Football Manager 2009 Review (PC)
The Pittsburgh Steelers recently captured an unprecedented sixth Super Bowl title and became the most successful franchise in gridiron history. But with the NFL season now coming to a close, perhaps it is appropriate that today I will be talking about a successful football franchise of a different sort: Football Manager.
Coming to us via England and developer Sports Interactive is Football Manager 2009, or as it is known here in North America, World Soccer Manager 2009.
For the uninitiated, the point of the game is in the name. It is a football/soccer management simulation. So you do not control the action on the pitch, but you sure can manage everything else. There is scouting, training, tactics, player transfers and staff sackings, and you can oversee it all -- everything except regulating the price of hot dogs, or should that be prawn sandwiches? Anyway, let us get on it with it, shall we?
Now This Is Change You Can Believe In
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of FM 09 is the addition of a 3-D match engine. Now this may not be a big deal to some since 3-D has been a staple of past management games such as LMA Manager and FIFA Manager, but the biggest difference is the presence of the excellent FM match engine.
The maturation of this engine is really felt and seen in '09. It is remarkable that even with all those computer processes determining what happens, the action never seems scripted, and you will often see something unexpected occur.
That being said, the graphical quality of the 3-D engine is obviously nowhere close to the level of FIFA or PES, but there are still some nice graphical elements included. For example, the pitch itself can take altered forms depending on its condition or the weather. However, the most distracting graphical elements in the game are the non-descript, blocky, ugly stadium backdrops.
Still, the good outweighs the bad. Plus, from a tactician’s perspective, the inclusion of 3-D really helps because it is now easier to spot areas of weakness, including players who are clearly dogging it out on the pitch. The move to 3-D even allows users to actually factor in a player’s height during a match, instead of just relying on a player's heading or jumping attribute. In fact, the only things different about players on the pitch are their skin color, hair color, weight and height.
The animations are also a mixed bag. For example, after a goal, a player who is supposedly sliding on the turf in celebration is really just awkwardly stuttering forward. This used to work in 2-D because you really just imagined it, but now it does not fly.
But for the most, the animations are surprisingly good, mostly because there are a variety of little things that add up. Sure, the players do not exactly dribble, pass or run very naturally, but it is nice to see how the keeper throws his face into the palms of his hands after his team gives up a goal, the nonchalant back-heel flicks, players laying out for headers, or the audacious bicycle kick attempts. It is all extremely immersive, and for fans of the series, the best part is that all of those plays, which were previously only described in commentary or performed by 2-D circles, are now given new life in 3-D.
Altogether, the match presentation has also improved because now there are seven ways to view a match -- two 2-D options and five 3-D viewing options, all of which are unique and usable.
Along with those options is the inclusion of what is dubbed the TV View. This viewing mode functions like a full-screen mode as it clears away the sidebars so you can focus primarily on what is occurring on the pitch. And if you need any further information while viewing a match in this mode, you can choose to pull up a nice number of widget-like windows that list different details, such as the match stats or the player ratings.
There is also a new way to watch highlights as the game now also progresses along a time bar that runs along the bottom half of the screen. So if you want to pull up an earlier goal or scoring chance, you can scrub along on that bar and immediately jump to that point in the match.
Overall, the new 3-D engine is a great evolution for the series. Sure, there are some things to iron out, but even the 2-D engine looked wonky at first. So when you consider that this is only its first year of implementation, and it already plays this well, the potential of the 3-D engine is extremely high.
And sure, the new 3-D match engine probably goes a long way towards enticing new players to come aboard the FM train, but SI has also put a ton of measures in place to make sure those potential newbies do not get lost in the figurative weeds.
More Helpful and More Interactive
In terms of helping players, first and foremost is the increased presence and role of the assistant manager. Adding to the bevy of other roles he undertook in previous versions, such as picking and managing friendly matches or selecting a starting 11 if asked, this year your assistant manager also gives you indispensable advice and feedback during the course of a match. So for those players who are not tactically inclined, this is a great way to figure out what currently ails your club.
