Developers: Sports Interactive
It's been a good couple of years for sports fans. PES is back and firing on all cylinders; EA Canada have once again made considerable changes to make sure FIFA offers up a truly comprehensive package for the socially connected; the NBA 2K franchise is still at the top of its game; and Football Manager has been scoring wildly for some time. But there comes a point with yearly iterative properties, particularly those that have secured critical and commercial success for consecutive years, when you wonder where the developers can possibly go next. Do you change things just for the sake of it? After all, as the old adage goes, if it ain't broke...
It's this quandary that has faced Sports Interactive for some time. When you're already the best in your division by a large margin, how do you go about consolidating and building? The answer has, for a number of years, been to up the level of micromanagement, to make the pre-eminent Ferguson/Mourinho/Guardiola sim ever-deeper, and more intricate. To offer up ever-increasing numbers of services, options, and minutiae. Graphics have been overlooked (although not completely in more recent iterations) in favour of expanding the ways in which you can tweak and tinker with the database at your fingertips, and further diversifying the ways in which you can leave a lasting legacy in virtual football management.
But that has been both the greatest feature of the Football Manager series in recent years, as well as perhaps its biggest criticism, or at least that's what this latest game appears to say. It's the latter that gets firmly targeted with this year's offering from Sports Interactive, in a game that refuses to compromise for the hardcore, whilst opening itself up to an audience unwilling perhaps to sacrifice the days, weeks, and months on end that this franchise has claimed over the years with a new game mode that harks back to older times.
Football Manager 2013 is, for all intents and purposes, essentially two games in one.
Classic is the big update this year, which might gall some series veterans at first, but that rather depends how far you go back. It's a streamlined approach that harks back to the turn of the millennium in some ways, back when SI were still working on a game under the Championship Manager umbrella, before the acrimonious split with Eidos. Instead of lengthy press conferences, you give papers a single headline. Team talks and opposition instructions are done away with completely. Matches can be simulated in a second to provide an instant result. Everything is done to assist speedy bursts of gameplay. You'll still have to work out the tactics, shape your squad and your backroom staff, and make the right calls t the right time, but that process is condensed without losing any of the addictive features.
It's entirely possible to start in non-league football on a Friday night, and be vying with Chelsea, United, and City for the Premiership come Monday morning. This is a game in which it's perfectly viable to try and play through a season in a matter of hours. Of course, you'll miss things if you do that, and the low-fat version of the game can't be said to be quite as satisfying as achieving victory through compulsively detailed puppet-mastery, but it means that you can be as involved as much or as little as you like.
Football Manager Classic occupies that perfect middle ground between the simplicity of the iOS version of the game, and the hardcore PC behemoth, festooned with features and detail. It's the same engine as the latter crunching the data, but with the accessibility of the former, couched in a design model that harks back to the more readily navigable menus of the likes of Championship Manager 01/02.
As well as Classic, Sports Interactive have taken further inspiration from their mobile offering, bringing Challenges to the fore in its bigger sibling. This handful of crafted scenarios typically plonk you down in the manager's office of a club in an under-pressure scenario. One sees you battling for survival in the relegation zone, another has you trying to prove Alan Hansen wrong by forging a successful team with kids. It's to be hoped that SI will release a few more perhaps, as there are only four to begin with, but then again your career in FM - Classic or otherwise - will throw up an innumerable number of these scenarios. Still, it's all about player choice, and it's nice to see the effort.
At the end of the day, though, the chances are that you'll be here for the fully-fledged timesink of painstakingly detailed managerial replication. There are no huge overhauls at work here, at least none which will throw returning players for a loop, but there have been a number of tweaks to make the core game a more involving experience. SI have greatly upped the level of feedback given to the player, although this might not become completely apparent too early on. Team and player reports have been reshuffled to give you any piece of info you want in the space of two clicks, with noting players' preferred roles on the front screen a particular asset.
The general UI itself has been streamlined into a series of drop down menus that conserve space and make more navigational sense than before, but all (if not more) of the features you had at your disposal remain. You can execute options without ever leaving the pitch view of the match day screen, giving gamers more of the touchline experience that has been slowly building across the past few iterations. The 3D match engine is more functional than ever, if a little comically underwhelming visually at times. Better yet, for those gamers not interested in sitting through matches in their entirety, a new feature throws up match events and advice from your coaching staff in real time as the action unfolds, delivering a little Twitter feed of comments and notifications for you to react to (or not) at your leisure. Adapting to the flow of a match, and the emergent plot twists that unfold across 90 minutes has never been easier to do.
It's disappointing, though, that in amongst adding greater depths to training routines and match preparation, the usual small gripes remain. Media interaction is still pretty awful, although now you can vary the tone of your answers, which appears to make no difference really whatsoever. Team talks are still relatively pointless at the start of a match, although turning on the hairdryer at half time can be relatively effective, but also lead to some drastic morale changes if you're not careful.
Ultimately, though, Sports Interactive have delivered an impressively comprehensive package. There's even some online integration to allow you to set up leagues and knockout cups featuring your friends, to provide a more personal quest for glory. Football Manager 2013 is a game that tries to be all things to all men (and women), and largely succeeds. That SI simply crammed a whole extra game into the box is commendable, though one wonders how long it might be before Classic gets its own release entirely. But for now we should enjoy the fact that we have more choice than ever in the way we want to play; more depth and yet more accessibility too. This is a Football Manager title designed to please all-comers, and on this evidence it'll do just that.
- Essentially two games for the price of one
- Classic mode is an utter treat if you're new or in a rush
- New UI is very welcome
- Media interaction still needs work
- Team talks still relatively hit and miss
- 3D graphics still amusingly lo-fi
The Short Version: Football Manager 2013 succeeds in managing not to compromise its fundamentally detailed core while still offering up an accessible experience. That it does this by essentially offering two games in one package is both great news for consumers this year, but perhaps points towards nervous times in the next. However, rest assured - this is the most comprehensive, painfully addictive FM to date, and now there's no excuse to not get involved.