Football Manager 2018 Review: Brilliant but formulaic for experts and impenetrable for beginners

Alex Keble by Alex Keble / 13 November 2017, 13:04

Being one of the most obsessed-over video games of all time is both a blessing and a curse. As hours turn to days and the old addiction comes surging back, series fans - including this reviewer - will have no choice but to champion the latest edition of Football Manager as another phenomenal success.

Its level of detail is breathtaking and its realism is quite frankly terrifyingly life-consuming, and yet for the third or fourth year running the game feels more like an update than a brand new title. Perhaps fearful of alienating devoted fans or perhaps, nearing perfection and standing alone at the top of the mountain, simply paralysed by their own success, Football Manager 2018 is entering Call of Duty territory. Is a data update, like the addition of a few new maps in Activision’s first-person shooter, really enough to show for a year of work?

For devotees, winning things on FM18 requires little more than following the familiar grooves built from years of experimentation: training, scouting, and tactics all work in much the same way despite some supposed updates to the system (having spent a couple of seasons exploring new formations and this year’s new player roles, this reviewer found significantly more success after reverting to the famously “over-powered” wide 4-2-3-1).

The cumulative effect is an enormous advantage to experienced players - who can draw on years of personal data-crunching and trial-and-error research - while the beginner scratches their head, mimicking the Call of Duty series’ inherent hostility towards newcomers unversed in the intricacies of video game warfare.

It is difficult to conclude whether or not Sports Interactive should be criticised for this development, which might simply be a natural side-effect of becoming utterly stupendous at what you do - namely simulating the experience of a job that requires decades of education yet still relies on the lottery of 90-minute matches. Nevertheless, returning players may feel swindled for forking out £37.99 for updated squads and a couple of marquee changes.

The best new feature is Squad Dynamics, which adds serious depth to the dressing room atmosphere and the factors that influence morale. A new hierarchy of respect among players plus the introduction of social groups puts juggling the psychological aspects of management centre stage, making the game feel more realistic than ever.

It is much easier to get lost in the fantasy when players, for the first time, feel like three dimensional people. Future editions must build on an excellent new addition that cleverly highlights the growing influence of player power in the modern game.

The new Medical Centre is another noteworthy improvement, giving Sports Scientists relevancy and improving your knowledge of injuries; manage this section well and you’ll soon realise the importance of squad rotation. There is also an interesting, albeit small, upgrade to scouting, in which data analysts will now bring to your attention any statistically well-performing players.

But when you set the bar as high as Football Manager has, far more noticeable are features either absent or lacking in detail. The Social Media component hasn’t changed at all despite being poorly received in FM17 (your own in-game Twitter handle would surely make this a more interactive and meaningful feature), while the game is plagued by stock conversations that haven’t changed in years.

From press conferences to conversations with unhappy players, this leaves users clicking buttons on auto-pilot, adding to the sense their money has been spent on a data update. That team training remains so simplistic feels jarring given the level of detail elsewhere, and is arguably the only element of the game in need of a major overhaul.

 

There would appear to be plenty of flaws, then. But what if this reviewer is simply rubbish at the game? So vast is its web of data, perhaps Football Manager should be seen as an open world game - more like GTA than COD - meaning understanding of the features is limited by personal exploration.

That the Prozone statistics are too bamboozling for this reviewer to bother analysing, for example, could simply reflect an inability to appreciate the complexity of the game’s chain-reaction algorithms. It might also explain why new users have found it so inaccessible that Sports Interactive has had to invent Touch and Mobile versions of the game.

An in-depth tutorial (with step-by-step “do this now” instructions for new users) would be a welcome addition, as would more help from assistant managers in highlighting factors that overly-familiar players might overlook. A tactical match report, with 3D highlights that pinpoint tactical errors rather than goalscoring opportunities, would also be a huge help, because as it is FM18 is simply too good: it is too brutally realistic to be fully appreciated without watching full 90 minute matches. Bite-sized intelligent feedback slicing through the game – essentially a rolling tutorial that watches you play and points out what you’ve missed - would be warmly received.

Football Manager fanatics will be sucked back into the vortex of their addiction by the latest edition of the series, and so it is impossible not to conclude that Sports Interactive have created an astonishing, soul-absorbingly brilliant game. The problem is that, by and large, this isn’t new information - and it isn’t much of a new game.

Sadly, experts will leap straight back into their formulaic patterns for success while newcomers will find it completely impenetrable. For 12 months of development and a £37.99 price tag, does this really constitute success?

4 STARS

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