The world’s most addictive football game returns, and this year it’s finally learnt a few new managerial tricks.
The problem for Football Manager is not just the general difficulty in justifying new sequels every year, but that it doesn’t have any competition. PES may be a minnow compared to FIFA in terms of sales, but it clearly does keep EA on its toes when it comes to features and general gameplay. But Football Manager has long since seen off any serious competitors, and not coincidentally has languished for the last several years in a stupor of acceptable competency. But this year’s game proves it’s not entirely given up on the idea of innovation.
Last year’s Football Manager 2017 was particularly unmemorable, as all it really did was update the stats and rosters and call itself a sequel. It barely felt like one though, and to be honest the entire franchise hasn’t really seen any major innovation since the 2013 iteration. There were the attempts to make the simplified Classic editions a thing, but in terms of the core original game you won’t have missed much if you skipped the last several entries.
If that’s what you’ve been doing though, 2018 is a good point to jump back in and see what’s changed. At first you’ll think that not a lot has, but then Football Manager has never been about the visuals. Instead, the biggest new change this year is something called Dynamics, which is designed to make the human aspects of the game more realistic and relevant to what happens on the pitch.
The clear goal of this year’s game is to make the fantasy of being a football manager something more than just a robotic accountancy job, and closer to the real-life madness of managing a team of highly volatile young athletes. To that end, Dynamics is about building and maintaining a personal relationship with each player – to keep up morale and improve performance.
A second’s thought about how all this works in the real world shows just how hard this is, as you constantly make promises you can’t keep about who will be played, transferred, and loaned. Players naturally band together into different social groups depending on age, nationality, and time in the team. And while you’d naturally treat star players with kid gloves you also have to be careful with lesser players that have the ear of the rest of the team.
When someone does feel let down you can bet it won’t be long till the papers find out, and the demoralising effect is suddenly magnified. The amount of detail the game goes into about each player is impressive, with almost every possible situation simulated – including having players (computer-generated ones, not real ones) come out as gay, which if handled well can give a boost to the team and your bank balance.
Football Manager is forward-thinking in every sense, with its simulation of social media worryingly realistic in terms of the speed, and unfairness, with which it can upset your carefully considered plans.
In terms of the rest of the game, the tactics screen has had the biggest visual redesign, but it’s the scouting system that’s changed the most. The recommendations from scouts are now much more straightforward and precise, while giving instructions and receiving orders is handled a lot more simply. Scouting has its own separate budget now though, so these improvements do come at a cost.
These changes may not seem significant to an outside observer but the whole of this year’s update is based around making information clearer and less ambiguous, sometimes merely in terms of the interface but also when it comes to the data itself.
That’s most obvious in the new medical centre, where sports scientists explain exactly why your players are getting injured and how to avoid it. Although the injuries themselves do still seem to happen more often than in real life.
The 3D match engine has also had a revamp, but it’s still stuck a decade or two behind current standards. That doesn’t matter of course, since nobody plays Football Manager for the graphics, and in any case the new tactics system that gives hints of what’s going wrong is a much more useful visual aid.
If there’s a major problem with Football Manager 2018 it’s that sometimes it seems intent on providing just too much information. But since trying to make the game more accessible has led to the most inessential sequels of recent years this more ambitious entry can’t have it both ways.
It’s an appropriately difficult balancing act, reminiscent of decisions you have to make in the game itself, but whoever has the role of Football Manager manager at developer Sports Interactive has made some wise decisions this year.
Football Manager 2018
In Short: The best new Football Manager in several years, and although the improvements are still minor they create a more nuanced and realistic experience than ever before.
Pros: The Dynamics system works well and everything seems more realistic, from scouting to the use of social media. Emphasis on explanation rather than just unfiltered information.
Cons: The interface can often overwhelm with unnecessary information, making it less accessible for new players. 3D engine is still very primitive and injuries too frequent.
Developer: Sports Interactive
Release Date: 9th November 2017
Age Rating: 3