For the past few months, I’ve been trapped. Consumed by the always-addictive experience that Sports Interactive throw out every year. Again, we’re offered an experience that promises a true football managerial experience, with hundreds of new features added to the game.
I start, as I always do, with a club in the lowest division of English football that I can play. Last season I went with Salford, but this year I went with my favourite non-league club – Bath City. They’re a club with a rich history of non-league football, and although they spent a few years outside of the ‘big’ two non-league divisions, they generally can always be found in the Conference South. I like doing the lower league management, because it is a nice challenge. Taking a club from obscurity up to the big leagues is always fun, and it is still this year too. The best thing with this isn’t the accolades you get en route to the top, but seeing how players develop. With Bath City, I’ve got Jamie Lucas, a terrific young striker who I, for the first half of the season, completely forgot about. He came to me, knocked on my door and told me that he was a bit miffed with not starting and that I should give him a go. I was struggling to score at the time, so I figured why not give him a run out? It paid off majorly, and he gave me a return of nineteen goals in thirty three games at the end of the year. Watching him go from strength to strength was such a rewarding experience – but I did wish I had been starting him earlier!
One of the new features that came in this year was a revamp of scouting. The old system had you hire a scout, and send him off on a job for you. It was simple, but it did work fairly well. In my eyes, I didn’t think they’d ever really need to improve it, because it did what it needed to. This year, Football Manager gave me a nice surprise with their scouting feature. Every so often, you’ll get a report from your scouts which will show you updates on currently scouted targets, recommendations and the best thing for me as a non-league manager – players will come to you and request that you bring them in. Most of the time, it will be a youngster released from a higher division club, wanting a chance to play his way up the pyramid. Sometimes though, a veteran will pipe up and offer his services to you. This, when it happened to me for the first time, was surprisingly exciting. I normally stick to proven players that are still relatively young. Usually anywhere from 22-29, as I don’t really want some ex-Premier League superstar gobbling up my wage budget. However, I threw that out the window as soon as Darius Henderson came a-knocking. Scouted him a bit, then offered him a trial and found out his wage demands would be relatively small so signed him up. Now, my newly promoted City side had Premiership talent to score us a few goals to keep us in the division and impart some knowledge to my youngsters.
One feature that I’d never really considered – and even when it was announced I wasn’t sure about how it would work – is team dynamics. I figured it’d be a fringe feature at most, that I’d probably never really use, but I’ve been considering it more and more when I name my team. The team dynamics tell you a couple of nifty things. The first one is that it displays your team’s cohesion in a proper manner. On the pitch, you’ll get little lines that display the familiarity that two players have. Picking two players that have a lot of chemistry together can often be a winning decision. It even helps with off the pitch matters. In previous versions of Football Manager, if a player – any player – came to you and wanted more time on the pitch, not giving it to him could upset members of the team. It was a bit of a crapshoot really, you never knew who would do what. With the new feature though, you’re told if it’ll cause a big drama in the dressing room, or if you’re well within your rights to tell the 40 year old who hasn’t played for you in three years to sod off.
Adding features is all well and good, but breaking previous features that worked perfectly well is not. There are a few key features in Football Manager that I used to use quite a bit. The 2D match interface for one, was a staple of the series. Ever since the first in the series it has been present, showing an easy visual representation of what’s happening on the pitch. Unfortunately, Sports Interactive decided to remove it from this year’s game, with the idea that everyone should instead watch the 3D match engine. While I can definitely understand that idea – the 3D engine has come on leaps and bounds since it was first introduced – it should never have resulted in the retirement of a much loved feature. It shows a worrying trend as well. Instead of retaining their usual fan base, they’re appealing more to the newer generation of fans that may not use the 2D engine. If they keep removing tried and tested features from the game, it could lead to other features being removed as well.
Another good example of the developers attempting to appeal to a newer audience comes right at the start of the game – before you’ve even set your manager up. They’ve inserted a Chase & Status song to play right at the start, through the loading screens, and have some music playing while you play the game as well. With most changes, I can usually see the reasoning behind it, but this one is a little odd. I do like to play Football Manager while listening to music, but I like listening to my music. I don’t want to listen to a very short list of songs played repeatedly. I’ve heard the song that plays during the boot up of the game so much it now grates my nerves. Chase and Status are a great band, but I absolutely detest that song now. I hope that this feature has a very short lifespan.
Another change that I can see persisting – though I wish it wouldn’t – is the change to team talks. This is a very minor change, but it is surprisingly irritating. Previously, you could do individual and team-wide talks with a click of a button. This was nice and simple, and from a user experience point of view, spot on. Fewer clicks is always the way to go. Unfortunately, I can only assume Sports Interactive’s UX guy took a day off when they were planning this, because they’ve inexplicably added in additional clicks. You now have to bring up a separate menu to talk to people, which is irritating to say the least. The only thing I can think of that might explain it is that they’d prefer to load the drop down list of options on the click, rather than load everything when you enter the menu. This would enhance the performance of the game, but I’ve never noticed, in all the years that team talks were a thing, a slowdown in that menu.
The Final Word
Sports Interactive have often been criticised about Football Manager releasing every year. I’ve never been one to buy into that though, as, like Miles Jacobson says, there are a lot of new features added year on year, and FM18 is no different. The new additions this year are really incredible, and really enhance gameplay, more than any previous release I can remember. Some of the choices are a little bizarre, but I trust Sports Interactive will remedy them in the future. Whether they do or not though, the game is really magnificent this year and well worth a play.