The assistant manager is not the only staff member that helps you along the way; the scouts have been retooled to be more helpful as well. In previous games, you would have to set their schedules and their destinations if you wanted to scout any players. However, now your scouts can travel and scout freely without needing your constant meddling. I felt this feature was especially great because it gave the scouts a realistic role while also leading to less hands-on micromanaging, which is always a good thing in my books.
And when it comes to training, you can also ask the computer to set up a training program for your players -- so even that is taken care of for you if you want it to be
But besides your staff, there are also other tools to help new players become more acquainted with the game. For instance, there is a litany of screen pop-ups, enabled by default, that explain the various screens, functions and terms used within the game. Sure, it probably would not be of much help to veterans, but it could be invaluable to rookies.
When taken together, it all means that FM 09 is definitely the ideal game for newcomers to play. It all may seem intimidating to those new to the sport or the genre, but these tools will help you get over that hump.
Perhaps most importantly, all these new features are not mandatory or even necessary. For veterans of the series who wish to handle all the responsibilities of running the club, they are still able to do so without reservation. And truthfully, the game remains as sophisticated as ever.
Besides the 3-D engine and the helpful new features, another enhancement to FM 09 is the increased role of the media and your managerial interactions with them. These mostly come in the form of new pre and postgame press conferences, and like some of the other new features of FM 09, this one is sort of a mixed bag as well.
The standard procedure during these press conferences is that you will be asked a variety of questions. For example, you may be asked to respond to a player’s demands of playing more first-team matches. Accordingly, you will have a choice of five corresponding answers that range from you fully agreeing with the player on one spectrum, to voicing full disagreement with him on the other end. Usually the middle choice represents a "no comment" on the issue. You can also provide your own written answer to the question, which does feel good to use if you ever want to go off on a profanity-laced tirade.
But honestly, the feature as it is now, does not really come together too well and it all feels a bit shallow. You see, all too often you will be asked the same sort of questions from match to match, and it all becomes extremely repetitive. Also, some of the questions are worded awkwardly, and sometimes the possible responses do not exactly vibe with the question asked. So in the end, you may get some unintended consequences before you learn the "right" answer to the question.
Regardless all of the new stuff, the best part of enjoying FM is knowing what goodies to expect.
Same Old Good Stuff
As always, the overall database is among the most impressive features of FM. There are dozens of leagues, 5,000 playable clubs and 350,000 players and staff in the database. When you consider that every included country, continent and league comes complete with realistic rules, tournaments, cups, and so forth, you will find that the overall depth of FM 09 is unmatched.
Personally, I love it because FM does not offer you a direct route or end goal. You have to make your own adventures and choices and see where that ultimately takes you. So if you are content creating a super squad with a Chelsea, AC Milan, Real Madrid or Manchester United, that is fine. Others may enjoy lower league managing, which involves taking the minnows of the world and bringing them to prominence and glory.
And this is where the real addictive part of Football Manager comes into play. Sure you may take some time to find that right club -- you may hop from place to place in the process -- but once you do find that right squad and everything clicks, there are not many other games that can compete with the FM experience. The emotional link that occurs between you and that club may well make you a fan of that club in real life.
But all that depth and gameplay would go to waste if there was not an easy way to navigate through the game. After all, a bad navigation setup can destroy what would otherwise be a great gaming experience. Thankfully, this is another area where FM excels.
FM owns the most intuitive and user-friendly UI in the genre, and it should serve as an inspiration for other text-sims. Truthfully, it may be a bit intimidating at first -- it definitely was for me when I first started -- but once you learn where everything is located, FM is a breeze to navigate.
Another returning element that has undergone some revision is the transfer system. All in all, it is largely improved, but occasionally you will see the computer managers make some dumb moves and significantly overpay for mediocre talent. But perhaps that is more realistic than I think.
Also, it may be a bit too easy to dump off average talent to rich clubs like Manchester City. Overall though, the transfer system has improved because for every dumb transfer, you will also see teams intelligently spend their cash on good talent and address their deficiencies.
