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Iv had the new version of football manager 2010 for about a month now, since it was released at the end of october infact. I have now completed a few seasons (with Bury!) and have been largely impressed.
In my opinion over the last few years the football manager series, although the best of the management sims, I feel there has not been an awful lot of progression aside from various skin changes or the addition of the odd feature, press confrences, team talks and last year the 3D match engine(which I was not greatly impressed by) and such like. This year though I think there has been a great improvement. Firstly I think the navigation and general skins are alot better and makes it easier to get around the game, with the exception of a small number of screens which appear to be in entirely the wrong place or that would be very difficult to find without some effort.
I also think the realism has improved greatly this year, with regards to transfers you can see players moving to other clubs for more accurate fees and can sometimes get certain players snubbing bigger clubs for more money, and clubs seem to request more clauses in the transfer for promising youngsters. This at times can be quite frustrating but I suppose quite accurate of todays football world. Also during gameplay, the constant changing of tactics, touchline instructions and substitutions are required as the game progresses ie. in the last ten minutes of the game if your one-nil up and playing and attacking formation it now seems that your more likely to concede a late goal, I personally like the tactical side of the game, but others who either dont have a good understanding of football or people who have not played football manager before may get frustrated conceding all the late goals.
The other major imrovement for this year and a very good one in my opinion is the upgrade to the 3D match engine, which last year was basicly a few stick men running round a green rectangle. This year the graphics are much better, the stadiums actually look induvidual as do the players and there are actually fans in the stadium and the crowd noise actually relates to the action on the pitch, as well as the addition of quick tactic changes and touchline instructions.
There are some negatives though, player interactions, press confrences and team talks can all get very repetative and boring as soon as you have had all the same questions a few times, however the only other option is to assign these duties to the assistant manager, who no matter how high his status or experience seems to always give the most random and inappropriate answers, annoying your players, the press, the board and the fans. So I personally do it myself.
The fans as well can be quite annoying, I had a 38 year old Roy Makaay in my reserve sqaud, having hardly played for the last two years, yet my desicion to sell him was an 'aberation' and I got negative monthly feedback for six months. And my signing of a second choice keeper for about 2k was regarded as a waste of money despite only having one senior keeper, who was at the time injured.
Overall though this is a fantastic game, which is very easy to get into and I often find myself playing for hours and hours at a time.
So, once again, its that time of year when Football Manager (or still Champ Manager to us oldies) returns to shop shelves everywhere, tempting us to part with our hard earned cash the latest stats and players. After last year's abomination of a game, can FM regain a place in our hearts?
The short answer, for me anyways, is yes. Last year's installation issues are a distant memory. This took me about an hour to install (I had to do it twice due to not installing DX9 initially and having to go through it all again, there may be an easier way!) and loaded up straight away. The initial load for my first time took about five minutes, which did cause me to panic, but every time since has been about a minute. Similarly, the first patch is already live and installs with no problems, which is a beautiful thing to behold.
Starting the game is simple as always; enter your name, date of birth, nationality and management history before selecting a team and getting things underway. The advanced wizard will tell you how it thinks your system will cope with the requirements of the game. I had half a star for my graphics card and one and a half for performance (my laptop is about six years old). As such, I have been playing the game on a small database, with just the Premiership, going down as far as Coca Cola League 2, whilst running the actual game in old skool 0D commentary mode.
In terms of performance, the game runs extremely quickly, faster than 08 did on a large database. Processing results and fixtures does not slow the game to a crawl and is pretty bearable (I have played as far as my third season). The match engine performs well as it should do in the commentary text only mode, and unfortunately I cannot comment on the 3D engine, but general feedback on forums suggests it is an improvement on last years foray.
The presentation of the game has massively changed, making the game far more welcoming to novice players. Your backroom staff give you more advice than ever before, going into far more depth than previous iterations. They will give you weekly updates on how they feel the team can be improved with regards to tactics, training and player interaction. Another coach will also give you an indication of how sensible they feel this advice is, which is a nice touch. Be careful of blindly following their advice as different players react very differently in the same situation.
The menus have been softened allow ease of navigation. It is here that the game drops points for me. When I play a match, I like to use split view, with one window alternating between motivation and ratings, and the other displaying assistant manager feedback. The game randomly remembers this between games, and even between halves, which is very frustrating and it keeps trying to push me back into viewing the 2D or 3D engine.
