To many, Football Manager is more than a game; it’s a passion. I’ve had complex conversations about tactics, the use of the trequartista and the benefits of a 3-5-2 formation with people I didn’t even know, all because of Sports Interactive’s seminal series. The latest game to roll off of the Football Manager production line is as packed with tactics, statistics and fine-tuned details as those before it, but with a few new additions, as well.
Football Manager 2016 seems to be designed to build upon the new systems introduced in the 2015 version of the series. Indeed, many of the things that fans of the series complained about have been tweaked and fixed. Sports Interactive have also made steps to include as many different versions of the main game as possible, as well as introduce features that many of its customers have called for.
The Football Manager series allows players to take over the helm at almost any football club in the world’s top divisions. From player recruitment to scouting to tactics, everything and anything can be at your control. The sheer amount of information presented to the player can be staggering – something that newcomers to the series may struggle with – but Football Manager 2016 also offers a number of tooltips and tutorials to help players familiarise themselves with the interface. Admittedly, it’s tough to judge the game on these merits as a veteran of the series – the UI experienced a major shift in Football Manager 2014, which has given regulars time to adjust.
Other changes have occurred in the man management side of the game. Football Manager has always aimed to make your players feel like human beings with wants, needs and feelings. Drop a veteran striker in favour of a fresh-faced youngster and he might knock on your (proverbial) office door to have a word with you about respect. In previous iterations of the series, however, these little tiffs with players could erupt into full mutinies from key players and staff, no matter what your style of management. This feature has seen some work and now it feels far more fluid. Players will stick up for mates and favoured personnel but couldn’t care less about some 17-year-old in the reserves who feels like he should be in the first team.
Transfers, player negotiations and scouting have all been tweaked further, pushing the role of player agents into the background. Now the focus is on the interaction between you and the players, and befriending a rival team’s striker can really pay off when you sign him for a massively reduced wage.
Sports Interactive appear to have taken a more streamlined approach to the meat and bones of the game when adjusting the tactics. Previous games confronted budding managers with a dizzying array of sliders, drop-down menus and checkboxes without really explaining what each modification actually did. 2016 aims to make tweaking your system that little bit simpler by giving players a more graphical display of what their choices mean. Arrows and plot markers will show where players will run and balls will be played, making on-the-fly adjustments simpler.
These changes can be supremely satisfying when you watch them play out in the new and improved 3D match engine. Often derided by series veterans, the match engine has seen a welcome overhaul. Gone are players sliding over the pitch like motor-powered figure skaters and janky, robotic passes and touches. Now players react and move far more realistically, making watching the games unpredictable and entertaining. More than a thousand extra animations were added to the game according to the developers. That attention to detail has paid dividends - goals look more life-like, fluid and realistic while general play is more intuitive and believeable. Stadia have also been given a seeing-to and look far more fleshed out than in previous games. Flags, banners and flares animate the crowd while little touches like rusting pylons or peaceful country lanes in the background all help add to the atmosphere on matches and make the player feel like they are really there.
Another feature added to Football Manager 2016 is the ability to create your own club. Design a crest, kit and history and assign real-life players or your own. The new mode gives those who want to play with their pub team or university society the chance to see how they’d fare in the professional world. It’s a feature many have called for, not really expecting it to appear. Indeed, the mode does feel slightly like a luxury item added to give the game that extra boost in sales. Setting up a team takes a lot of concentrated and concerted effort, and the rewards are often slightly stale when you realise it’s just the base game with your own made-up names.
Also newly introduced mode in Football Manager 2016 is one that allows you to mould your own manager. Unlike the other, welcomed new features however, this one feels rather tacked on at the end of the development cycle. The player models in Football Manager aren’t exactly going to win any awards but Sport Interactive appear to have thought seeing the monstrosity that is the player model up front was a good idea. You can choose from a number of outfits, hairstyles and physical attributes to change the way your manager looks but in the end you’ll always end up wanting the finished article as far away from your eyes as possible. Thankfully the manager is often deposited across the pitch out of sight and out of mind.
Sports Interactive have also made an effort to improve the multiplayer side of Football Manager. The developers have introduced the new Draft mode, where participants can select their squad from a pool of real-life players – much like a fantasy league – and battle it out to decide who the best manager is. The mode supports up to 12 simultaneous players, meaning that a full league can be created and played without repetitive matches making it dull. Whether players will have the patience to gather eleven friends, get them to sit down for an evening and commit to a full season is another thing altogether.
Football Manager 2016 is another successful entry into a series that is perhaps struggling to find new things to innovate. Changes to tactics, player interaction and the 3D match engine are much welcomed and definitely mark an improvement from last year’s game. On the other hand, though, Sports Interactive’s striving for new and innovative ways to play their sports sim could be their undoing. Too many cooks spoil the broth, after all. In the end though, as Alan Partridge famously said: ‘the proof is in the pudding and the pudding in this case is football’. Football Manager 2016 will keep fans of the series more than happy (that is until 2017 rolls off the production line next year).
Football Manager 2016 (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Football Manager 2016 is another successful entry into a series that is perhaps struggling to find new things to innovate. Changes to tactics, player interaction and the 3D match engine are much welcomed and definitely mark an improvement from last year’s game. It will keep fans of the series more than happy (that is until 2017 rolls off the production line next year).