Football is huge, both in real life and in virtual space, and the best proof is not the existence of the hugely successful FIFA 11 from EA Sports, the game which sells fast and sets records every year, but the yearly launch of Football Manager, the management game from Sports Interactive and current publisher SEGA. It's existence and success proves that gamers understand that complexity can be very enjoyable on some level and the developers at Sports Interactive have also made sure that they offer a lot of automation and accessibility for first time gamers and for those who would like to just play matches and see the world of football evolve.Gameplay
Take over, hire some staff, get some new players, create a competitive team and then win some trophies. How hard could it be especially when taking over a first league team from somewhere nice for football like Germany, Italy, Spain, England, Brazil or North America? Well, let me tell you it can be hellish. A few quick examples follow. Liverpool is plagued by debt and takeover rumors, meaning that transfers are a pain to get while Gerard and Torres are both glass cannons, good players who in my season spent half a year on the bench. Barcelona is a monster of a team that quickly has issues with egos that flare up and with young players who cannot get the development they crave because of the all but locked down first eleven. Juventus, my choice in Italy, needs to put together a squad while dealing with numerous co ownership issues and lacking young team talent. Manchester City, the grand challengers of English football, fall prey to lack of determination and a bloated squad.
Football Manager 2011 does a great job of simulating the real life situations while also delivering those branching events that add salt and pepper to any simulation. In my first season in England Tottenham bombed and just barely managed to get out of the relegation zone. In my second a resurgent Manchester took the title, beating the odds which favored Chelsea and the player controlled Arsenal. There's a lot of unpredictability here, especially in the lower leagues.
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|Italian job ||Talking power |
Speaking of the lower leagues, be prepared to stick in for the long haul if you plan to take a lowly favorite team up the ranks and maybe even into Europe. Promotion is tough to achieve and every good player you will have while trying to move up will attract the attention of better teams and will at some point want to move away from the club.
The relationships are one of the highlights
of the game and really manage to show how management is just a math and physics game, with talking one of the most important things a coach is called upon to do at certain points in his career. Sure, the interactions, especially those with players, are not too varied and after playing a season or two a gamer who likes to talk with players will know exactly what and when to say in order to keep his players content through his career.
Another set of interactions, that which involves other managers, is more interesting in terms of substance but it fails to have a noticeable impact on the actual game, and the press conferences are so predictable after a certain point that I started sending my assistant to most of them while only showing up in person to those before derbies or important European matches.
Sports Interactive will probably work on the concept for Football Manager 2012 as the main thing it needs to become a worthy addition to the overall game is a bit of randomness when it comes to reactions and more clear spelled effects in the actual game.
Another critique is that teams also have a tendency to make some weird tactical choices late in the matches, like switching to a more offensive set of tactical even though they are 4 or 5 goals down and have no realistic chance to actually coming back and winning.
There are some things that I found hard to access in the game. Even after about 20 hours of playing the game I had trouble remembering the place in the interface where I could see the number of different coaches I had working for me and how many I could employ. It's not game breaking in any way but it tends to make the pre season a bit more complex than it should be.
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|Interaction heavy ||Old school simulation |
There are also some issues with the way players from outside the club are tracked. By clicking on the little favorite star in the top right hand bar you basically become a follower of news linked to that individual but the game does not also automatically add them to the shortlists that you keep as a manager, which does not make sense. Given the amount of information that Football Manager 2011 throws at the player at times it would have been a better choice to add them to the shortlist so that I can find them after that quickly while asking me for an extra mouse click or two in order to make sure that you also follow news linked to them.
Despite this small issues the experience is engrossing and the trials, successes and tribulations of the team you control quickly become deeply personal affairs. I cursed when my young Arsenal side was knocked out of the Champions League in my second season by A.C. Milan, the team which probably had the oldest age average in the competition, and I was very glad when I lifted the trophy with Rapid despite being predicted before the season as coming in 3rd.Graphics
The most important thing for a management title like Football Manager 2011 is to deliver information in a consistent and organized way, making it easy for gamers to get the facts they need and then allowing them quick access to the tools they need to implement the decisions they are making.
Sports Interactive has done quite a bit of work on the 3D match sequences, allowing the player to better understand what's happening on the pitch. Most purists will still prefer to use the classic 2D television view, which with the addition of written commentary and with the match stats accessible at any time is still the best way to enjoy the match, see the most important moves and appreciate the moves of your team while also keeping an eye on what is influencing their performance.
On the sound front the game does not offer nothing special and the 3D presentation can feel sparse at times because of that. Still if anyone is playing Football Manager 2011 for the quality of the sound they must be doing something wrong.Conclusion
You need to be at least a medium level football fan to be able to enjoy this game and it really helps if there's some team, somewhere in Europe or the world that you care deeply about, enough so that you are willing to spend at least a half hour at some point before the beginning of the season to create that perfect set piece which can lead them to victory in a tight match.
This is a game for people who are passionate, on one hand, and cerebral, on the other, willing to read a lot of numbers and make comparisons, willing to thing about how they can lure an elusive defensive midfielder to their club despite the language barrier but also alive enough to jump up and down in their room when picking up the league title and the cup in the same season.
It's true that the innovations, especially those based around human interactions, could have been better implemented and that at times Football Manager 2011 delivers a sense of deja vu to experienced players but it's still the best way to immerse oneself deep into the culture and mechanics of football and to learn enough about tactics and players to impress your friends when watching Champions League fixtures.