Once again, the time of the year comes when the regular armchair football fan who knows they can do better than their current team’s boss is doing gets the chance to do just that…
Developer: Sports Interactive
Platform: PlayStation Portable, Windows PC, Mac OS X, iOS, Android
Release date: 21st October, 2011
The key point to make when beginning this review is probably the most important; if you’ve played any of the Football Manger series then reading this will be pointless. The reason for this is that you even the few minutes to scroll through these lines of text will only act to increase your desire to get back to your current season.
It’s really that simple. Football Manager is a gaming equivalent of any other form of addiction, and 2012 is just the latest in an ever increasing line of life sapping sports simulation. To put it stereotypically, this game is a marriage. You enjoy every second, but in dark times you can’t get away from it. You hate it just as much as you love it. The game will never attempt to release you from its grasp, and even if you feel you can somehow pull away you quite frankly won’t want to. Once a few minutes have passed from inputting your profile after starting your first season, you’ll look at your watch and realise you’ve missed out on everything else you planned to do that day.
The union of harmony starts with the familiar title screen, giving its new victim/lover/user the option to start a new game or continue where they last left off. Preferences are as always fully customisable for the player to tinker to their heart’s content with their individual system. Decide to include the previously added 3D match engine or go classic with 2D bird’s eye view mode. Change currency values, viewing options for menus and even language if you want the ultimate real life experience for a foreign league (warning: Not for anyone who doesn’t actually speak the respective language). Then the game can begin.
Okay, you should understand I’m a bit jittery since while writing this the game is calling me, but alas I must continue. The new game tutorial can guide all new players through the expansive options available to them, from leagues around the globe, to customising specific regions to draw extra talent. Think Spain should have even more wonder kids than they already have? Load more up. Think England’s Premier League is the only one worth playing? Ignore everything else then. Whatever way you choose, one of the new features of 2012 is that after you’ve begun your never ending journey to managerial immortality, the option to add any league you want at the end of each current season is within the touch of a button. It’s a fantastic new way to keep you in a single game without having to re-load for a different path. If you feel you can’t hack it in a certain country and want a change then this is definitely for you.
The main selling point in any Football Manager game has never been the thousands of players, the complexity of planning every single move, or the ability to go wild with virtual money that everyone average person secretly thinks out. Oh no, for the purist who sees what 2012 is really about, the key word is frustration. Yes, you read it right, frustration.
The realistic nature of football management is that no matter how much you plan, you long you spend going over every single detail before kick off, you can still lose. This single fact is the reason so many (like me) love this game. It makes you angry beyond belief when your assembled team of superstars get held by a lowly underdog worth less combined than your goalkeeper. If you could just waltz past all opposition after a few weeks of training with new signings people wouldn’t keep playing would they? Even with the much improved match preparation options, expanded team talks with tone of voice for controlling the different members of your squad, you ultimately end up at the mercy of the game system (or the wife as I call her) who defines your fate with a flash of coloured text. She can either make you fall off your chair in delight as your hard work is temporarily rewarded, or leave you cursing that one of the hundreds of decisions you made beforehand may have been incorrect.
Despite the constant influence the evil temptress can have on your work, this should not be viewed by any reader thinking of wanting to become the managerial elite. The rewards of a virtual lifetime of mental torture can start with a polite word from players after good performances, and then become encouragement on certain decisions from your coaching staff, all the way through monthly manager awards and seasonal trophies, culminating with the possibility of getting your name added to the all time hall of fame.
Going back to the man management system, the use of conversation has greatly improved in 2012 from its predecessors. Every talk you have with a player can take different routes with the approach you adopt. Be aggressive to a strong minded player and he may respect you more, but do it to a more reserved squad member and all confidence could evaporate instantly. The art of finesse in player treatment has been brought to a whole new level. Previously, morale could just be left alone as long as you kept getting results, but now, if a player’s form starts to suffer at any point, it’s up to you alone to choose whether you put an arm round them, or just tell them to suck it up and do their £100,000 a week job like they should be doing. The again, if you’re a top club with deep pockets, you could just cut your losses and pull out the cheque book.
The notion of money brings us nicely to another new feature, the lock-in option in the now agent-reliant transfer system. Before, you were a slave to haggling from the implemented agent system when negotiating new contracts for new signings and existing members of your playing staff, with only the hope of chipping away at the many aspects of wages, bonuses and clauses. Now, a tiny lock button appears next to each box on the contract screen, so if you feel Mr Rooney has asked for too big a goal bonus, choose your amount and lock it in, so as to force his agent at looking into other financial avenues. As always though with transfers, be mindful; one wrong move and a priceless gem could be lost, only to be found again by your team’s local rival who then beat you with the help of your failed purchase. Cruelty has a habit of popping up in Football Manager 2012, so be prepared for repercussions on any decision you make.
There are of course downsides to every love story. Players at 15 often stay the same height all the way through their careers, defying the apparent laws of biological growth in human beings. Regen players are also still being created with amazing potential but completely irrelevant stats (I currently have a youth striker being re-trained into a centre back because his marking and tackling skills were both 15 while his finishing was 6 when he was created!) which, although a challenge, doesn’t really seem indicative of the way young people play the game. However, these are all very minor glitches that in no way reduce the appeal of FM 2012.
All in all, this marriage is still as strong as ever with a combination of smoother menus, the usual dose of new features and options, and not forgetting surprisingly faster load times than previous games, getting you straight into the thick of it even quicker than ever before. Throw in the periodic updates that have removed initial bugs with added transfer updates (Cisse and Jelavic will cheer their new teams up) and a winner is once again in full production. Also, as if anyone actually wanted a break anyway, you can now make the marriage more mobile, with Android and IOS getting in on the romantic action for all your travelling pleasure.
In closing, a must buy. Now, how to get my beloved Portsmouth back to the big time?
9.5 – Excellent. Fun, enjoyable, engaging, and memorable but is missing that little something that will make it exceptionable. People will fondly talk about this for generations to come.