Also making a return this year are the generated players that develop during long-term games. This is also one aspect of FM that has been improved this year. Not only are you now able to find some really good talent, but now, for the most part, their attributes make sense for the position they play.
Some may say that the "newgens" a bit too overpowered now, but the truly great players and "wonderkids" are still rare. In general, there are just more future Premier League level players available, which solves a problem from previous games. Personally, I would rather SI err on the side of players being a little too good, rather than how it was in previous games, where you would have a future world filled with players lacking talent.
So those are just some of the familiar FM elements making a return. What else makes this game better than FM 07 or FM 08? Well, there is still quite a lot.
What Else Is New?
Many of the remaining new things may not be huge modes or features on their own, but together they all add up to generate a collective breath of fresh air.
For example, the way player ratings are tabulated has changed because of the inclusion of decimals. So instead of players being awarded straight sevens or eights, you will now see 6.7s or 9.3s instead. In my opinion, this is a vital change that ends the inflation of ratings in past games, and it allows for a nice gap between average, good and great performances.
A small, yet important change is the ability to direct players to learn preferred moves or stop using the moves they currently possess. Not only does this new feature give you more freedom as a manager, but it also solves a problem in the past where many freshly generated players lacked any moves or simply knew moves incompatible with their position.
Other small additions include the ability to play as a female manager, the addition of a new stat that details the amount of distance a player has run over the course of a game, stadium expansion now occurring during the offseason, and widescreen monitors now being fully supported.
Of course, there are bound to be some negatives in FM 09 as well.
And Now the Bad
Throughout this review I have already spotlighted some areas and features that have been average to mediocre, such as the 3-D engine's graphical quality and the new managerial press conferences, but there are still other areas where FM does not achieve total greatness.
To start, FM is not for everyone. I wish it were, but truthfully it is not and there are probably some gamers who feel that FM probably comes across as a slightly gussied up version of Excel, while others may simply prefer a game where one has total control of the action.
And every year without fail, there will be many people grumbling over some aspect of the database. Some may be upset over the underrating/overrating of various players, or it could be the financial situation of a particular club. The point is, as large as the database is, it will not satisfy everyone.
Also, those expecting a game with a large soundtrack and tons of officially licensed music will come away disappointed. Aside from your probable screams when you lose a crucial penalty shootout, the sound in FM is pretty limited, and it is pretty much an afterthought. So if you want some sound or music, you will just have to supply your own on the side.
Perhaps the most negative aspect of FM 09 that I experienced was its overall performance. The action can really bog down from time to time. This can occur during games when the action becomes a stuttery mess, or it can occur when you are progressing from day to day, as sometimes it can take a long time to simulate everything.
Although this aspect of the game has definitely improved over previous versions -- especially when saving your games -- it can still be an annoyance. Quite frankly, FM is and will probably always be a system-resource hog, thus this is really one game where it pays to have a ton of RAM at your disposal. Accordingly, these problems will pop up, but their overall severity will vary depending on your own computer specs.
This is the version to play if you are hoping to get into this genre or series. Beyond that, any football/soccer fans, fans of other sports or non-sports gamers interested in a great gaming experience, please at least try the demo. As for the FM series/text-sim genre vets, I believe that there have been more than enough positive improvements made to the game this year, and I heartily recommend FM 09 to you all as well.
So in the end, while Football Manager 09 may not be perfect, the quality of this game will ensure that the FM/WSM series will remain the undisputed king of the text-sim genre -- at least until next year when it is once again time to crown a new champion. But just as the Pittsburgh Steelers recently proved, classy, talented and dedicated franchises usually rise to the top of that mountain.
On The Pitch: The foundation remains strong and the new features add to the greatness.
Graphics: The move to 3-D is great and the animations/graphics suffice, but there is significant room for improvement.
Sound: In-game sounds are almost non-existent and non-essential. Probably better to provide your own music while playing.
Entertainment Value: Outstanding amount of depth and almost infinite replay value. Great bang for your buck.
Learning Curve: Could be overwhelming for newcomers, but there are many tools and options to help ease any initial difficulties.
Score: 9.0 (Exceptional)