by Matt Porter
reviewed on PC
There was a five year stretch where I played every Football Manager game that came out. Hundreds of hours spent poring over menus and spreadsheets, trying to find the best way to run my football team. Even for me it all became a bit much, and I’ve taken a few years off from the series. But it’s hard for me to stay away for too long, and here we are, back with Football Manager 2017. If you are like me and have been away from the franchise for a bit, never fear, you will still recognise everything that’s going on. This is both a good and bad thing, as some improvements have made things better, while older systems which have been in desperate need of a switch up still remain.
I began a career, as ever, with my beloved Newcastle United. This would present a different kind of challenge to normal, as for the first time in a number of years I’d be starting the game in England’s 2nd tier division, the Championship. The team is doing alright in its promotion race this year, so it would be up to me to live up to expectations in the game’s world. Differences from previous years in how to set up the game and your first tasks as manager are minimal. There’s a slightly more obvious and robust system for talking to your players and requesting additional money and ambitions from the board members, but beyond that, it is familiar to anyone who has played the game before. You chat with your assistants and your staff members, divvy up jobs if you don’t want to do everything yourself, you learn who in your team plays best and in which position, and you weigh up potential transfer targets.
Climbing the table
As for the way all the relevant information is presented to you, things have been made much clearer. Scouting reports, which are valuable to any manager looking to improve their team with good players, now give you everything you need to know in an email in your inbox, which is where you will be spending a lot of your time anyway. A player’s pros and cons are listed in red and green, and an overall assessment is large and clear at the bottom of the text. “Would be a good signing,” says one scout of an up and coming striker. “Worth keeping an eye on his development,” says another scout of a young central defender. From the email you have simple buttons to click on to add a player to your shortlist, or even make an offer for them right then and there. Football Manager has always been slowed down by the number of clicks needed to do simple actions, but this year Sports Interactive has sped up the process considerably across many aspects of the game.
Setting training assignments for individual players can be done with a quick click of a button if one of your staff recommends something specific. Your assistant manager might remind you to praise the recent form of your star midfielder, something which would’ve taken multiple clicks in the past. You can set specific tactics for an upcoming game from the email menu as well. Obviously the more detail oriented manager will still want to go trawling through all the menus and select everything themselves, but if you’re looking for a quicker, more streamlined Football Manager experience, this really is the best one in quite some time. Especially considering Football Manager Touch, a mode in previous years designed to get you through a season as quickly as possible while you only manage the most important aspects of your team, has been split out into its own paid product this year.
Watching from the sidelines
The match engine has been improved too. Visually there have been some improvements, but it’s still not particularly impressive. But in terms of what the players do on the pitch, there are noticeable changes. Here and there a player will do something inexplicable as the game decides there should be a goal at that particular moment, but by and large the AI seems smarter than in previous years. You will see players hold the ball up and wait for a pass to open up rather than trying to take on three defenders at once. You will see players who’ve learned to play with their back towards goal actually play with their back towards goal. The best passers will spot through runs and play the ball well to their attacking partners. I noticed a handful of bugs, usually involving a player coming off the bench and getting stuck in their sitting position inside the wall for a free kick. But they’re quickly ironed out when the scene moves on to the next moment of action.
Other new additions include a Brexit simulation, a hilarious yet surprisingly necessary part of the game as we move into the next few years. Depending on what happens in real life, football in Britain could be facing some changes, and there are systems in place inside the game to deal with each of these outcomes. There’s also a new social media system, which, while giving you more access to what people are saying about your club and the way you’re playing, it’s not that useful. Much like social media in all video games, it becomes repetitive too quickly, and the conflicting points of view, while they can be realistic, don’t do much to sway your decisions.
Overall though, the way Football Manager has changed means a better game for everyone. You are able to do everything you need to do to run your team successfully much quicker than you’ve been able to before. The improvements to the match engine make actually watching the games fairly entertaining. Clunky elements like the conversation and press conference systems remain, but fans of the series have learned to accept these for what they are now. There are certainly more improvements to be made to Football Manager, but what we have got right now is rather good indeed.
Improvements to the way information is presented to you. Match engine looks and feels better.
New additions like social media don’t add much. Some old systems need updating.