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OS Scores Explained Football Manager 2014 Overview (PC)
Pros
Dynamic game world; Better graphics; Incredible bang for your buck
Cons
Occasional AI transfer market issues; Match engine needs more work
Bottom Line
Just buy it already.
9
out of 10
Football Manager 2014 REVIEW

Football Manager 2014 Review (PC)

 
Simplified? 

Is that really a word that gets used in a Football Manager review? After all, the franchise is one of the most sophisticated simulation (or for those who are still hanging onto the outdated view, “glorified spreadsheet”) games available. Initially, however, the answer appears to be yes for FM 2014

OK, now that that cheap hook is out of the way and has (hopefully) lured you in, this is the next part: It only feels simplified, mostly in terms of layouts and interfaces. Perhaps a better word might be optimized, because deep down, Football Manager 2014 has plenty more moving parts than before. So worry not, as the experience of stepping into a soccer manager’s shoes is actually the richest one yet.

Presentation

It bears repeating every year — the fact that FM can somehow incorporate giant amounts of data into a series of digestible screens (and still run smoothly to boot) is a wonderful achievement in itself. So a lot of this really isn’t about how great it looks, but rather how functional everything is, and Football Manager 2014 succeeds in this regard.

This year, there are more stats and numbers and concepts to occupy your time, and yet it doesn’t feel any more overwhelming than the past. Sure, you’ll still need to ease your way into the game, even if you’re a veteran, since some things were moved around, but the learning curve is definitely disproportional—it’s less—to the amount of new features. 

There is also a plethora of small additions that help speed things up. For example, making changes to your scouts’ assignments used to require a good amount of back and forth navigating (especially if you’re at a big club with large staff), this year it's simplified onto one screen. As well, whenever your assistant manager pops up during a match to give you advice, you can apply his suggestions directly with a click of a button without ever needing to leave the match screen. There are plenty more improvements like these that prevent things from getting too cumbersome to navigate, and if you step back for a moment to consider just how much information there is in the game, you’ll wonder just how much of a feat it is to keep everything manageable.

In terms of nuts and bolts graphics, there has been some work done to the 3D match engine.The lighting and match atmosphere certainly looks much better and helps immerse armchair managers into the game -- it’s not a stretch to picture yourself plodding down the touchline on a Champions League game night as the floodlight fills the stadium. Player animation has also received some work, as the little guys now move more naturally than in years’ past. That said, there are still numerous moments when they exhibit some head scratching behavior. For a game that’s built on realism, moments like these can break the spell.

Gameplay

So what’s new, exactly? SI claims they’ve made more than 1000 improvements inFM 2014. I didn’t keep track, but yes, it does feel that many aspects of the game are more fleshed out than before. (For those who who are new to the series, please trust me when I say that the base FM 2014 is built on-- the core mechanics-- is as solid as it comes, so I can focus on the new features from here on.)

For starters, the squads and rules are up to date. Normally this wouldn’t have earned space in a review, but this year, there’s the little thing called the UEFA financial fair play rules that come into effect. If you’re managing European teams that have to comply with this quasi salary cap, it really adds a nice wrinkle to the transfer market in that the big clubs just can’t snatch up everybody anymore. Also, new clauses, like the ability to immediately loan a player back after selling him (like what Crystal Palace did with Wilfried Zaha) give managers more options, especially when playing with smaller clubs.

Overall, the biggest improvement is in the dynamics of the game world — it feels more alive than ever. AI managers go through their days the same way you do, and there’s never a moment when it feels like you are the only person who is proactively making things happen. There are increased amounts of interactions available in this year’s game, many of which are contextual — from going back and forth with an opposing manager in the media, to trying to hold the board ransom, then the option of leaking it to the press if it fails, to interviewing for a new job when you inevitably get fired. As a manager you have many more tools at your disposal to get what you want (or at least try), and the result is that almost everything feels earned.

