A few days ago, I delivered the first part of my Football Manager 2015 review (click here to read it), talking about the tweaks and changes that had been made off of the pitch. The game was in beta, and the match engine clearly still had some work to be done on it, and within hours of part one of my review being posted, Sports Interactive dropped a massive update ringing the changes.
To briefly recap, I've been impressed by the expansive depth available behind closed doors in the world of football management this year. Navigation is smoother than ever before thanks to a revamped interface that better prioritises the screens you'll want to get to. The tactical window is a little cluttered, but it's indicative of a greater emphasis on tactical customisation, and tailoring teams to suit your strategic designs. They won't become comfortable with your methods overnight, but put in the work, and it's clear that you can leave an indelible mark on the way a team performs.
Broadly speaking, that is.
In a way, I still think that the perfect match engines were they text-based affairs back in the heyday of Championship Manager. I remember in Champ Man 2, there'd be an excruciating pause in between the potential assist text and the outcome.
Giggs crosses into the near post...
Cantona gets a head to it...
But it whistles over the bar!
You had frustration when things didn't go your way, of course, but because you were only ever really dealing broadly with match day tactics, substitutions, and broad tactical tweaks, there was more scope for error. Because more stuff was unseen and hidden, you didn't really see the match engine ever screw up. There was a sort of satisfaction of knowing that because things were relatively simple, the impact of everything you did was proportionally greater. Plus, ignorance was bliss.
These days, however, we have bug-ridden 3D match engines that play out dubious, jagged matches of football, and it's sometimes difficult to tell where the impacts of our decisions as armchair managers end, and where the quirks of the game engine begin.
In some ways, I imagine that's frighteningly realistic. Moments of madness do happen in football, and part of being a manager is understanding that you're not on the pitch -- you can shape and mould and coach a team, but at the end of the day, they still have to execute and carry out your game plan. It's nerve-wracking stuff, and this year's Football Manager adds in further ways for you to interact with you team on match day. You can now bark encouraging team talks from the touchline, although I have no idea how much of an impact this actually has on things.
Watching matches in full, and you'll need to in order to get the most of the experience, illustrates just how much control you have on a broader basis. It's quite mesmerising, in fact, to watch your team change up their playstyle, and switching between passing styles, how much you want your players to close down their opposition, and directing the focus of one's attacks -- through the middle of up the flanks -- these are all things that are readily visible. The statistical feedback is one thing -- but that's always been a part of games such as this. Numbers don't lie, and it's easy to correlate stats like shots on target, for example, with the visual engine that shows your strikers shooting on sight all of the time.
Things like that are easy to fix.
What is frustrating, however, is when a player dallies on (and glitches through) the ball for ten painful seconds, or when players backpass to the goalie from just outside the other team's penalty area, or when goalkeeper come out to meet an oncoming attacker, and then run away. I'd like to say that such events were restricted to the early, pre-update part of the week, but I had several head-scratching moments of incredulity just this morning. SI will continue working on polishing up various bits and ironing out the kinks over the coming weeks, and it's important to note that these moments aren't stopping me from coming back time and time again, it's just a little galling is all.
You can pinpoint moments when players are letting you down, though, and here I feel the inadequacy of the team talk system rather keenly. I kind of want more feedback when giving the team or an individual a proper bollocking, and I can't help but wonder how much the stats you set up at the start of the game -- when deciding between being a shirt and tie or tracksuit manager -- have a bearing on your interactions with players.
Part of the issue with Football Manager 2015 is that although many of the new additions and cosmetic tweaks have explanatory, optional little hint boxes to help out newcomers, there's precious little information on the weighting of certain aspects of the game. I'd say that discovering how those elements work is part of the experience, but actually, things like team talks haven't changed much in half a decade, and I'm still none the wiser in terms of their actual impact despite having sunk hundreds and hundreds of hours into this series over that time.
The turnabout point, of course, is that I still want to spend hundreds and hundreds of hours in this game. It's so deep, I love the adjustments made to the scouting system, and I'm a big fan of the UI changes overall, harking back to the classic Champ Man days of yore -- although team selection and the tactics screen still aren't quite there yet, it has to be said. Even the match engine quirks I can sort of forgive -- they are more infrequent since the update -- but they're important to note so gamers buying into FM15 now know what they're in for. It's not as if the game is riddled with bugs, it's really not, but there are moments of hair-tearing frustration beyond your control, and the game seems to favour the more physical, direct gameplay of English football far more than passing play.
On balance, Football Manager 2015 is a typically addictive, engrossing experience. For me, the new changes to the scouting, and the little tweaks to navigation outweigh the convoluted tactical screens and the bamboozling nature of the match engine. To be fair, the match engine has always been something of an opaque force of nature unto itself, and that's kind of part of the experience. Manager's don't have direct control, that's the point, and I feel that overall, FM15 does a great job of making you feel like you're part of a backroom team, spearheading your staff rather than trying to control absolutely everything (although you can still try and juggle all of the metaphorical balls if you so choose).
It has its faults, and no doubt a few weeks down the line there'll be a massive patch that shifts the match day experience completely, but I can still recommend Football Manager 2015 well enough, just make sure you pick the right mode for you.
- It's so unbelievably vast
- Scouting much expanded and improved
- New, nostalgic UI makes navigation easier
- Player interaction better than ever before
- Journalists work to whip up drama
- Greater emphasis on player roles and tactical depth...
- ...Even if the interface is more cluttered and confusing
- Challenge modes are unchanged and still pretty rubbish
- Match engine often seems like a law unto itself
- Still a few bugs kicking around, especially on the pitch
- Not huge step up from last year's game
The Short Version: Football Manager 2015 simultaneously makes navigation easier thanks to a revamped UI, while making other aspects more convoluted. Its match engine offers greater interaction, and yet somehow seems more opaque. But in spite of its contradictions, FM15 does a fine job of delivering a vastly deep, and more integrated and collaborative experience of football management, with some scouting overhauls that make finding diamonds in the rough more rewarding than ever before. This year's game has its faults, and doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it'll still steal your life away if you let it.
7 - GOOD: Some sites seem to think that the halfway point between 1-10 is 7. This is not the case. It should be noted that 7 is not just a perfectly respectable score, it's a good score. A 7 is not an indication of failure, nor is it the mark of a bad, poor or even average game. These are titles that can be considered very worthwhile, but maybe come with a caveat. Frequently the domain of the well-made-if-rather-conventional brigade.
Developers: Sports Interactive