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Football Manager 2015

For years “Football Manager” has been one of the most immersive and addictive games on the market. There aren’t many more stressful jobs out there than being a football manager, as your performance is constantly under scrutiny and your success or failure hinges on the performances of others. There are multiple variables which aren’t under your control, such as poor refereeing decisions and untimely slips, and despite the fact that you can’t do anything about them, ultimately they reflect on you as a manager. Because of the nature of football management and its constant ups and downs, “Football Manager 2015” is more captivating and rewarding than almost any other game I have played. You just can’t buy a more enthralling experience than the one this game offers, it’s the best football simulation game there is. “Football Manager 2015” challenges your knowledge of the game, something which “Fifa” and “Pro Evolution Soccer” can never do, as they offer you complete control over the outcome of each match. Not only is “Football Manager 2015” a great game, but in my opinion it is the most sophisticated and in-depth entrance into the magnificent series, and for that reason it’s a game which I would highly recommend.

In this instalment there have been multiple new additions, which were much needed in order to keep the franchise fresh. “Football Manager 2014” was a good game, all things considered, but it didn’t offer much in way of improvement when stacked up against previous “Football Manager” games. Every game in this series sticks to the old adage that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, but there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as there are at least a few interesting additions which make it worth its weight in £10 notes. In “Football Manager 2015” I was thrilled to find that I now have a selection of managerial statistics which impact upon my reputation as a manager and my standing in the game, as this is a feature which has long been missing from the experience. For years every other manager in the game has been accompanied by these statistics, yet you as a player haven’t had access to your own set of personal ratings. It was pleasing to see that this problem had finally been resolved in an intelligent way, as players choose not just their previous experience within the sport, but also the badges necessary to qualify for the position they are holding, and these factors in turn generate your set of statistics. I love the fact that the training you’ve had impacts upon your managerial knowledge, and that you can improve yourself in game by taking a further coaching badge, because these new aspects add a greater sense of authenticity to the game, even if I am playing as a twenty year old who inexplicably has a Continental Coaching License.

Another interesting feature added to this year’s game is a list of pros and cons for each player, explaining why a player would be a useful addition to your squad and whether or not they are likely to improve in the future. These pros and cons encourage you as a manager to take a more thorough approach to your time with the game, as they suggest areas for improvement in each individual player within your squad, and you can work on those areas in the training section of the game by putting a certain individual on a specific regime to improve their weakest attribute. I am impressed that these kinds of features are being added to the game, even if it isn’t immediately clear whether or not they have a genuine impact on proceedings, as they encourage critical thinking akin to what a manager would really have to go through to get the best out of his players. This is a football management simulator at its core, so every attempt to make the experience more realistic should be welcomed with open arms. It’s also quite funny to see what the game makers think of certain players, especially if those players play for the team you follow. For example, I laughed at the fact that Michael Higdon was known as a slow player, and enjoyed examining an outside perspective of my team’s (Sheffield United) strengths and weaknesses.

Further additions to “Football Manager 2015” include:

1) In game team talks, a wonderful new feature which allows you to demand more from your players if they are dropping off the pace mid-match, and gives you a greater feeling of influence and authority over each passing minute.

2) New animations which add a slightly more realistic tinge to player techniques. Although this addition isn’t groundbreaking, and at times the goalkeeping animations still look incredibly odd, it’s still one which is immediately noticeable, and at times makes for a more enjoyable experience as you watch a match unfold.

3) Unexpected tunnel interviews before a match. I found this addition really cool when it first occurred, because I genuinely wasn’t expecting it, and it made things feel that bit more real for me. It was nice to have a new set of questions to answer just before a match kicked off, and it challenged me to question my squad selection and tactical decisions, at a time when doubting myself really wouldn’t come in handy. This happens on a regular basis for actual football managers, so it was fun to think of how I might react if an interviewer put me on the spot regarding a difficult decision I had to make.

4) As you start the game and create your manager, you are given what is the most detailed option system in any “Football Manager” game so far. You are able to choose four clubs which you follow or support, and as you read messages in your inbox you will find that you receive information about these clubs and their achievements. I liked this new level of choice because I do in fact follow more than one club, and I can easily choose four teams which I check the results of each week and on which I wish success.

