Slow and steady wins the race. That’s the impression I get after spending a whole week with the Football Manager 2013 beta.
Of course, there’s no point playing it slow and steady if the series didn’t have a solid base to build upon — houses and foundations and all that — but that is the case with FM, as the series’ continues to improve year after year.
It's the same "evolution not revolution" mantra for 2013, as developers Sports Interactive continue to make subtle adjustments across the board, to what is already a very high quality game to begin with. At first glance, there are no earth shattering changes in 2013 that will immediately distinguish itself from the 2012 version. But after spending a little more time with the game, you may just start to notice, and more importantly appreciate, all the little things that have been improved, and like yours truly, finally be able to let go and press the uninstall button on FM 2012.
FM 2013’s menus and interface have undergone a fair bit of rejigging. The results are mostly positive. It’s sort of hard to precisely define how this shuffling of menu items help a gamer, but suffice to say that the new options and information presented in each specific screen are always relevant, and when you head into your third season you will appreciate just how many clicks the revamped screens have saved you.
The in-game interface has gone through a cleanup, too. The different widgets with various info (league scores, player ratings, formations) are still around and customizable. But this year there is also a new “match feed” feature that pops up to highlight the critical information, such as what your assistant thinks of your tactics, cards and injuries, and any changes in your team’s league position. Again, it doesn't seem like a significant addition, but when you have to pay attention to the match while keeping an eye on potentially six or seven different widgets, the match feed pop-up helps immensely in calling your attention to the most critical info.
With the caveat that this is just the beta version, and that I am only three seasons into the game, I will say that so far I really like the transfers in FM 2013. The transfer market seems to be more dynamic than in the previous versions. Players get unsettled and ask for transfers a little bit quicker and more often. And in cases where the transfer window slams shut and the moves don’t materialize; unlike in previous years, where most of those players would probably languish the reserves waiting their contracts out, in FM 2013 it is very common for them to play their way back to the team and be happy again. The practical effect is that you take a bigger risk when playing hardball with long-term transfer targets, as you can’t just bank on snapping somebody up at a lower price later on, fully confident that he’ll stay banished to the fringes. As always, this sort of thing requires a delicate balance, but as far as I can tell, SI has got this one nailed spot on.
Transfer deadlines, meanwhile, get a little dramatic touch of its own. There is now a counter counting down to zero hours and a screen showing the latest rumors and moves. If you make yourself available to the media, you will be bombarded by journalists looking for comments regarding the day’s activities. It doesn’t change much practically, but it does make you feel more immersed in the transfer deadline frenzy.
File me as one of those who never really warmed to the old FM’s training module. Sure, my players developed just fine, and there were plenty of good training schedules out there to be downloaded. But I always felt that the module was rather unnecessarily detailed, with just a lot of mindless slider tweaking. In FM 2013, player training has been simplified. Rather than trying to manipulate a player’s growth in specific areas by dragging those sliders around, if you want him to focus on specific attributes all you have to do is choose a playing role (for example, a deep lying playmaker) for him to develop into. The new module is a lot cleaner, makes sense, and most of all, it gets this boring but crucial element out of the way painlessly.
Good news and bad news.
Bad news first: The first few days playing FM 2013’s beta, I wasn't horribly impressed with the match engine. Simply put, it felt unbalanced and even sloppy at times, and certainly didn’t compare to the rest of the game’s high standards. Wingers can way-too-easily run roughshod over fullbacks, who seem to be eternally of two minds as to whether to play off their man or close him down. Worse, as the crosses make their way into the box, the central defenders are often slow to react (if they react at all), allowing attackers to nip in and pounce. Often, games descend into a Kevin Keegan score-one-more-than-the-opposition style.
But here's the good news: Most of these issues have already been patched up. Sports Interactive, bless their hearts, have already released several updates to the Beta preview version of the game, and as a result normal service is very close to being resumed. The match engine, as it stands, still have a few rough edges (every few games you may come across a dodgy looking goal), but by and large it's hard to find any big faults with it.
No earth shattering improvements, but with most areas getting a good bit of TLC, Football Manager 2013 looks to be on course to, once again, seduce away many hours of your valuable time and potentially drive a wedge between plenty of relationships.