Football Manager has established itself as the definitive football management game, with an existence spanning decades in various forms. With each new game, features are added to enhance the playing experience, with the aim of making Football Manager feel less like a playing experience, and more like an extension of real life.
Nothing will presumably ever be able to simulate that feeling of standing on a touchline and shouting at a lazy winger but each new version of Football Manager brings us closer to that end. FM18 has followed a general trend of the series by surpassing its predecessors.
The tactical flexibility is the starkest difference between FM18 and earlier versions, with rich customisation available for player roles and a vastly increased range of options for affecting (or at least attempting to affect) events during a match. Such is Football Manager’s influence that new terms will likely enter the popular lexicon of football. Television audiences were certainly left baffled by Sky Sports’ adoption of Football Manager attributes as a straightforward comparison between players, an oversimplification of the game’s data. Yet Football Manager will cause casual fans to consider tactical roles with more nuance; is that player best at operating as a mezzala or a carrilero? Maybe that is a discussion that we will be seeing Gary Neville have in the near future with someone who isn’t Jamie Carragher.
As you might expect, the game has evolved visually to new heights. On Football Manager 18 there is a dazzling array of things to click on any given page, while the match engine itself looks sharper and more evocative of real football than ever before. The classic text commentary, replete with flashing colours to accompany goals, has proven timeless, a simple combination of alternating colours that can inspire all sorts of emotions. The 2D engine, first introduced on Championship Manager 2004 (the penultimate version of the game before the Football Manager moniker took hold), has become another iconic feature of football gaming, with managers now able to point and shout at dots on the screen and able to visualise screamers curling into the back of the net.
That visualisation is a whole lot easier with the 3D match engine. Teething problems beset its debut, but FM18 features the most finely-tuned match engine yet. Players move less awkwardly and generally behave like actual human footballers, plus the quality of the graphics has improved so you can appreciate shots going out for a throw-in in high detail. People often wonder how games that are released annually can continue to improve. With the off-field events in rich detail to the extent that on FM18 players form social groups and hierarchies, it would be reasonable to expect that the biggest leaps forward over the next few years will be on the realism of the match engine.
The same conundrum is applicable to another long-running football game, the FIFA series. The newest game is ostensibly the same as ever, as the wheel does not need reinventing. Although the series recently underwent a large overhaul of the match engine, the strengths and weaknesses of the franchise largely endure. This does not make FIFA any less gratifying or impressive, but it does make you wonder what FIFA 20 or FIFA 25 will look like if we are lucky enough to receive these games. FIFA is the dominant series in which gamers control the players, although PES is a worthy competitor. However, Football Manager has a near-monopoly on football management games on a serious level, although there are a range of cheaper alternatives in app form such as Online Soccer Manager and Club Soccer Director. Other football games range from themed slots, such as Champions Cup, which has a penalty shootout minigame, to the vehicular-based game Rocket League, a worldwide success in the world of eSports.
The Football Manager series has been confronted with something of a Catch-22 situation after the release of the most recent iterations. Players are always striving for a heightened level of realism to immerse themselves into the game, which leads to the developers introducing an array of features that would have previously seemed unfathomable. More features mean that there is more content to navigate, and this breeds a nostalgia for the halcyon days of the earlier games, in which you could play through a whole season in a few hours. Of course, the streamlined nature of the earlier games meant that a multitude of circumstances were out of the manager’s control, which is not befitting a management simulation. This leads to cries for more realism, and so the cycle continues.
The creators of Football Manager recognize this, and the new games offer options to those seeking a game that feels like an older incarnation but with updated squads. The Classic mode, first introduced on Football Manager 2013, gives players the choice to eschew the increasingly complex detail of the full game. However, it is better to have all that detail and ignore it then to crave it and not be able to access it. Even in the full game, players can delegate responsibilities to staffand streamline their inbox. The Football Manager experience is now fully defined by what kind of manager you are, and it will be intriguing to see what compelling new features are added to future games.
Also read: Planning for the World Cup on FM18