Tension, Heartbreak and Unbridled Joy have never looked and felt so good.
The Football Manager franchise has grown from strength to strength in its eight years since developer Sports Interactive broke their ties with Eidos and were purchased by SEGA. Every year SI improve on the already strong foundation, and this year is no different.
I am currently on around 100 hours and I thought that would be more than enough time to experience all the new features and changes the game had to offer. That time was spent during both the beta and the two weeks following the games full release. Each of those hours spent have been fun, entertaining, frustrating and mood killing all in equal measure. For example, at the top of an hour I could beat Arsenal as Chelsea 3-0 and then lose 1-0 to Sunderland at home. Joy and pain is what makes this game series so successful, by forming an emotional connection to the team, the players, and strangely enough, the fans (Losing a big match puts me into a fit of regret and apology). There is no real fan complaining to me, but that’s the magic of the franchise. It offers a realistic escape into a forgotten dream, slipping to the simulated world for hours at a time and all while riding the emotional roller coaster.
In terms of gameplay, Football Manager 2014 is effectively the same game, with hundreds of tweaks and changes which make the experience far more streamlined. One of the biggest and most notable changes is the way news is delivered. When you get an offer for a player, the offer is shown in the news item, meaning you don’t have to constantly swap between screens to view offers, respond to news and check scout reports. The main information relevant to the news story is shown in plain view, allowing you to make a decision quicker. This may feel like a small change, but it genuinely changes the fluidity of the playthrough.
Football Manager‘s 3D engine has once again seen a bit of an overhaul, with new animations and several under the hood changes. It’s the best looking engine the franchise has seen and provides a bit more graphic fidelity then we have seen before. Players don’t properly represent their real life counterpart, but more represent the role assigned and statistics. Although this is disappointing to those coming from FIFA’s Career mode, it’s actually more realistic. Putting a player out of position is clearly reflected in their movement and interactions with the opposition and the ball.
Speaking of the animations in general, there are still some inconsistencies which make the 3D match engine an occasional frustration to use. The way players tackle and go down are not exactly clean which means that realising if something is a penalty or not isn’t clear. This problem arises when you make a comment to the press in relevance to the tackle, but you can’t tell if it’s actually true or not. You may call this a minor gripe, but it is an unfortunate side effect of the 3D engine in its current state. The rest of the engine stands strong, watching a player to break free of the defense to coolly finish (or heartbreakingly spurn the chance) is simply thrilling. Crowd, weather effects and other external sprites are improved, although not majorly.
Managing your club involves a lot more than tactics and transfers, it’s also about communicating with players, staff, media and the board. Luckily, Football Manager 2014 allows for more interaction than ever. Whether you want to criticise your strikers’ lack of goals or plead the board for more time, this game has you covered. New interaction with players exiting the club is a nice little addition which makes leaving the door open for a youngster to return to the club easier. Tone is just as important as it has ever been, with four options now commonality crossing all personal interactions: Calm, Assertive, Cautious and Passionate. This new four level system doesn’t carry over to match team talks which still uses the same system as last year. This may be sometimes frustrating, but having more options for team talks is excellent, where you can convey a wider array of emotions to turn games around.
The performance and morale of players is somewhat dependent on your interactions with them, meaning a wrongly picked sentence can be the difference between a player staying or leaving the club. It’s this level of depth and attention to detail that makes all areas of interaction engaging and sometimes worrying. There are plenty of options for speech which allow you to try and word things how you would in real life, the potential drama or success of a conversation is completely invigorating. Times when I could convince the board to allow me to change my style of football and them not complain, was a tough challenge, forcing me to jump through loopholes and really fight with them on the issues, all the while maintaining a level of composure so I don’t find myself at the unemployment office.
The new interactions and options allow for more depth and context than ever, but a potential problem is being left in awe of the tasks you want to accomplish. I often found myself missing opportunities and putting myself in a bad situation as some options weren’t blatantly obvious in the first place. The UI gives you options to quickly access options for speaking to players but it did take me a while to find the menu where I could access all the options, with some missing without any explanation. This is a minor gripe because once I found it, I knew where to go every time.
One of the biggest and best additions to the game is live transfer negotiations. This format is similar to the way contracts are offered, you can instantly receive a response from a transfer offer, allowing to get a player much faster if you are in a rush. The old system is still in place, and is often used when a club declines to give an immediate answer. Deadline day doesn’t feel as frustrating anymore, as you can quickly make enquiries, offers and deals at a faster rate. The player you want isn’t available? Well switching targets is now easier, meaning you won’t be left empty on deadline day. The addition is something which allows for rebuilding of a club to be so satisfying, as it’s no longer such a chore offering money for players.
Football Manager 2014 builds upon its fantastic foundation and makes improvements to all areas of the game. Each improvement feels exciting and going back to previous iterations is unthinkable, with the game is as statistical as ever and continues to be an enthralling ride. Gameplay almost lasts indefinitely so it’s crazy to think that in just a month I could play for 100 hours. The amount of leagues and clubs is fantastic, meaning for plenty of challenge and experimentation. Although I didn’t try classic mode, the shortened, less expansive mode is present, with additional improvements. Challenge mode is also incorporated again, with extra challenges available. The steam workshop and cloud saves are introduced, mainly to comply with some new Valve rules. Cloud saves work perfectly, if you select the options when saving. The steam workshop is a fantastic way of downloading tactics, club badge packs and face packs. These are perfect ways to get around some of the licencing issues that lament the game. Luckily, the licencing issues aren’t that important, as players still behave as they would in real life.[tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]
Consistent and Addictive Gameplay
Fantastic Additions Make Game Even Stronger
Challenges and Classic Mode Allow for Anybody to Jump In
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]
3D Match Animations Sometimes Play Up
Lack of Some Licences