I have always loved the Football Manager series. I remember being ten or eleven and begging my mum to buy me the latest game. She’d always refuse on the basis that, like the FIFA franchise, very little changes in each instalment. I would try to convince her that the updated database was important, or the fact that you had to do business through an agent now was important, or look, the UI is in blue now! That HAS to be important! So whose argument does Football Manager 2014 back up? Well, luckily, I think it might be mine. Ha! Take that mum. Football Manager 2014 actually does mix it up a little with a massively improved match engine, new random events occurring and some extra content to try and enhance the all important immersion. The series has always done a much better job making a living breathing world than the likes of FIFA through press conferences, chats with colleagues and players as well as meetings with board members and insulting enemy managers before a match.
On the off chance you have never heard of this series, I will take you through it. People who know what football manager is and just what this instalment compared with last years, skip the next three paragraphs. In Football Manager 2014 you take control football team from the real world and try to win competitions. It’s not a difficult concept, however mastering it can be nigh impossible. You are responsible for just about everything that happens at the club. Making offers for other players, selecting tactics, dealing with wages and hiring coaches will take up most of your day. After you’ve decided your starting line up and tactics you send your footballers out onto the field with a few words of encouragement and watch them get decimated 5-0 by the other team. At least, that’s what happens in my experience.
The real selling point for these games are not really the matches themselves, but the intriguing, living world they create. I love playing for a few years of in game time then looking up some of my former players and seeing how they’re doing now. You will never have an adrenaline rush quite like winning the title on the last day of the season and you will grow your own personal rivalries as you play through. The only trouble is, most of the game is text based. You make choices based on text, scout players based on text and have arguments with your chairmen all through big text dumps. It’s not an issue for me, but I know people who have been put off these games because of the lack of game play and I can accept that to a point. A lot of times the outcome of matches feel like they’re decided by a random number generator. You will, occasionally, dismantle the other team, have thirty shots on target and seventy percent possession, but lose 1-0 and there’s nothing you can do about it. But that happens in real life as well and is what makes football so fun. It would be boring if you won every single match.
It can be incredibly rewarding to take control of a weak team, tweak your tactics to perfection and watch them grow into European champions. It becomes an experience that even FIFA in it’s all conquering glory can not replicate. With patience and commitment you can have one of the most intense footballing experiences video games can bring you. I’ve found myself with my head in my hands as my team concedes a last minute goal in the FA cup final. I found myself cheering when my team complete a miraculous three goal comeback. So it really is up to you and depends what kind of person you are as to whether or not you will like this game.
So, what exactly has been changed this year? For starters, the previously mentioned match engine has been massive updated. Last year’s match engine was heavily criticised and rightfully so. It was buggy and incredibly unrealistic with goalkeepers scoring inside their six yard box every other match and players refusing to tackle opponents. This year, all of this has been improved but not perfected. Goalkeepers haven’t been scoring as much, but defenders can still score from their own half every so often and the referees don’t seem to understand the offside rule, however, if you like watching the matches unfold you will be a lot happier than you were last year but if, like me, you just have the commentary on, then its pretty much exactly the same experience.
There’s been hefty changes in the UI, with news items being much bigger and more blinding than last year. I know this sounds petty, but I had to shrink the text size and turn the brightness down to actually read anything. A lot of information in the game seems to have been condensed as well and is now a lot easier to find simple by flicking through a couple of tabs on your squad screen. The transfer system has been enhanced slightly and now allows you to make the transfer offer and receive a reply straight away making it a little bit easier to push a transfer through on deadline day. Try not to annoy the opposite team too much though. They’ll pull out of negotiations if they feel they are dragging on and I swear some teams reject my offer out of spite afterwards.
You now have a much larger range of options when talking to the press and it’s easier to insult managers by mistake. In fact, this seems a little bugged at the moment as well. They’ve tried to design it so that you can either be nice to the opposition, be neutral or insult them. But no matter which one I picked, the opposition always seemed to be douches back at me. I would say “I respect my opponent and think it’ll be a good match.” and they’ll reply with, “He’s just scared! We’re gonna crush him and break all his players’ legs!”. I’m not sure whether it’s bugged or they just really didn’t think through the options.
Creating tactics has also received a massive overhaul. Previous installments used sliders to decide how far your players would push up, how hard they tackle etc. This year all of that is dumped and instead you have instructions you can issue to individual players or the whole team, much like the ‘touchline instructions’ you could use during matches last year. Some instructions can’t be used in conjunction with a player’s role. For example, a central defender can’t be told to cross more because it’s very unlikely they’ll be in a position to cross anyway. It’s not a bad system and I’m sure there must be instructions that synergise with each other to create an unbeatable tactic but I don’t seem to be able to do it. It got to the stage where I gave up and downloaded a tactic made by someone else. It was really good and started winning a lot of matches so I decided to tweak it to fit my team’s style. We went on to lose the next two matches 7-1 and 7-3. Needless to say, I changed it back and haven’t touched it since. I’m sure it would be very rewarding to make your own tactic with this system, but I just can’t do it myself. That’s pretty much all the big changes. Everything else is minor that has really only been done to increase your immersion, such as job interviews now and your board will actually try to convince you to stay if they find out you’re casting your eye around.
When compared to its predecessors and other games of the genre, Football Manager 2014 would be receiving a massive 10/10. The big changes are implemented well and are a huge improvement on last year’s version and the little ones have enhanced the experience even further. However, reviewing it solely as a game, it doesn’t do as well. The lack of any solid game play will drive a lot of people away without giving it a chance, others will simply not have the patience to micro manage every aspect of a football team. All I know is that, for me, it’s the best football management game out there at the moment, so if you like the genre and think you can do a better job than your favorite team’s manager, this is the perfect game to prove you wrong.