And then we come to the new tactical system. Yes, I struggled to get used to it initially. And yes, I’ve gotten over it. To recap, the myriads of sliders that were used to create an FM tactic, from things like playing mentality to team width and tempo, are gone in this year’s game. In its place are player roles (which were already in existence since FM 2012, and are basically a preset of sliders) complimented by text-based instructions, like “sit narrower”, “drop deeper.” or “more risky passes.” 

This is where the game felt the most “simplified,” or perhaps vague, compared to last year’s. But here’s the thing: I’ve found it to work just as well, with the benefit of the current method feeling more realistic, because managers don’t get to define, by notches, how a player behaves—all he can do is give instructions. Sure, losing will be harder to take because there aren’t as many things to tinker with (for example, there used to be twenty notches in attacking mentality, but now essentially just five), but after spending a good deal of time with the game, I can say with some confidence that these text based instructions translated to the match engine just as well as the sliders. I honestly don’t feel like there was something I could do in years past (unless it’s illogical, like playing a ball-winning midfielder on easy tackling) that I can’t do now.

Speaking of the match engine, as mentioned before, it is still a bit iffy when it tries to simulate realistic player behaviors. Fullbacks, especially, have trouble with their positioning no matter what instructions you give them, and that in turn imbalances the game, since playing down the wing consequently becomes much more effective. Strikers too make some questionable decisions with the ball, like shooting from twenty-five yards out as opposed to taking the ball closer, even when there’s plenty of space. However, it should be noted that the match engine is just a visual representation of all that number crunching under the hood. It doesn’t absolve the issue entirely, but I’d just like to point out that even when the player behaviors aren’t logical (occasionally), most of the time the match results still are. 

There are also some issues with the transfer module. I can’t say for certain if it’s a bug or if it was intended, but I’m finding that the game’s transfer values fluctuate too much. For example, there are times when the CPU will terribly undervalue your players on reasonable contracts, and sometimes opposing teams' asking price for players can change by as much as $5 million in a day. Again, it’s hard to tell whether this was intended or not — I’m guessing the latter, as quite a number of users have sounded off on this — but even if it was, the feedback as to why this happened is lacking.

Final Thoughts

Football Manager 2014 is another solid iteration for a franchise that’s stolen many hours of our lives. This year’s game didn’t exactly expand into any new turf, concept-wise, but what it did was that it deepened many of the existing ones. The game world is more interactive than ever, and except for the few annoying quirks in the match engine and transfer system, FM 2014 is — surprise surprise — the richest, most realistic managerial simulation game in all of sports right now.

Learning Curve: Medium for returning players — the new tactical system and some new layouts. Steep for newcomers, but in a good way — you’ll get back as much as you put in. There is also the simpler Classic mode for those who don't want to be encumbered by the finer details.

Visuals: Some flaws with the match engine, otherwise a small step up from FM 2013 across the board.

Audio: Not much here, but hopefully sound isn’t your deciding factor in whether or not to buy FM.

Value: Say goodbye to productivity.
 

Member Comments
# 1 paconaifas @ 11/13/13 07:31 AM
Most addictive game series ever!!!!
 
# 2 msuhockeycj @ 11/13/13 07:37 AM
I played about 15 seasons on FM 13 so I'm not a novice, but it greatly appreciate the simplicity of the new tactical system. I agree that it is much more realistic and also much more accessible with straightforward commands and even added explanations to tell you exactly what you are changing. I have really enjoyed the new system and find myself making much more in game adjustments this way than when given the sliders.
 
# 3 druez @ 11/13/13 03:38 PM
Agreed, really loving the new FM14. I go way back in this series to the CM days and I think this is the best version yet. I wish they would reprise their EHM series for hockey.
 
# 4 ImTellinTim @ 11/13/13 04:51 PM
Quote:
Originally Posted by druez
Agreed, really loving the new FM14. I go way back in this series to the CM days and I think this is the best version yet. I wish they would reprise their EHM series for hockey.
Just an FYI, the guys that do OOTP baseball released a hockey simulator. Their baseball product is very good, so I would expect their hockey game to be on par with the old EHM series eventually. It looks like the first version fell short of expectation.
 
# 5 Steven547 @ 11/28/13 10:10 AM
What teams / leagues are available on the Android version of this game?
 

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