Football Manager 2014 (PC) Review
Sports Interactive, the team behind Football Manager, changed the lives of a generation of gamers back in the 90s. Many a childhood was lost to their original franchise, Championship Manager. It no doubt caused a few marriage "issues" too and while it wasn’t the first football management sim around it was a class above anything available at the time (though Premier League Manager did offer a different and decent experience). It was possible to lose hours, if not significant chunks of the day taking lowly team to the top of the league structure and as Sports Interactive developed the franchise, then moved on to the Football Manager brand in 2004. That first Football Manager title was one of the fastest selling games of all time and brought a new interface, game engine and more in depth out of match experience.
One of the biggest developments in Football Manager land happened in 2008 when "Live" was released, bringing mass multiplayer action to the game. It was without doubt a complex and massive undertaking but overall the game experience was a good one, even if it did have a less than ideal final few months of life.
So the past few years have been filled with evolutions of the main game, all bringing the latest seasons updated teams/leagues and many offering a range of tweaks and enhancements. Before we go into this years changes, it is worth going over the key game modes for those who may not have played Football Manger before.
As with previous versions Football Manager 2014 splits the gameplay into three distinct modes. Starting us off is the main "Football Manager" mode which is the full game experience. In here Sports Interactive give us control of our career/team to minute detail. Football Manager Classic is the next main game mode. In Classic mode we almost take a step back in time to when management sims were simpler, although here Sports Interactive have had the opportunity to take all the key points of the main mode and pick what makes a good, streamlined game. Then we have Challenge Mode. In Challenge mode we are set a key objective and play through a shorter game. Join a team halfway through a season and save them from a relegation battle, work through an injury crisis without getting fired, complete a season unbeaten or win silverware with a team of quality young players.
So what’s new this year? The overall interface has received a bit of a facelift with the match engine getting a more in depth tweak to player animations and overall appearance. Elsewhere we have more control over our tactics down at the individual player level but many of the main changes are in the day to day running of the club. Significant enhancements have been made to our interaction with key staff (as well as media) and to help manage these changes our inbox has been overhauled. In fact the Inbox is critical to our game with the various game areas branching off from this. We could for example receive feedback from our assistant manager which sends us off into the tactics/training screens… or run a press conference which sends us off into the Q+A session. Other times we get a transfer offer which then sends us off into that interaction. Speaking of transfers they are now more in depth and we are able to tweak and tune them to our hearts content inserting all sorts of clauses, just like real life.
Additionally, expanding our further SI have added Linux support to 2014 and cloud-save technology lets us play our career from any computer. FM14 also adds Steam Workshop support which allows us to create and share content such as competitions and challenges using the new Challenge Editor.
That "just like real life" aspect to Football Manager is what makes it so impressive. There is no doubt the game is a massive technical achievement with 50+ playable nations and 100+ leagues with all the players and stats to go along with them. It might seem like a stat fest and a little bland on top but under the hood the game pushes our system hard so a decent CPU is recommended for those who want to add the maximum amount of depth to their game world. Thankfully we can limit the "stats" to assist, while not changing the core experience (for example just running with English leagues in detail) and that helps make the game accessible to all. Then it’s down to us to make of the game what we want… we can go for that full "just like real life" type of experience where we tweak every aspect of every player and handle all the club business, taking an hour or more between matches or we can begin to delegate tasks to our AI assistant manager, scouts and the like. Or we can take on the classic mode with streamlined games which make it easier to dip in and out of Football Manager as time permits.
Football Manager 2014 very much builds on the foundations of previous versions. There is no massive game changer here, instead the game takes that solid (and impressive) base from last year and tweaks the overall process to offer more depth and a smoother gameplay experience. As with many other yearly refreshes (such as FIFA, F1, etc.) those who have the last version might not necessarily get the maximum value from this edition but anyone on 2012 or earlier will see significant advances. Football Manager addicts of course should jump right in as this takes the most advanced, most in depth management sim that little bit closer to perfection.