Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: Football Manager 2012

Sports Interactive and SEGA never disappoint with the annual update of their Football Manager series - and FM 2012 is the latest to be added to my burgeoning collection. Combined, all these well-worn and much-loved discs have consumed a staggeringly high percentage of my free time over the past few years. It’s no wonder the series has repeatedly been cited in divorce cases!

And there are few major surprises in store this time round... just some really important tweaks. As ever, Football Manager allows you to take charge of your favourite football team and put your managerial skills to the ultimate test. As soon as you don that virtual sheepskin coat, you're engrossed in the greatest game of all time.

Whether you want to oversee Manchester United’s path to the Champions League title, take the reigns at Russia’s newest mega rich superclub Anzi or help Quilmes Atletico Club win the Argentinean League, you quickly learn that absolutely anything is possible. The beauty of Football Manager is that you can control everything - thousands of clubs are at your fingertips, and tens of thousands of talented players are waiting to be discovered.

But why should you buy what amounts to yet another annual update? Well, just when you think you’ve mastered the beautiful game, they only go and add another 800 new features to keep you on your toes. Even playing this flat out for several weeks, I’m still encountering subtle changes. And of course, the rosters, fixtures, strips and budgets have all been fully updated…

The initial setup is the same as ever; enter your details, choose your playable leagues, pick your team and then take them to glory. Difference is, this time round, you can switch leagues on and off - and on again - as you desire. What this means is that your managerial destiny isn't constrained by your computer anymore or those choices you make when first setting up your game; there's no need to activate all those leagues from the start on the possibility you may want to manage there in the future - and therefore wait ages while your aging computer processes all the data. Now you can speed through the game and then pick new countries should you fancy taking a helm at a club in an entirely new nation. These new leagues will then kick in from the following season. It's a minor change that makes a huge difference to the seasoned gaffer.

Anyways, when you've chosen your team and settled in your sparkly new office, you need to take charge of every aspect of the club’s running – from signing new talent and managing your team to match preparation - training, tactics and set pieces – and dealing with the press.

There's absolutely no excuse to be baffled by the interface and the torrent of information at your fingertips either. Virgin managers can learn their trade by running the new standalone tutorial add on, while it will also help outline some of the new additions to even the most grizzled gaffers. There seems to be so much more information and data crammed on to every screen in this version, which means there's no excuse to not be in complete control.

Social networks are again used to publicise your achievements, with Twitter and Facebook account synching allowing you to share your progress with friends. Should you need further encouragement to keep on playing, the achievement counter pops up on Steam as before too – much like the Xbox achievements and PS3 trophy system.

Should you want to improve your team, take on those tricky agents or dabble in the transfer market, then you’ll soon see this has been enhanced since last year as well. The pursuit and eventual capture of that star player is just as exhilarating as before. This time, however, the addition of loyalty bonuses and the ability to lock parts of the deal that you just won't budge on will make it easier to keep the Board off your back if debts spiral out of control!

Scouting is as comprehensive as ever, with squad analysis, tactics information and information about a player’s history, preferred positions and mentality all at your fingertips. Then, once you stop messing about with the teamsheet, the real work begins. Afterall, winning matches is what it’s all about.

The overhauled tactical overview screen shows your squad, preferred formations, player instructions and just about everything else you'll need. Shouts are a pretty cool option - allowing you to customize multiple instructions that you can choose to yell at your players on the pitch in one easy button press. Quick substitutions and tactical changes can be made at a whim during a match, with all kinds of stats and analysis available in floating windows while it all plays out.

And importantly, it all looks much better than last year too.

Remember all those years ago when reams of text popped up on screen during a match and you read what your players were up to. Then Sports Interactive made the big switch to 2D blobs that moved about the pitch and gave you even more insight before the inevitable leap to a 3D match enginer. Well, for the 2012 season, there's a whole heap of new animations to keep that smile etched permanently on your face. There are improved weather effects and more stadia too, the crowds have been tweaked and new goal celebrations! Not to forget that two new camera angles have been included – the new Behind Goal and Director Cam options giving you more ways to analyse your team’s performance. There's no way you'll be able to use Wenger's much-loved "I didn't see it" excuse the next time you concede a goal!!!

If it is all going wrong, you can gee you players up with the half time team talk, or inadvertently rile them with an ill-placed comment. A brilliant new addition is the way you can now decide your tone to ensure that your players get the message. Is it best to be calm when you’re being thrashed or might a slightly more aggressive stance be appropriate and improve their performance? There are six different tones available, each with specific comments – meaning a raft of options that put you more in control. After a match, the press conferences have also been improved with more answer options than ever before. You can also target other managers to nurture friendships or rivalry, comment on transfer targets or take your players to one side for a private chat.

There’s no other game that so easily wrestles money from my wallet than Football Manager. It’s perhaps the only series I can guarantee I'll update each year. FM 2012 is an absolute no brainer for any football fan - it's just as addictive, thorough and brilliant as before but does more than enough to be different. This truly is the undisputed king of football management.

Buy it immediately!