Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Megabits column: Football Manager 2011

A few months ago, Megabits of Gaming was asked to contribute a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the March 2011 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

The dearth of new releases so far this year provided the opportunity to dust off the PC and turn my attention to the latest edition of arguably one of the most addictive games of all time.

Football Manager 2011, the latest iteration of Sports Interactive and SEGA’s bestselling series, once again gives you the opportunity to don a virtual sheepskin coat and bellow instructions from the touchline to your beleaguered players.

The new edition, released late last year, has managed to maintain its vicelike grip on the charts in recent months and rack up substantial sales despite its reputation as a glorified annual update (but that doesn’t stop the likes of FIFA or Madden flying off the shelves each year, does it?).

It’s a regular fixture on the release calendar and has become one of the most successful titles on the PC and Mac, selling more than six million copies worldwide. In early 2004 Sports Interactive ended its long-running relationship with Eidos – and stopped its input into the famed Championship Manager brand. Football Manager 2005 went head to head against Championship Manager 5 – for which Eidos joined forces with Beautiful Game Studios – but the former came out on top, and retains its winning form to this day.

Speaking as an owner of every version of Sports Interactive’s games dating back to the original 1992 Championship Manager, its addictiveness is patently clear. Over the years, the series has had the proud claim of being repeatedly cited in divorce cases as the key reason for a failed marriage. It’s a feat that’s quite understandable to us Football Manager addicts; the buzz of seeing your team of minnows rise up the table or of uncovering some hidden goalscoring talent from somewhere like Bolivia is unparalleled and certainly keeps you glued to the screen.

Each year, the interface is tweaked, the player database updated and expanded, and new features are added to keep you even more hooked. Most significant perhaps was the introduction of the 3D match engine two years ago, which replaced the reams of multi-coloured text popping up on screen from previous games. Hundreds of animations now make your players run, tackle and gesticulate realistically, and a multitude of screens keep you informed about every aspect of your team’s progress.

The latest version also includes real-time contract negotiations with agents, a new training system and a set piece creator. Match analysis has been improved and then there’s the enhanced interaction with players, rival managers and the media with countless questions and responses available – each of which could rile or rally the team.

A huge global scouting network reportedly checks the status and performance of real life players to ensure they are accurately replicated in the giant database. The Guinness World Records Gaming Edition lists Football Manager as home to more “real-life player names” than any other sports game ever. There have also been countless tales in the media of well-known managers using the games to check the abilities of potential recruits and footballers themselves constantly playing between matches.

But peel back all those layers of sheen and gloss, and FM 2011 isn’t that different to the first in the series in 2004 - or even the 1992 version of Championship Manager. The winning formula is deceptively simple: take a giant database, a vast roster of players with eerily accurate statistics, and throw in a bunch of tactics and training options. The result? You’ve got the most comprehensive football management game of all time.

Many loyal fans are already waiting with baited breath for the next edition – and their partners are preparing the divorce papers.