Most people have guilty pleasures, for some it will be reality TV, the others may be having a smoke on a night out, me, I am absolutely in love with the Football Manager series. I originally started playing the series way back in 2001 when the main developer team worked on Championship Manager. After a few years, Eidos and Sports Interactive split in 2005 and a new franchise was born, Football Manager. The developer team was headed up by a lot of the core people who worked on the Championship Manager series, and shortly after the birth of Football Manager, Championship Manager slowly disappeared from the scene.
For those who are not familiar with the franchise, the game is essentially a glorified spreadsheet, as are most simulator games. You take charge of a football club (read soccer club) and manage all aspects of it, from working on your team’s tactics, to contracts and wages of your players to political elements such as this year's Brexit campaign. The game is not to be confused with Fifa, where you actually control the players on the pitch yourself; you do not do that in Football Manager, you are the manager, you manage the players.
We have had a new release of Football Manager on a yearly basis and each year comes jampacked full of improvements and changes from the previous iteration. 2017 is no different. The first major improvement is a graphical one. The game has never been well known for the realistic graphics engine that we see in the likes of FIFA or NBA, heck, the game only got a 3D engine in 2009. Before then you used to play the matches out with 2D circles running around the pitch. How I managed to get so engrossed in these matches and jumping out my seat is beyond me...
The improvements this year add new lighting and shadow effects, to the very small details of the grass getting a more polished look. The players on the pitch also have 1500 new motion captured animations which make them move more fluidly. With that being said, some of the animations still look a little strange but there are definite improvements from previous installments. The addition of a new camera angle means you get to get up close and personal with all of the action on the field too.
A small change that people who don’t really follow football will notice, is the inclusion of the Magic Spray. Whenever there is a free kick, the referee will mark out where the ball needs to be placed, and where the defending wall can stand. It’s only a small change, but it adds to the realism to the game’s match engine.
Pre-match presentations are something that we see all the time at actual football games, whether it be players emerging from the tunnel, and line ups for national anthems or the pre-match handshake. We also get the inclusion of a the rule changes to football too, such as one player may kick the game off, rather than 2, an injured player can be treated on the pitch if the offending player was punished with a card, and last man red cards will now not automatically result in a red card.
These are the main in match changes that you’ll probably notice more than anything, but a whole host of other changes have taken place out side of the match screen, and on the “Inbox” screen. Match analysis is a key to any sucess story in Football Manager, and with the cooperation of STATS and Sports Interactive, you have more information at your finger tips than you’ll ever need.
The UI has also had a revamp to make layouts and menu options much more concise and compact, I think a lot of this has to do with the move to tablet devices but it is still clear and easy to navigate on PC. The game includes a handy system that will highlight all of the key changes to the UI for you compared to the last game in the series which is a welcome addition to any hardcore fans out there who don’t want a full tutorial experience.
The main thing about Football Manager that I love the most, is that the world you play in becomes your own little universe. You can take a minnow from the lowest league in your country and turn them into champions of the world. You can find a young teenager in a youth team, and nurture them into the next Lionel Messi, or Cristiano Ronaldo. Your game will keep evolving and changing, whether you play just for one season, or you are playing in your hundredth season, no game will ever be the same.
You can play Football Manager as either a completely hardcore nuthead and delve straight in at the deep end with thoughtful tactical processes, training regimes and scouting networks, or you can play a much more watered down version of the game, that aids newer players in learning the ropes a bit. This is ideal for people who can’t commit as much time to the game, but still want to get the experience out of it. This “watered down” version will allow players to complete a season in an evenings worth of time, whilst the full blown version will probably take upwards of ten hours to complete a season. I’ve actually been known to reach the end of a pre-season and managed to wrack up eight hours of playing time just because of the amount of detail you can go into. Meticulously planning your player transfers, budgeting each and everyone of your player’s contract renewals, it all takes up time, but the more time you put in, the bigger reward you’ll get at the end.
From reading the reviews on the Steam page, you will probably see that the game is “Mostly negative”; which completely and utterly astounds me. After playing for almost 24 hours now, I have only good things to say about this game. Yes you could very easily play the last version of the game and still have just as much fun, but this version of Football Manager is ten times better than the last, and is a fully immersive football management simulator game. I mean, the game is the third most popular game on Steam, beating the likes of Civ VI, Team Fortress 2 and GTA V. This is a behemoth of a game franchise and should be experienced by anyone who follows football in any manner. I started playing the game with only a fleeting interest in football, and now it is one of the most important aspects of my life. Football Manager is not only a game, it is a factor in so many people’s lives whether it be good or bad reasons. The bad mainly being the game has been cited in 35 divorce cases… I can wholeheartedly recommend Football Manager 2017 at full price for any football fan out there.