I've never really managed to get on with the mobile versions of Football Manager. Though the UI is streamlined brilliantly for use on small screens, and the options refined to allows for a degree of pick-up-and-play action on the go, it just didn't scratch the compulsive itch I got from the full-fat version on PC. I want the bells and whistles, the ridiculously advanced stats, the analytics that allow me to comb through previous games and then devise new tactics on an individual basis, whipping up other managers and journalists into a media maelstrom with my club at the heart of it all.
Football Manager Classic 2014 doesn't quite do all of that either, taking the Classic mode from the recent instalment of the FM series rather than the absurdly intricate full simulation; but it does come closer than any other portable manager sim before it. And, as it turns out, that's both a blessing, and also a bit of a curse.
Let's start with the positives, though. Above all else, this is the Football Manager experience that we know and love. The PlayStation Vita port remains phenomenally true to the original game, and that means you're no longer bound to your desk if you want to sink hours and hours into shunting that non-league club you started with towards Champions League glory. Classic might not quite boast the same level of absurd depth as the full simulation, but it's still enormously involved -- we've described it in the past as being a little like a nostalgic jaunt back to the FM titles of several years ago.
Training, tactics, transfers, and the team -- that's what Classic is all about, eschewing some of the more seemingly mundane elements of the managerial lifestyle like attempting to balance the books. The interface is clean and virtually identical to the PC version, and when you're in-match, you're only ever a few finger swipes and pushes away from your regular swathe of options -- whether that's swapping players in and out or barking orders to those already on the pitch.
That Sports Interactive have managed to leverage a full, working version of the match engine into this title elevates it immediately over the mobile versions. It's not quite as graphically impressive as the PC version (and even that doesn't exactly shriek visual excellence), but it's a welcome touch that allows for deep analysis and strategic thinking. Unfortunately, though, the Vita match engine seems to be about as buggy as its PC counterpart. This means the occasional player running backwards for no good reason, a few really weird animations here and there that shouldn't be possible given the nature of the human anatomy and the laws of physics, and the odd goalkeeping nightmare. But you'll still punch the air when your strikers score, or when the attacking tactic you just implemented pays off perfectly; just be careful you don't scare your fellow passengers when you're out and about.
Better yet, Sports Interactive have leveraged the power of the cloud to allow for cross-platform game saves. This means that you can start a Classic mode game up on your PC, and then take it with you to play on the go on your Vita. This is dangerous stuff.
So far, so good. However, unfortunately there are some pretty heavy caveats that make Football Manager Classic 2014 a little bit contentious, and sadly much of it has to do with the limitations of the Vita itself and Sports Interactive's decision to keep the PC interface, meaning that there's no real fix aside from doing an Adam Orth and #dealingwithit. The screen size is problematic. You'll frequently nudge buttons and check options that you didn't intend to, and everything feels incredibly fiddly. I know that I have giant hands, but I passed my Vita over to an associate at least a head or two shorter than me who boasts the dexterity of a pianist , and even he said it was pretty damn dodgy. I have never once wished that my Vita came with a stylus...until now.
The font is also ridiculously small, and I now have a squint worse than I did when I started playing this game. FMC 14 gives me headaches, and there's no real way of getting the information you need at a quick glance, because that glance turns into a beady scrunching of your eyeballs, and even then some of the writing is barely legible.
Finally, there's just no getting away from the fact that if you want to start with a lower league team, and for true satisfaction there's nothing better than guiding a lower league team into the upper elite and sticking around, you'll have to turn on all of the leagues above you, and Football Manager Classic 2014 doesn't like it when you do that. In opposition to your desire to squeeze a semi-decent database out of the handheld gripped between your palms, FMC 14 slows down to a crawl, making every turn in the game seemingly interminable, and stretching matches out for ages. What you'd hope might be a smooth, zippy experience on a portable system where time is often of the essence ends up being anything but just that.
And so Football Manager Classic 2014 presents something of a contradiction. On the one hand, you have to praise Sports Interactive for managing to cram all of that information, that full, gripping FM experience onto a portable console. It's something I definitely want -- to be able to take my FM save game with me, and enjoy the deep, rich, tactical experience I've grown up with and adore, with no tradeoff. But that's much more difficult to achieve than it sounds, as it happens.
- It's the full FM Classic experience, without compromise
- Cloud saves make everything awesome
- Specific, scenario-based Challenges add a welcome change of pace
- Unchanged UI makes everything super fiddly on the Vita
- 3D match engine is still pretty buggy
- Loading times can seem interminable
The Short Version: Sports Interactive have done what we all probably would have suggested: take the PC version and just stick it on the Vita, along with a few of the Challenges too. But that's not actually enough, and the frustrations almost, almost ruin everything. It's easy to recommend for diehards wanting to take their FM save game wherever they go, but as much as I want to love FMC 14, and I really do, it's really not suited to the Vita in this current form.
Platforms: PS Vita
Developers: Sports Interactive