Can the king of the dugout retain its crown?
Dust off your suit, prepare your best post-match clichés and get ready for some fallout with a nefarious agent or two, because you’re about to be flung back into the cut-and-thrust world of football management. The most successful series of football manager sims is looming on the horizon, ready to leave an array of broken relationships and destroyed social lives in its wake. While you may well be well into the second half of the 2026 season with Hereford United, having taken them from League Two to the upper echelons of the Champions League in last year’s game, the simple fact is you’re going to have to bite the bullet and upgrade to Football Manager 2013 at some point.
FM2012, quite literally, is so last year.
After promising ‘the best game we’ve ever made’ and a ‘genre-defining experience’, the team at Sports Interactive certainly had a lot to live up to heading into this release. FM2012 wasn’t a revolution, it leaned towards improving already existing elements and perhaps sought to solidify its position as the number game in the genre, which it undoubtedly is. Nothing else even comes close. The question is: has the developer been tinkering with a formula that really doesn’t need tinkering with? And more importantly, are the changes substantial enough to warrant a new purchase? After all, no-one really wants to shell out for a completely new game with minimal changes that could have been covered by simply downloading an update, and while FM2012 didn’t quite commit that sin, it certainly didn’t reinvent the wheel.
The good news is that FM2013 feels like an almost completely new gaming experience. The interface is brand spanking new, and the slick way the windows move in and out – combined with the new arrangement of icons and navigational options – is a breath of fresh air and genuinely does give the impression of a whole new game. Of course, this all takes a little getting used to, but I wouldn’t want to fall into the lazy trap of suggesting that any change is a bad thing just because I liked the last game so much. This is all progress, and more importantly it’s progress that doesn’t just see a steady increase in complexity in the game for the sake of it.
In the full game there are still issues of repetition though, as the spectre of meetings rears its head again. Press conferences before and after each game; meetings with agents for transfers; meetings with players about their general mindset / wellbeing and meetings with your staff about having more meetings with your players. More meetings than Tiger Woods going speed dating.
Yes, you can send your assistant (who now also gets more involved on match days offering his manager advice throughout the game: who to close down, how to change formation to better suit the opponent etc) to these press conferences and ask your Director of Football to take care of some of the other responsibilities (another new feature which works quite well should you wish to keep your tracksuit on at all times), and the good news is this won’t affect your chances of securing other gainful employ in the future. The type of manager you are is clearly displayed on your information page, but it’s little more than window dressing. When it comes to applying for that big international job, you’re judged on your results as all managers should be.
On the subject of tracksuits, the new and improved training feature is comprehensive to say the least, but will undoubtedly be overwhelming for newcomers to the game. It’s been completely overhauled, and is now in the shape of a calendar so a manager can plan his training regime based on the games coming up, with an added ability to adjust the focus of the training on a game-to-game basis. It is still possible to train individually and the option to train one of your players in a new position also remains. This new setup actually works quite well; over time you really do feel that your extra effort is paying off as your team starts to score more from set pieces after your work on that, for instance. Another nice new feature is the freedom to give your side a rest day after a game, which helps morale when the team’s in good nick.
It’s easy to imagine true disciples dedicating hours to how they train their charges, and for the purist this will undoubtedly make the experience all the more immersive. But for the casual player it’s far more tempting to simply brief your good old assistant again, and provided you’ve got a good’un the results shouldn’t be too different.
The good news to combat Football Manager’s almost relentless quest for realism at the behest of game-playing perfection is the introduction of the new Classic mode. It, almost unbelievably, manages to row halfway back to the boathouse without losing any of its authenticity and really does make for a hugely enjoyable, much faster-paced experience. I may be biased as I remember playing this game way back when it was possible to complete a whole season over the course of an all-nighter, lifting the FA Cup just before my first university lecture of the day. But this really is a more entertaining way to play the game. I salute Sports Interactive for realising that not everyone has huge swathes of time to dedicate to the game. This will not only attract new players but it’ll tempt back the old ones who were sadly lost along the way too.
At some point over the last few years this game became complicated. Very complicated. And it appears that Sports Interactive is now not only happy to acknowledge this fact, they’re prepared to cater for the more fly-by-night player. It’s a welcome change in perspective in what seemed at one point to be an endless quest for authenticity at the behest of pure enjoyment. This game is better simply because it is wholly flexible in letting you decide what you want it to be, and for that we can only applaud Football Manager 2013.
What we’re all looking for in a game of Football Manager is that almost intangible ‘just one more game’ addiction, that feeling that you need just one more game. It’s the X-factor that separates Football Manager from the rest and the good news is that this version still has it. Sure, it’s a deep and complicated beast and occasionally it’s impossible to not feel powerless when things aren’t going your way, but that happens to managers all over the world in real life too, and that’s the point. Football Manager’s relentless strive for realism is sometimes its biggest fault, but with new modes and now new ways of playing it’s also managed to get that light touch back.
By Luke Moore