Reviews// Football Manager 2015

Posted 13 Nov 2014 13:46 by
When I was a teenager I had a few small jobs, one of them was as the Manager of Blackburn Rovers. I held that job down for fifteen years, retiring with a trophy-laden cabinet and a grudge against an Icelandic winger who I nurtured from a youth into one of the best players in the world, only to see him leave on a free transfer to Chelsea.

If you?re one of the smarter SPOnG readers you?ll have guessed that I was never actually paid a salary by Rovers. But that didn?t matter to me, Football Manager (as it was known then) felt like real life, a real job, and the relationships felt real.

Since then I?ve become a lapsed Championship/Football Manager fan. I?ve dabbled in releases since, held back by low-powered PCs and put off by a game whose depth made it feel inaccessible for someone who now had a real job and real relationships. Approaching the latest release as a reviewer meant that I wouldn?t be put off, instead I?d plough through the data-heavy management sim to see if I really could enjoy it again.

Being a lapsed fan means that much of Football Manager 15 feels new to me. But according to the marketing the two biggest changes from last year?s iteration are the ability to choose your management style and proficiency, and the movement of the menu bar from the top to the left-hand side.

Your style of management is one of the first options to greet you as you begin your career. Are you a tracksuit or a tactical manager? The problem is that this choice, like other decisions in the game, lacks any real obvious effect. The real changes occur when all the micro-decisions come together. Maybe it becomes clearer once you?ve devoted a few hundred hours to the game but I don?t have that time to spare right now.

The sidebar is a more obvious change. Compared to other Football Managers I?ve played Football Manager 15 is the easiest to navigate, although some UI choices are strange. For instance, why do I need direct access to my under-18s team? It might be nice if you have the time to coach that team as well as the senior squad, but it having such a prominent position felt like a waste of space.

With so much to do Football Manager is still a game laden with tasks. Thankfully, some of this can be handed over to your army of coaches and if you like to take the Harry Redknapp approach to management it does thin the workload down a bit, but only a bit. Even if you opt to take on everything your assistant manager still helps you out at the start, suggesting what you should do next and tips on your team. Combined with some handy annotations on each screen Football Manager does a good job of easing in novices and lapsed fans.

Even if you do take a managerial back seat the amount of data on offer can still feel daunting. This has been simplified over the years and one of my favourite additions is a small indicator that tells you how suitable a player is in the position you?ve placed them in. Don?t think they?re up to it? A small arrow next to them displays other options, saving you from reading countless player bios.

Speaking of which, you don?t even need to load up full bio screens as another arrow brings up a small box containing their basic statistics. Navigation in general is much improved, making it possible to flip back and forth over multiple screens without feeling like you?re lost.

Once you?ve made your way out of the office it?s time to take your team to the pitch. What was once a text-only match commentary has evolved into a 3D representation of the match. It?s not pretty, but it?s a step up from what I was used to.

Despite these graphical changes I still felt relatively unimportant as a Manager. Changing tactics and shouting from the sidelines felt inconsequential to what was transpiring on the pitch. Since this is a frustration I?m sure real managers face every week it?s hard to count it as a negative, more a disappointment.

Of course, the real strength of the Football Manager series is its ability to turn spreadsheets into an all-consuming game. What Football Manager 15 does is remind us that you don?t need facial scanning and Hollywood casts to create bonds with virtual characters. For this review I took charge of third division Italian team Novara. Being based between Milan and Turin, my only experience of the real life Novara is passing through it by train. But, after only a few in-game months I felt like they were my team. I looked up their ground on Google Street View and noticed personalities in a team that I?d only experienced as a series of database entries.

It?s clear that the team behind Football Manager has nailed nearly every facet of football management and there is a reason that their database is now employed by real life coaches.

Part of me feels sorry for Sports Interactive. When Football Manager was known as Championship Manager our knowledge of the intricacies of football management was much less than it is today, and some didn?t even exist. Agents, part-ownership of players, commercial player rights, the list goes on. Football today is more complicated than it?s ever been and that?s evident in Football Manager. If you revel in this level of detail then you will be well served by Football Manager 15. If you prefer to consume football through the back pages of The Sun rather than Zonalmarking.net then Football Manager 15 might not be for you, but give it a try. It?s not as confusing as it looks and its rewards are as great as they ever were.

Pros:
+ The simplified interface
+ Despite the wealth of information it still manages to feel like more than a database
+ Unrivaled level of detail

Cons:
- The time it takes to progress between games
- It struggled on my MacBook Air although this may change with forthcoming patches

SPOnG Score: 8/10

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