Football Manager 2015: Review

The tales of  Football Manager extremism have become part of gaming’s own urban legend. Everyone’s probably heard a friend tell the story about how ‘they’ don a suit for their team’s appearance in the FA Cup Final. Countless tales of divorce and familial breakdowns have circulated for years, the ‘Football Manager  Widow’ being shorthand for any long-suffering spouse lumbered with a partner who’d rather spend time glaring at their laptop screen than the real world in front of them.

Of course, such tales are often exaggerated, but why is it that Football Manager manages to get under the skin like so few other games can? It’s surely something to do with the heady cocktail of escapism and reality it blends together like a master mixologist. The impossible to reach world of high-level football management and the power that brings combined with a stats-based engine that cleverly nudges you in the direction of success but throws countless pitfalls in your way; it’s one of the most intoxicating combinations around.

This has been the case since the Championship Manager days many years ago, games that belied their simplistic presentation with their immeasurable depth. In the past few years, though, Football Manager can make a legitimate claim to technical impressiveness as well as nerdy booksmarts. The match engine has evolved from text, to little dots moving around a pitch, to its current form, a fully modelled 3D affair, featuring different stadiums, pitches and countless animations. It’s hardly
FIFA 15, but it isa thoroughly decent approximation of a football match, especially when you consider how many calculations are going on behind the scenes.

The match engine is probably the most improved area of the game over its predecessor too, and the most obvious reason to upgrade outside of the typical roster and league updates. It’s still a little wooden and players tend to ice skate across the turf, but the footballing scenarios it paints are unusually realistic more so than running a traditional football game on CPU-vs-CPU mode even. You’ll see free kicks played into the box from appropriate angles, strikers making intelligent runs, proper counter attacks, and teams using the width of the pitch to draw out defenders and create space. The goals feel believable, and in the case of one absurd di Maria volley, occasionally glorious.

Players can now use different parts of their feet to strike the ball, making for much more variety in passing, which leads to a noticeably more fluid game on the park. More importantly, though, you can really feel the difference when you as manager start making those important decisions. It’s not particularly hard fora football game of any kind to feel different if you change formation from 4-4-2 to 3-5-1, but the simple act of shifting a key player further wide, or even delivering a powerful individual talk to a youngster at half time, can have quantifiable impact.

This elevates Football Manager 2015 over its much older predecessors, because you feel like you can influence a match from the touchline as well as in the days and months preceding. You’ve always been able to tweak tactics during a match, but any long-term manager would tell you that the actual games were often set to the fastest speed rating, and beyond some half-time subs, not a lot of actual managing was going on from the sidelines.

Of course, you’ll still be spending hours fiddling in menus and staring at spreadsheets. Those who have developed the Football Manager ‘eye’ over the years will still be able to scout a player in seconds just by glancing at their stat sheet it’s an amazing ability the brain has to marry numbers to identities and hunting for transfers remains as compulsive as ever. Depth has been added to the more mundane elements of day to day managerial work, too. You’ll be pestered for one-on-one conversations with players, whose demands often reflect their real-life counterparts, and there is a seemingly endless list of journalists who want to interview you. Interestingly, it’s always tempting to choose the most PR-friendly answers, as they’ll place less pressure on your staff and yourself, but choose to speak with outlandish confidence and then back it up and you’ll bea hero to your players and fans.

As always, inconsistencies do pop up like Cantona’s collar. As solid as the match engine is, it does feel like defending is a rarer art than it should be, perhaps in an attempt to show more impressive attacking highlights, but it can be hard to organise even a statistically excellent back line. And, of course, it wouldn't be Football Manager without the times where you feel like the game is scripted to destroy you, where nothing you do seems to help. Quite how the little numbers exactly  work  is  locked in the vault  at  Sports Interactive, never to be revealed, but it’s hardly unrealistic. Maybe that’s why David Moyes rates it so highly.

Yet, we still persist. The flow of the action isn't quite as relentless as it was in the Nineties the match engine and increased back-room obligations means that seasons flow slower and require more thought but it’s still almost impossible to turn off once you’re on a roll. Win a game, and you want to keep the streak going, lose and you need to rectify that immediately.

Football Manager 2015 is the best version in a series that has been peerless for many years. It’s not the kind of overhaul that suggests players of last year’s game desperately need to upgrade, but the hardcore will not be dissatisfied. And if you're a lapsed fan, then we'll see you in your suit come cup final day.


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