The Special One…
With the 2016/17 Premier League season well under way, this is the year where managers have taken centre stage in the English footballing landscape. Is there a better way to celebrate than with another iteration of Sport Interactive’s genre leading management sim? I think not.
Game: Football Manager 2017
Developer: Sports Interactive
Reviewed on: PC (Review code provided)
There isn’t a single football fan who hasn’t sat in a bar or in front of their TV telling anyone who’ll listen how a team should be playing at some point or other. Football management sims have been paving the way for fans to prove their self-proclaimed genius for years now, and none quite as successfully as the Football Manager series.
Initially you won’t notice a great deal of new features since last year. In truth, as far as headline changes go, there really isn’t that much to talk about. A lot of what has changed has been tweaking and attempting to perfect the foundation of their new ideas from a couple of years back. A lot of that is done under the hood, with the AI managers receiving a great deal of love. You’ll find them much more realistic, annoyingly adapting to your tactics and analysing you before a game in the same way you would them. It successfully makes the game feel more authentic. There’s a real sense of victory when you pull a surprise change or tweak something that pays off in a way that past versions were void of, because now you’re constantly in a battle of wits with your opponents. From what I can tell so far, it also means that gone are the days of a one-size-fits-all setup.
The same can be said of transfers that have taken on a new AI layer with pre-contract conversations allowing you to ‘promise’ certain conditions to tempt agents and their players into a contract discussion. In fact the whole saga of attempting to negotiate a deal feels more akin to today’s transfer dealings with delays, re-entering of negotiations on a whim and new clauses such as requesting a deal doesn’t happen until you’ve found a replacement. As you’d expect, there’s no skimp on detail as far as SI are concerned and it’s been implemented well.
The most repetitive niggle has always been the way the plethora of data and figures has been presented to the player. Last year was an improvement but FM17 seems to have found its feet, somewhat. A lot of the information you’ll now see on screen now feels mildly relevant; important even. Coaching screens and feedback are much more streamlined and you’ll receive priceless information in pre-match and post-match reports that feel like something not to be ignored if you want to succeed – mainly thanks to the newly bolstered AI management. There’s times that I’ll be told that I should be training a player in a certain way, praising them for their good work on the field or bringing in another staff member. This advice now comes with a reason why I should do so, so the decisions I make are a little more informed rather than just accepting that they might be for the best either way. Nearly all this information has always been in the game but now my staff bring it me without having to dive through several sub menus and scrolling through a wall of text to find it – about time they did what they’re paid for.
In truth that sums up this year’s iteration entirely. Changes to the FM core are minimal, but it does an entirely better job at bringing all the cool stuff to the forefront, some of which you might never have known was even there without spending large amounts of time looking for it. Obviously, veterans who play 16 hours a day and knew about this stuff might be a little aggrieved, but even those players should be thankful for the better presentation.
There are some new additions of note, even if they don’t necessarily feel like an improvement. The new Social media page does a good job at replicating the real-life contradictions of know-it-all football fans but by doing so makes itself a screen to be ignored in relation to how you actually play the game. Whatever you do will be praised and criticised in equal measure, inevitably only serving the purpose of presenting an odd social commentary on how ridiculous social media can really be at times. I wasn’t a fan of the screen layout itself, either. All the good work on making things visually accessible in other parts of the game seem to crash to halt here, with an untidy wall of messages and images that ends up feeling a little claustrophobic.
There’s a part of me that wishes they’d forgone the introduction of social media feeds in favour of some much-needed revamping of the press and media portion of the game. You’ll still find yourself giving the same repetitive replies to the same three-year-old questions and for a game that prides itself on depth and detail, it all feels a bit lacklustre and pointless still. I guess the same could go for real-life media questioning, but at least it’s presented in a more interesting manner and there’s always some feeling that what managers say might impact the players and fans, certainly more than the game leads you to believe at least.
The match engine has slowly progressed over the years and is starting to look mildly authentic. There’s clearly still plenty of work to do but the devs have added a considerable amount of animations this time around and it’s definitely better off for it. Hell, I even quite liked the new camera angles and the inclusion of the infamous vanishing spray, which seems to be a crowd pleasure wherever it goes. Without putting in a hundred more hours it’s difficult to say whether this year’s engine is going to be a stable, anomaly free version, but asides from what looked like physio who decided he was going to sit on the penalty spot for the entirety of the game, I haven’t been able to fault it too much.
I’d obviously be here all day describing every minor detail of what has been tweaked, but overall Football Manager 17 is one of the finest iterations I’ve played in years. Its greatest tweak has been its management of how the endless stream of information is presented to you. No longer will you feel like you’re missing out on result changing details, and when you do make those choices you’ll have been delivered the relevant data in a way that makes your decisions feel founded on something tangible, rather than an educated guess or hours rummaging through menus.
The addictive one-more-game hook, the chance to prove your smarter than your favourite team’s manager and a mind-blowing database that’s still utilised by many professionals in the real-life footballing world. If that doesn’t tell you anything, nothing will. But if you’re only interested in knowing if it’s worth upgrading from last year’s version, then the answer is a resounding yes.