Football Manager 2013 Review (PC)
It’s 2am. The laundry’s piled sky high. The cat’s desperately meowing to be fed. And the girlfriend has—though this one I’m not totally sure since I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen to check—left me.
Yes, Football Manager 2013 is here, and it is as destructive to your life (sleeping patterns, especially) as ever.
Another year, another tidying of the menus. For a game as complex and multi-faceted as FM, the menus lay out a lot of information without, for the most part, feeling cluttered. With the use of tabs and shortcuts and a decent amount of common sense, you can usually get to where you want to go to access the information you want in less than three clicks. There are still the odd steps back—the new main scouting screen, for example, is more disorganized and less useful—but veterans of the game should have no problem getting up to speed (and appreciating) most of the interface changes.
While it's no FIFA 13 graphically, there does seem to be a concerted effort to ramp up the quality in Football Manager 2013’s 3D match engine. The first thing you’ll notice as you watch a match is that there is a lot more going on. On the sidelines, players warm up as photographers’ flash bulbs go off, and if you are managing a lower league team without much money for stadium maintenance, the wear and tear can be quite noticeable.
Players, meanwhile, look more dynamic, as opposed to the rigid running and starting motions of years before. In FM 12, a player with a full head of steam chasing a ball that’s rolling towards the touchline will often take the ball with him out of bounds, whereas in this year’s game, they have the wherewithal to stop the ball first before running out. There are plenty of other examples, and overall the players look smarter and more alert.
However, there are still a few minor bugs that need to eradicated. For example, free kicks flying into the corner of the net are a little too rare, as instead the ball travels in this looping motion that just seems to fool the keepers. There are also occasions where defenders will just totally switch off, allowing a much slower opponent to get to passes that he never should’ve gotten to.
Let’s get the yearly refrain out of the way for Football Manager 2013: It is deep, immersive, realistic, and addictive. There. With that out of the way, there are plenty of reasons why this year’s FM is deeper, more immersive, more realistic, and more addictive than the last.
From a big picture point of view, the "world" just seems more dynamic and realistic than ever before. Matters are a lot less clean cut, and instead they are more, shall we say, unpredictable. For example, players (at least those who have the requisite personality) are quicker to sulk and complain, but they are also quicker to return to happiness in FM 2013.
What it means is that it is no longer a certainty that stars will stay at a club for the majority of his career. In previous FMs, many times the only way to sign a marquee player from a big team is to either hope the team slides down the table, or continuously make offers in the hopes that he will get unsettled. In FM 2013 things are more dynamic. If the player of your dreams is being managed by an abrasive personality (take note, anybody who wants to buy players from Manchester City), there is a better chance that you can catch him unhappy at the right time (ie. during the transfer window) and snap yourself up a bargain.
Of course, there is a danger that the game may go overboard with this, and we end up seeing crazy transfers year after year with big names moving every which way. That isn’t the case. It is balanced well enough so that not every little thing leads to an overreaction, plus a lot of it is dependent on the player personality, so the more loyal ones will take a good share of abuse before thinking of leaving. As well, there is every chance that the players can play their way back to happiness if he gets enough first team appearances and if the team holds off his potential suitors’ advances long enough. That in itself is another massive improvement over the previous FMs, where it was usually all downhill after a player begins casting envious glances elsewhere.
Ultimately this new volatility adds more risk and reward to your transfer thinking. Should you pay over the odds now, for a player who wants out, and one who normally won’t play for your team? Or should you hold off and wait until his contract is closer to expiring, taking the team’s asking price down along with it, but risk the possibility that he’ll be happy again? The answer, alas, is not so clear cut.
This sense of predictable unpredictiability also extends to player progression. Veteran FMers used to know almost exactly when a player will stop growing. In old FMs, it was pretty much useless buying a 24 year-old player with high potential if he hasn’t reached it yet. It was like a brick wall—once the calendar rolls over and the player gets to the magic age, he stops progressing in any meaningful way no matter what. FM 2013 seems to have given players more wiggle room to improve, so that—given the right circumstances, like a steady dose of playing time—late bloomers are allowed to reach their potential even if they had been mismanaged in the past.
Other improvements include a better, more simplified (and more sensible) training module, where you don’t have to mess around with sliders all day long to make sure a player can improve in the right areas; as well as the inclusion of tone—first introduced last year to the team talks—in press conferences.
The game has also introduced new staff roles, most noticeably the Director of Football position. But hold your horses, those hoping for some delicious disagreements between the suits and yourself over things like transfer targets, as this really isn’t as significant a change as the title might indicate. Whereas in real life a Director of Football can have a significant say in deciding who to sign, in FM 2013, the DoF is just an excuse for you to delegate the dirty work you don’t want to do, such as negotiating transfer fees and contracts, to the computer AI.
Overall, it’s really hard to find fault with the gameplay mechanics of the game (though press conferences, even with a few new questions, are still a touch too mundane) and new improvements across the board make what was already a realistic and immersive managerial experience that much better.
Every time we do a Football Manager article around these parts, there are usually three or four comments below the line about wanting to get into the game, but being scared off by its complexities. This should all change, as Football Manager 2013 introduces a new mode—FM Classic. Reminiscent of the old Champion Manager games (FM's predecssor), it’s a stripped down version of the main mode, one where you just buy players, set your formations, and off you go. And just like the old CMs where you don’t have to deal with team talks, mind games, scouting assignments and all that, it’s entirely possible you can fly through a season in mere hours.
It’s a terrific idea from SI, especially as the main game itself gets more detailed, and—even with the new staff roles, which can theoretically take away many of your responsibilities—the more “casual” gamers may not want to invest that much time and effort into it. This way there is something for everyone. Casual gamers can enjoy the simplicity of FM Classic, while SI doesn’t need to sacrifice the details and realism in the regular manager mode.
In addition to the usual online multiplayer game, Football Manager 2013 has introduced a new mode, Versus, where players can set up one-off tournaments and cups, playing with teams from their respective career modes, for some quicker fun. As always, the game requires Steam to both activate and play online, so if you have any reservations about Steam, you should take that into account.
It’s always a tough task to do a review for Football Manager, for two particular reasons. One, to actually quit the game (“Just going to play an extra few hours to see if I've missed anything”) and write the damn thing requires monk-like discipline; and two, it’s a lot more difficult to distill what to leave in in the review. After all, FM’s mantra, save for when the 3D match engine was introduced, has always been evolution rather than revolution. Instead of a few sexy, new, “game-changing” features, the game gets a plethora subtle tweaks across the board, and your humble reviewer is tasked with figuring out which ones to highlight. I’d like to think I’ve judiciously avoided overusing the words “deeper” and “improved” in this review, but that’s exactly what this year’s game is compared to FM 2012: improved and deeper in many aspects.
So the bottom line is that while the game looks quite similar to Football Manager 12, there are many under-the-hood improvements that makes being a virtual football manager an even more immersive, and—here’s another word I’ve avoided using to death—addictive experience. A fantastic game all around.
Learning Curve: Steep, but very rewarding when you start to figure it out.
Visuals: Players behave more dynamically, but a few odd quirks remain
Audio: Crowd chants and on-pitch sound effects—nothing special, but does the job.
Lasting Appeal: Be prepared to enter a committed relationship when you fire this baby up.
Score. 9.5 (All Time Classic)