The game isn’t perfect, but it is most definitely improved, and it has a greater level of depth than is found in any previous game in the series. One problem found with the game was its new layout, which can seem slightly unintuitive at times, and which I wouldn’t say is any better than the layout of previous versions. To me it seems as though the layout has been simplified, possibly so that navigation between different aspects of the game is easier, but in fact this has had the opposite of the desired effect. I found myself becoming frustrated that none of the side bars were titled ‘Player Search’, because in previous “Football Manager” games this was the section I would look for if I wanted to access the transfer list and purchase a certain player. Now this mechanic is found under ‘Scouting’ and then under ‘All Known Players’. I didn’t like this change at all, because if I’m searching for a particular player I don’t need to do so by consulting my scouts (assuming for the fun of it that I am actually a football manager), I can do my own research and discover a player all on my own, hence the previous title for this aspect of the game. This isn’t a huge criticism by any stretch of the imagination, but I did have trouble initially when I was trying to find out what I was supposed to be doing and how I was meant to do it, and changing the layout just seems like wasted effort to me.

I began the game by managing Sheffield United, as they are the team I support, and I prefer to get a feel for the game which doesn’t rely on the transfer market or the possession of one particular outstanding player in my squad, and I feel that this approach is more enjoyable than simply buying my way to league titles. On this game, perhaps more so than in any of the previous instalments, playing as a lower league side is very rewarding, because you are able to use new features to get a better feel for the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and you can also pick up one or two high quality players who start the game as a free transfer. Players such as Jermaine Pennant are available to you for no cost whatsoever (other than the impact they have on your wage bill), and they add much needed quality to lower league teams. I myself couldn’t afford his wages, but if I had really wanted to bring him in it would’ve been easy enough to sell a rotation player and bolster my budget. This is a refreshing change for the “Football Manager” series, as in previous instalments I have been forced to abandon the possibility of playing as my team, as to manage at a lower level would seem like a chore, and as such would not be the most enjoyable way to spend my time. This game offers you plenty of ways to get the best out of your squad, and offers a more intuitive system for picking your starting eleven, as the game will actually suggest which players are best suited to a certain position, based not only on their overall ability, but on how effective they are likely to be in the upcoming match. This is helpful, because normally if I sign a player I will do anything to get him into the match day squad, even if it means playing him in a position which he doesn’t favour, but this game presses you into picking a well-balanced team, rather than a team of individuals.

“Football Manager 2015” seems to respect good tactics more than ever before, and this was reflected as I played with a slightly less renowned squad. I signed Kevin Foley for £140,000, and made four loan signings, Tom Rogic, Paulo Gazzaniga, Tyler Blackett and Paddy McCarthy. That was it; no sales, no outgoing loans, just me and the team I started with, along with these cheap transfers. From then on the game was all about making the right tactical decisions at the right times, and approaching each game as though it were a real match, which was a lot more enjoyable than wheeling and dealing for the sake of it.

In this game injuries and morale have a significant impact on the performance of your team, and although this can be incredibly frustrating, it does emphasise the fact that you are supposed to be taking on a challenging job, a job which involves a lot of perseverance and wherewithal. This is still a game, and it should be fun above all else, but inconveniences are necessary in your experience, in order to make it feel authentic and keep you engaged with your career as it progresses. Without these difficulties the game just wouldn’t be worthwhile. If your team won every match and each key player kept fit for the entirety of the season, “Football Manager 2015” would be an extremely artificial simulation of football manager and altogether unsuccessful.

When I was younger, me, my brother, and my cousin would play “Football Manager” together, laughing at each other as we lost, and sharing in the glory when we won. My cousin would jovially talk about his team’s downward spiral when he wasn’t doing well, and explain that players just needed more time to come together. I faced my own downward spiral on the first day of playing (in which I got through a hefty 9 hours); I was 10th in the league after 13 games, facing the boardroom as they were disappointed with my performance. I read the possible excuses and couldn’t help but giggle at their ridiculousness, and at the fact that things we used to say as a joke are now an integral part of keeping your job in the game. All the little things which we had to use our imaginations for back when these games weren’t such a massive part of our culture are now a part of the reality of the game, and I couldn’t be more immersed in an experience I have only spent a few days on.

