myself from recommending FM2013 to new players. With the challenges, Classic, and the increased ease of setting up multiplayer, there’s never been a better time for people to start with the series. Additionally, both the number and quality of the additions to the full game ensure that even gamers who’ve played the crap out of 2012 have a huge reason to make the step up.
I don’t feel good giving this a score at all, I’m doing it because I have to. I’m going to get hundreds and hundreds of hours out of this. I love Football Manager, and I don’t care what you think.
Select Start Media was provided with a copy of Football Manager 2013 by Sports Interactive.