I wasn’t particularly impressed with last year’s addition to the Football Manager franchise. The match engine was sluggish, the tactical side of the game was severely unbalanced and the scouting system rendered the act of scouting nearly pointless. But a year later, have Sports Interactive turned the game around or are they just playing for a draw? Let’s take a look at Football Manager 2016.
I’m pleased to announce that the creases have, for the most part, been ironed out rather well. I started my career managing Nottingham Forest and spent my first season getting my posterior kicked, while being practically incapable of rising above 16th in the Championship (insert joke about realism here.) Having been told to resign or face being fired by the board of directors, I walked out and took up a position at tiny Whitehawk in the Conference South. It was here where the majority of my forty-something hours with the game took place.
Visual aides are everywhere, taking the stress out of management
First off, scouting has been vastly improved through a few minor tweaks which make all the difference. The five star player rating now only has an uncertainty factor of maybe one or two stars, as opposed to three or four in the previous entry into the series. This is both more realistic and more practical, allowing for a very satisfying risk/reward mechanic when deciding whether to sign some fresh blood to your squad. I found the signing of players to be a genuine challenge and the uncertainty factor, combined with the opportunity to personally talk to potential signings and try to convince them to sign for your club, made for some really entertaining moments.
There have also been a number of UI changes which I really love. Most of these are little touches, such as colour-coding certain options in drop-down bars, adding drop-down bars to show lists of appropriate players for certain positions on the field and making the calendar fully editable and customizable. While it is possible that these are old features which I simply hadn’t noticed before, the very fact that I had the opportunity to explore them instead of worrying about having to circumnavigate any frustrations caused by the engine shows how polished this game truly is.
“One day Jermaine, all this will be yours”
Having said all of the above, FM 2016 is not without its fouls and offsides. For a start, I still find the match engine to be somewhat sluggish. I have it running in windowed mode and if I ever need to tab out of the game for any reason, the lag upon returning seems to last forever. This should not be happening on my quad-core i5 rig, with 8gb of DDR3 ram and a Geforce 770 GPU. There are also some fairly questionable design choices, such as the removal of the ability (as far as I can tell) to change individual training workloads. I suppose there is an argument for why this is much more realistic, after all, what coach would simply tell different players that they can train a bit less because they’re throwing a tantrum. But if there is going to be a game mechanic that allows players to become miserable because they’re lazy, there also ought to be a way to placate those players individually.
There were some rather large leaps this year in terms of new features for Football Manager. The first you’ll encounter is the ability to create a physical model for your manager, the idea being that he’ll stand on the touch-line, interacting with the players, celebrating when they score and physically shouting out instructions. However, in truth I found the character creation process to be amongst the most shallow I’ve ever seen, with barely any options for customizing the physical appearance of my manager and in the end, I barely noticed his presence in the match engine. This isn’t necessarily a drag-factor in any way but I couldn’t help feeling that Sports Interactive wasted an opportunity to really innovate and increase the level of immersion here.
Sports Interactive are nothing if not imaginative
There are also two new game modes to explore in ‘Fantasy Draft’ and ‘Create a Club.’ The latter pretty much does what it says on the tin. You can create a team, customize their kit, create and add all of the players and stick them in a league. It is essentially a lighter version of the database editing tools that came packaged with previous entries into the series and while it simplifies the customization process, veteran modders will find nothing new here. On the other hand, Fantasy Draft is a really fun way to go up against your mates in a network game. Each player has a pool of money from which they must build their dream squad. They will compete top sign the best players and are then all thrown into a mini-league together to see who can build and manage the best squad. This mode is bags of fun, although it does rely on you having enough friends online to make it worthwhile.