Football Manager's allure has always been one of the compulsive addiction of the statistician: poring over data, graphs, statistical feedback, and those darn happiness arrows. Trying to construct the perfect harmonious team and take on the world. On the field, Sports Interactive have nailed it every single time: everything is geared towards what happens on the pitch. But the world outside of that, the one of scandals splashed across the front pages of tabloids, of egos and vices and astronomical excess, there's been precious little for gamers to get stuck into.
Lords of Football arrives hoping to change all of that.
In Geniaware's sim title, you assume the role of manager, babysitter, life coach, trainer, taskmaster, and many other hats. It's like a management sim crossed with, well, The Sims. Or at least that's the idea.
Football players are fragile individuals that need constant attention. In addition to laying out their daily training schedules, you need to make sure that your players are happy and contented. You need to make sure that periods of free time are filled with activities to allow them to unwind and relax, but without getting too tangled up in sleaze and vice.
Of course, all of the teams and players are fakes - just imagine how litigious it would be if real players had been replicated here - which means that you won't have the satisfaction of prising a horny Ashley Cole out of the seedier parts of the town in which the game is set, but you can fully edit the teams and players themselves. The characteristics and player traits are randomised, however, so even if you decide to stick Mario Balotelli in the game so you can give him some tough love, he might end up as a timid, overweight alcoholic.
Leaping into the game, you'll find yourself in a town separated into various places of interest. Days will always begin on the training pitch, with you dragging and dropping your squad (and ushering the odd lazybones out of the locker rooms) onto bits of the field, consigning your players to various mental, physical, and recuperative activities. Your facilities are relatively barren to begin with, but as you start fulfilling the on and off-field objectives set by your team's director, they'll begin to expand and essentially level up, becoming more efficient at getting your players into shape. As with other management sims, players will have attributes marked out of 100, and it's up to you to make sure that your players are fulfilling their potential through focused training.
Of course, the real allure of Lords of Football is what happens once the sun sets. Restaurants, pubs, casinos, discos, fan clubs, a local radio station and more are littered about the town next to the football ground. To nurture your players to become the best that they can possibly be, it's imperative to take note of their behavioural characteristics and tailor their after-hours activities to suit those characteristics harmoniously. Some players will prefer a little fine dining, others will be busy getting lubricated in the pub, or blowing all of their pay at craps.
What this really boils down to is a lot of dragging and dropping: steering players in the right direction, and heading the addicts off at the pass. It's not terribly thrilling and if a situation does boil over, all you really get is a little notification about a player going off for a beer rather than hitting training, you track them down and plonk them in the clinic or reprimand them in a suitably humiliating fashion. There are little moments of humour to begin with, and the satirical tone underpinning it all is what makes Lords of Football a semi-attractive proposition in the first place, but it's not long before the joke wears thin amidst a lack of depth. It's a really nice idea in theory, this gargantuan life sim that takes the piss out of those overpaid prima donnas, but the execution doesn't exactly get mind or heart racing.
It's actually Geniaware's take on match day that proves to be the most interesting feature of the game. The tactical interface is intuitive and offers a surprising amount of depth, letting you basically draw your gameplan onto the pitch. You can opt to simulate the games and skip to the results screen, or have the matches play out in front of you, giving you the opportunity to intervene directly. You can mix and match tactics mid-game, of course, but you can also bark direct orders from the touchline that allow you to dictate play. At any moment, you can pause the game, highlight a player and give him a direct instruction, whether it be to make a run, pass the ball, or shoot at goal, using the mouse to control direction and power. This is limited, however, by a little bar that recharges over time, so you'll often find yourself of a counter-attack you're powerless to stop if you squander an opportunity. That's no bad thing, but it does highlight the problem at the heart of this game: the illusion of control without actually having a huge amount.
Trouble is, if you want a management sim with depth, you turn to SI. If you want one that gives you the chance to get stuck in on match day and develop a little off of the pitch, you turn to EA (or, better yet, Ultimate Soccer Manager). Lords of Football has an interesting premise, but drops the ball continuously in execution. It's a charming game to begin with, as music, visuals, and a cheeky spirit that can't fail to raise a smile or two all combine to create something promise. But two hours in, you'll already be feeling the repetitive burn, not to mention a spot off buyer's remorse.
- Nice ideas
- Touches of humour do give the game a certain charm
- Plenty of customisation options means you can put your friends in the game
- Aesthetically strong (except for ball physics)
- Pretty shallow experience
- Quickly gets repetitive
- Matches tend to be too easy given direct interaction
- Full price (£24.99) is offputting
The Short Version: Lords of Football is a truly ambitious game, but in seeking to deliver one off the most comprehensive footballing life sims ever created, Geniaware have ultimately delivered a curiosity piece with little to hold interest beyond a couple of hours. The idea is a good one, but joke wears thin quickly and what we're left with is a management sim with a debilitating lack of depth.