At times “Football Manager 2015” truly is a tactical battle, and I found myself abandoning my tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 formation in difficult times. I would revert to the primitive but effective 4-4-2 system, simply to get my overzealous chairman off my back, or play a defensive midfielder when I felt that the back four would need more cover. It’s these decisions which shape the game, and which challenge your adaptability in management. You have to put yourself in a real manager’s shoes and make hard decisions which sometimes contradict your play style and your philosophies, and if you don’t you will fall by the wayside. No other football game challenges your knowledge of the sport and its intricacies quite like this one does, and no other game punishes you so harshly for ignorance. “Football Manager 2015” doesn’t reward you for being stubborn and dull, you can’t just play the same way for 46 games and expect to win your fair share, nor can you make one drastic change and stick with it. Despite my victory using the 4-4-2 formation, I wasn’t able to carry on using it, because eventually it too failed. I had to go back to what I knew and rotate the squad, and in doing so the game responded, allowing me to take an extremely satisfying 6 points from games against Bradford City and Yeovil Town, in two 4-0 triumphs. The game is undeniably satisfying when you get it right, and I haven’t been this engrossed in a game for a very long time.

I still take issue with the fact that boards on the game are so quick to criticise your performance, because it genuinely does take a few games to get your team selection and your tactics sorted out. However, I’m aware that this is part and parcel of real football management and that this game is a football management simulator. When you are 10th in League One after 13 games, it’s clear that things aren’t exactly in crisis, but in the real world questions would start to be asked. I found myself bargaining for my job before even a quarter of the season had gone, and yet by the end of the season we had won the league, and although this may seem a bit strange and cause frustration, it is the reality of the job the game is trying to capture.

My biggest problem with “Football Manager 2015” is with watching a match play out. As far as I’m concerned, there aren’t enough animations to keep the matches interesting, especially when you consider the amount of time you have to put into this game to really enjoy it. Your team rarely creates a stunning goal through intricate passing and intelligent movement, instead you see multiple goals flying in as a result of defensive errors. Every through ball seems to be the result of a missed header, or occurs in response to a misplaced pass from the opposing team, and that isn’t good enough. I want to feel a sense of pride in my players when they put the ball into the net, but I can’t do that if the opposition have gifted us the goal.

There is also a frustrating efficiency from set pieces in this game, and it seems that almost every time a corner or free-kick is whipped into the box, the front post is unmarked and the opposition nod the ball home (even when I make sure that my most able player is marking the near post). It’s incredibly frustrating to watch this happen, because even before the ball goes near the net you are annoyed, knowing that you are about to watch your team concede, or at least have the pressure piled on. There aren’t nearly enough counter attacks in the game, and there also aren’t enough deflected goals or pieces of skill on show. I would like to see a back-heel or a step-over every now and again, so that I feel as though I’m actually watching a real game of football.

My final issue also relates to the matches and how it feels to watch then. I feel that there needs to be a happy medium between the key highlights option and the extended highlights option, as well as a possible preview section for the replay system (‘sidelines’ or ‘close’ just aren’t specific enough descriptions of a camera angle, and checking each option individually in order to decide which you prefer isn’t possible). If you choose the key highlights option in this game, it seems as though every single highlight results in a goal, and there are rarely more than two highlights in the first half. This takes the fun out of watching the match, because there is no surprise when the ball finds the net. In contrast, the extended highlights option seems to show you far too much, as you watch your players slowly move the ball around, and hit a shot six or seven yards wide. Watching this doesn’t add to the enjoyment of the game, it only serves to aggravate, particularly if the match isn’t going your way.

Despite some criticisms, “Football Manager 2015” is a great game which exceeds its predecessor in many ways. There are many interesting additions to the game, such as interviews in the tunnel prior to a match and managerial stats for your created manager. It sticks to the formula which the “Football Manager” series has used so well in the past, but develops upon it, providing an even more in-depth experience than we have become accustomed to in this already fantastic franchise. The game is intelligent, rewarding, and downright addictive, which is clear from the fact that I have already played through a season of League One football in the space of just a few days. As a fan of the sport, this is almost the perfect game, and there are only a few small faults to be found. The only reason that this game doesn’t achieve a 10/10 is that there’s still scope for improvement, such as a more carefully constructed viewing experience for watching a match. This game is as good as there has ever been in the franchise and it is more than worth purchasing, it provides excellent value for money, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves football.

8.5/10

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