Football Manager 2012

Before we begin, I have to say that the week I’ve had this game is nowhere near enough time to fully experience it, considering on average it takes 48 hours of solid gameplay to complete a season. I can only go by what I’ve experienced so far, and to be honest it’s pretty incredible.

It’s designed to create a realistic managerial experience; to some this would sound like the most boring game in the world. But to others, it’s incredibly immersive. SEGA’s management sim has been a hit with football fans since the original in 2005 and for the franchise to still be going strong they must be doing something right!

What’s changed from last year’s game? Sports Interactive have made a few clever tweaks to the game, but is it worth the upgrade? Probably a stupid question, but let’s find out.

Story

Erm… well, this is awkward. I’m not entirely sure what to say here! There’s not much of a story going on, it’s a sports simulation game. In fact, it’s a game about managing a football club. I’d say the closest you can get to a plot (but I’m clutching at straws here) is to choose a team and carry them to the top of the league. There are plenty of ups and downs, especially if you support Everton as I do. I guess sports can be pretty dramatic, if you’re into that sort of thing.

So, to sum up, the aim of the game is to become the world’s best manager. To bring your crappy little team from the awful depths of the relegation zone they occupy in reality up to the dizzying heights of the top of the table.

Art and Sound

Visuals aren’t the main feature in any management sim but it’s important for the home screen to be clear and navigable. At first it seems like a lot to take in, but the tutorial section of the game explains everything in detail. In no time at all, it seems like second nature sifting through the reams of text on screen.

Since it’s more preparation based than focused on each individual match, the footage itself isn’t very important. Back in the day, it consisted of watching different coloured circles move around a cartoon pitch. Safe to say, it’s now advanced somewhat. I guess it can be described as quite a crude version of Pro Evolution Soccer. It does the job but it certainly isn’t any sort of graphical achievement. It is a significant improvement on previous years, of course, with improved animation and a wider variety of weather conditions.

The developers have improved the sound of the matches significantly. The improved crowd system spurs on the players with their incessant roaring. I heard rumours that they were including fan songs and chants but I’ve yet to hear any ingame. Personally, I found the sound to be a little bit annoying after a while, so I found myself muting it after a few minutes. I reckon a commentator system would be an excellent addition (especially if they got Chris Kamara!) but maybe that’d be too difficult to pull off, considering the wide range of possible match combinations. But oh well, I can dream!

The camera angles have come a long way since the earlier instalments of the series, with a number available to choose from including “TV”, “Behind Goal” and “Director Cam”. The latter I find was very Sky Sports-esque and great for watching replays but annoying as hell in-game. Personally, I prefer watching the game as a manager would, using the “Main Stand” camera.

Gameplay

My friend described the gameplay of Football Manager as “Excel with a graphics card.” Absolute genius. Match results are determined using the stats of each time, coupled with the formation you choose and even down to the team talk you give at the start of each game. However, I guess it isn’t all as formulaic as it may first appear; it’s possible to play a match with an identical strategy twice in a row but see a different outcome each time. This suggests that, as in real football, luck plays an equally important role as statistics.

The main aspect of the gameplay in Football Manager 2012 is to prepare your team for upcoming matches. This ranges from signing new players, to giving team talks and setting up player formations. I particularly like the team talk element because it’s so detailed. There are loads of different emotions you can portray to each individual player to help them play better. For instance, if your striker isn’t pulling his weight, you can tell him at half time to buck his ideas up, and depending on whether he’s an asshole or not his performance should improve. Also, press conferences have been improved in this year’s game, seeming more realistic in the variety of questions and their relation to what actually happened in the previous match.

Team Meetings also make a welcome return this year. They’re a fantastic addition to the gameplay as it allows the manager to communicate directly with the players and involve them in the meeting, increasing morale before crucial games. I love that players will come and have a private chat with you if they feel uncomfortable about something.

It feels real, y’know? Team talks allow for immediate feedback from your team as opposed to seeing the negative response in a 3-0 thrashing.

The main element I love so much about Football Manager is the importance of communication. It draws you in and makes you feel as if you really are the boss. Sure, there are a few niggling issues in terms of feedback from the players; these are still limited and can easily cause issues during meetings. Attempting to diffuse a situation can sometimes backfire, simply because you misinterpreted what the player was saying… but hey, this happens in real life too! The dialogue in general has been improved massively over last year’s. I’m sure that this aspect will remain a target for Sports Interactive to enhance again next year.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it seems that the alterations made by Sports Interactive to Football Manager this year were solely to create a deeper sense of realism. It’s as close as you’re gonna get to standing in the dugout. It’s an immersive experience that is both rewarding and welcoming to old and new players. FM12 encourages delving deeper into your tactics; the daunting prospect of such a huge game is made easier by the gentle learning curve provided by an in-depth tutorial, an excellent interface and a little help from your virtual Assistant Manager.

There are a few niggles here and there in FM12, particularly with the animation of the matches themselves, but it’s key to remember that these aren’t necessarily the most important parts of the game. Sure the players look like they’re skating on ice over the pitch. Who cares if the ball flew off in an entirely different direction? Overall, it’s a massive improvement from previous instalments, generally tighter and much more polished than 2011. Of course, it’s not to everyone’s taste, but football fans who wish to manage their favorite team will be in their element with this game.

Rating: 4/5