Football manager and Championship manager before it undoubtedly inspired a generation of stattos. The obsession with numbers must have been partly influenced by those growing up playing this series and the proof of that can generally be found in the demographics of those who are interested in stats and those who really aren’t.
One of Football manager’s (and CM’s before it) most endearing (or frustrating, in some cases) traits has been the infamous unpredictability of the fate of stars of tomorrow. I recently fired up an old copy of CM 03/04 (the last in this series) and found Freddy Adu on my left wing, ably assisted by the veterans Andres Iniesta and Pablo Aimar in the middle (actually, Iniesta and Aimar were – in 2013 – deputies to regen midfielders Michael Holmes and Andrea Coletti).
It’s those reasons, and the ‘regens’ (regenerated players, created to populate the game when players retire) and the game’s obsessive and addictive quality – one more game – that really have helped to create such a strong series. The quality is so great and the formula so simple that they have simply blown all the competition out of the water.
Still, with each passing year, Sports Interactive have the same challenge – how to implement change whilst giving the appearance of the game remaining the same.
We played two seasons with Manchester United to test how ‘FM16’ compares against its predecessors.
There are a number of options here. We went with ‘classic mode’ for the purposes of this review and those familiar with the series will discover something new, namely, the opportunity to give your manager an appearance. This is interesting and adds some interactivity that wasn’t previously there, though how much you actually notice it in the game is debatable. Nonetheless, it’s a bit of fun, and hardcore fans of the game may be more receptive to it or enjoy it more.
As usual your pre-season friendlies are already set up so if you’re like me you’ll probably set up your team’s tactics and then go looking for players to buy. Those who have played recent versions won’t find any noticeable differences although one thing I noticed is that you can now have a certain set of instructions specific to each game tactic. So if you decide to play a defensive game, you can tell your team to play it short and at a low tempo, and if you wish to play a gung ho style, you can play direct or long and pump it in to the box. As for how that actually works in practice, well, we’ll get on to that in a little while.
There are plenty of options within options (you can go with a 4-4-2, with wingers, and your wingers can be traditional or inside forwards or ‘raumdeuters’.
Obviously with these roles and options there is surely the consequence that getting to know each role and being familiar with how that affects the game play will surely help you in the long term but in my experience, giving all your players different roles inside a greater system doesn’t necessarily make too much of an impact. Maybe I was just doing it wrong.
United have a strong enough reputation in the game that they can get many of the game’s top players and in my first transfer window I was able to acquire Lavezzi from PSG for £5m and Reus for £45m. I could have signed Harry Kane for £35m but didn’t have the finances and I wasn’t ready to get rid of Wayne Rooney, who is still more higher rated than his real life form suggests he should be.
Not that that is usually the case. As a teenager I’d often be confused by the ‘ratings’ given to the United players, particularly in comparison with, for example, Arsenal and Liverpool players. Considering that Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs were the best domestic midfield certainly of a generation and arguably of all time, on Football Manager (or, more accurately given the timing, CM), you would invariably end up having to get better midfielders. I guess there is something to be said for the magic of unquantifiable qualities (it’s only a game, after all) and in this version of the game, generally United’s players are scored accurately. In this instance, this modern United supporter is so alienated with the current players that I was open to replacing any of the squad, so, the inaccuracy which has plagued past editions wasn’t so much of a concern this time around. Still, for sticklers, it may be more annoying.
Anyway, back on to transfers – after a successful first season, more players were open to moving, and I was able to do something that has been impossible on recent editions – sign Mats Hummels and convince him to leave Dortmund. It’s also worth keeping an eye on Bayern Munich who give many of their top players quite low release clauses (or, perhaps better explained, release clauses that are not extortionate in relation to the player’s in-game value). I was able to get Jack Wilshere for a relatively low fee (£14m); a smart signing given what is explained above as a tendency of FM to occasionally rate their players on reputation rather than actual ability. (A slight aside; it never fails to disappoint me to see Ronaldo or Messi score something like 12 league goals in the first season – I guess this is the AI, it’s just one little bit of realism that has bugged me over the years)
Seasoned players will know that FM isn’t necessarily about how ‘tough’ the game is and those with experience will probably find that their usual methods will garner some success eventually. Aside from the signing of players and winning games, the enjoyment of it is generally seeing how the things you do outside of a game influence what happens within a match.
With that in mind, it’s probably a good time to look at game play. I missed the promotional campaign where you generally get told there are heaps of changes but I usually wait for the game and see how they practically impact on the game you play. Now I have to take my hats off to the SI team for how they have evolved their game engine, from their enjoyable commentary, to the round dots which I still found fun with on CM 03/04, to the modern animation that takes in the player’s hair colour and even takes into account stadium development.
There appear to be changes to the way the game is brought to you – laborious highlights for each and every yellow card have been cut down, so when you select ‘key highlights’ you really are seeing the meat of the action.
There do appear to be a couple of difficulties or teething problems with the transitions SI does want to make to their game engine but in the name of progress and the greater scheme of things it’s not so bad. It may be a smarter AI locking down defensively, meaning that towards the end of games you are losing, there are naturally fewer key highlights, but it gives the impression that either your tactics are horrible or your players so poor when you go gung ho when chasing a game and the only highlight in the last 6 minutes is those final few seconds before the whistle is blown. As it stands, if you select key highlights, if you’re chasing a game you’re probably better served switching to extended highlights or even full to really observe how the pattern of the game is unfolding. That’s not a negative thing per se – if SI are looking to make the game more immersive, realistic and responsive, that may be the road they have to go down, but those of us more familiar with how things have always been, it’s arguably the most practical difficulty in this new edition of the game. That said, it may well be my own incapability to effectively chase a game late on.
In the middle of my third season, I have found that a swelling bank balance provides the financial capability to sign a Ronaldo or a Messi. Ronaldo’s price dramatically dropped on his 33rd birthday while Messi’s £179m release clause will take the entirety of the budget but – if you have enjoyed some success, and fancy the splurge – he is no longer as reluctant to move (on my save, anyway). There is a trick to signing players like this and sadly I have fallen victim to not reacting the same way. Generally if you think you have a chance of signing a player of this ilk, the AI will also be reacting the same way it does when one of your key players is subjected to a bid – the player’s agent will automatically request a new contract. Invariably the player signs the new deal and you’re left frustrated. So, the key here is maybe to leave such a swoop until deadline day – when you can wrap up a deal so swiftly that the selling club doesn’t have time to go through the process of a new contract. There may be problems with that logic, hopefully I’ll eventually splurge the entire budget to prove a point.
Is Football Manager 2016 a worthwhile buy? Despite the problems caused by its own success (as I said, I enjoy playing the older games, I had a friend who religiously updated the 97/98 CM game for 7 or 8 years ) and commitment to an annual output, yes it most certainly is, not least because the advances of the technological world around us are also being considered.
FM16 is apparently the first where you can play your desktop/laptop save game on an iPad which is an incredible breakthrough, albeit, one I have yet to try although I’m keen to. Information about this can be found online. There will be some resistance and annoyance in theoretically having to buy the same game twice (and as far as I can see, it isn’t as straightforward as playing the full game) but these are issues that I’m sure SI will sort out and is exciting for those of us who find ourselves using tablets more and more.
SI Games have very kindly offered RetroUnited.com readers the opportunity to win a copy of Football Manager 2016. We’ll be announcing the winner on Christmas Day, and all you need to do is like our Facebook page, and share the post on our Facebook page.