Similarly, your shortlist is not as accessible as you would like, hidden away inside your personal settings, instead of under transfers or searches which is curious. Generally, I prefer the new methods of navigation (although the skins themselves are far from great), but they still require work.
The tactics screen has a tactic creation screen which allows newcomers and veterans alike to craft the formation of their dreams. Gone are the arrows of old, replaced by different names for each position, so you can choose whether that central midfielder plays as a defensive midfielder, playmaker, central midfielder, attacking or supporting player. You still have a variety of sliders you can apply if you so decide and they do appear to work rather pleasingly!
During matches, you have the ability to apply touchline commands, which still take time to implement, which is rather curious. Again, reading reports from others, they claim they work, but I actually play my commentary matches rather quickly, so stick to my sliders.
The computer AI is brutal at times and will make you want to destroy your PC. Tactics need far more tweaking than in older versions, especially towards the end of a game, where failure to close off a 1-0 lead can see you pegged back for a draw, or even a shock defeat.
Similarly, the Sports Interactive forum is brimming with people moaning of being gimped in the second leg of a tie they were dominating. I too was the victim of horrible AI. As Arsenal, I had to qualify for the Champions League. I beat Fiorentina 2-0 at Highbury and made my way to Italy for the second leg. I calmed things down, settling for a counter attacking formation. The game started and I immediately conceded! Luckily Fabregas got me the away goal and we went in at the break in a comfortable position of 1-1. The second half starts, Senderos gets sent straight off for violent conduct, swiftly followed by Diaby on the stroke of the 60th minute. Fiorentina get a 2nd, and I am still ahead on aggregate. Then, good fortune for me, as their central defender also gets his marching orders. Just as things start to look up, I conceded in the 75th minute. Still leading by away goals, we made it to the 89th to be told there were 2 minutes of injury time. Somehow, in the 96th minute of extra time, Fiorentina get a winner and I crash out, relegated to the depths of the Europa League! Grrrrr!
To be fair, results like this happen every week, and generally if you adjust tactics as you go, the game reflects life, so I cannot complain too much.
Player interaction is still a work in progress. I won a pre-season friendly against Luton 5-0 away from home. Having clicked the 'continue' button by accident, I didn't give a final team talk, resulting in team members moaning that I wasn't giving them enough credit. This issue was still raising its head six months into the season, which is frustrating to say the least. The Boardroom appears to be a fairer place with your failure to progress in a contest balanced by the quality of opposition who knocked you out. The Fans appear to be idiots (perhaps just like real life) who moan when you sell rubbish reserve team players, saying they deserved a slot in the team. Similarly, if you lose, they will moan about team selections. One curious screen told me they felt that Ramsey deserved a spot ahead of Fabregas.
Press conferences are still pretty naff. Once you learn what answers will elicit which response, the novelty wanes rapidly. The problem is that you are often forced to sit through them to prevent your assistant manager giving a response which randomly annoys everyone. The responses can cause upset amongst the squad for silly reasons as well. When I suggested that my new superstar De Rossi may like to talk Italian with Mannone, he got all stroppy and took over a year to properly regain faith in me.
Transfers are a tricky one. Average players require megabucks to secure for your team e.g. De Rossi of Roma required £60 million odd to gain his signature. Similarly, scout reports of cheap players rated under £5 million will tell you that bids of over £20 million will be required to secure their signature. I cannot decide whether this is realistic or not, as there are arguments for both sides in all honesty.
One minor quibble is that bidding for certain players, and especially staff, can result in them saying that they have no interest in signing for your team and a massive contract would be required. They then reject your contract offer before waiting two weeks, publicly declaring their interest in working for you and eventually sign for a much smaller contract.
Big teams are much more proactive in signing up young players, which makes an interesting/frustrating change from previous versions were you could happily assemble a team of future superstars.
Two options I would love to see added are-
i) the ability not to be sacked- its not an option I would use, but I am sure some newcomers would welcome the option if they fine tuned it appropriately.
ii) the option for your assistant manager to run the actual matches, or at least stick to your tactics, and leave you to run training, tactics and transfers. I love to dabble in the transfer market and mess around, but find myself getting too frustrated with matches going wrong.
So, this version is not perfect, but the majority of flaws from previous versions have been fixed. The match engine itself is the best I have encountered so far (although there are no doubt ways to abuse it), it is just the additional features such as press conferences and man management that need further tweaking. But the good news is that this is a humungous improvement on last year's migraine inducing monster.