Review: Football Manager 2007 (PC)

Note: This is a review of Football Manager 2007. North American gamers that don’t import their games should look for Worldwide Soccer Manager 2007.

Game: Football Manager 2007 (Europe)/Worldwide Soccer Manager 2007 (North America)
Developer: Sports Interactive
Publisher: Sega of Europe/Sega of America
Genre: Tradional Sports Stat-Based Simulator
Release Date: October 18, 2006 (Europe)/November 1, 2006 (North America)

American Football fans are a fervent group of people. They get to the stadiums early just to hang out in front of them, buy millions of dollars per year in merchandise with the logo of their favourite team on them, and debate, in person, on radio call-in shows and in message boards, why “their” team is better than the other 31. They are a dedicated group of people when it comes to rooting for large men in pads.

However, in comparison, they don’t have shit on Real Football fans. Football fans spend more money on merchandise, and not only defend “their” teams in all of the forementioned areas, they do so more zealously than in any other sport, and not only that, they seemingly know everything there is to know about almost any player in the world, despite the fact that England alone has over 100 professional teams; if a transfer is made of some Argentinian player to League 2’s Accrington, fans are all over it, dissecting it with percission like a student surgeon at Yale. And don’t get them started on their national squads. As for getting to the stadium? Football fans have one up on NFL fans here, as sometimes, they just wreck the f*cking place. They are an absolutely fanatical group of people when it comes to rooting for smallish men in shorts with funny names.

Therefore, as every fan in every football loving country on Earth (read: any country not named America, and has a GNP of over $1,000 USD) feels they know more about the game than the people that are paid large sums of money to manage their favourite teams, it’s only natural for “manager” style games to be successful. And since every manager game is made in Europe, it only makes sense that they’re all exceptionally good; combine Europe’s fever for football with a geek’s penchance for lots of numbers and formulae, and you’re almost always going to come up with good results. It’s no wonder that there are no fewer than three legitimate options for football management titles in Europe (from Sports Interactive, EA Sports and Codemasters), while America has only one option for fans that want to be NFL Head Coaches, and it sucks.

The marquee title for fans of the genre in days gone by has always been Championship Manager. Then, Championship Manager became Football Manager, in much the same way that Eastside Hockey Manager sold their freeware game to SI and became NHL Eastside Hockey Manager. Every year, the release of Football Manager is greeted fervently in Europe as people take advantage of making online leagues, while people in America greet the release of Worldwide Soccer Manager with… yawns. It’s not Madden, so naturally, most gamers couldn’t be bothered.

It’s too bad, because Football Manager is such a wonderful game that everyone with even a modicrum of interest in football should grab it, and never look back.


FRANCHISE/SEASON MODE

This is really the crux of the game, as there is no other option. In the beginning, you are told to choose a country, then a league, then a team. Afterwards, you set up your manager; as shown in the above picture, I decided to have some fun with mine. You can choose up to three leagues to be playable, but this is more for people that have multiple players; you really only need the leagues in the country that you are playing in (for example, if you’re in the English leagues, it defaults to your lowest level being League 2, but you can also set it up to be Conference North/South). When you select a league, that means it simulates fixtures and does standings and tables for that particular league; for example, if you’ve only picked the English leagues, you’ll see how standings are going in Conference National, but it won’t keep track of fixtures and standings in Major League Soccer or Seire A. You CAN select every single league and have the game do the entire football world, but this is only recommended for online leagues, and even then, it’s only recommended for people running it off a dedicated server; this option is very hardware intensive, and it takes a LONG time to advance time, as the game simulates every stupid game in the Uzbekistani Shithead League, and it’s lower level, the I Only Play Here Because It Beats Starving League.

When you create a manager, a first this year is that you can actually set past experience. This is big for people that want to take over larger clubs; if you go into a place like Manchester United as a young greenhorn with no experience, you’d better get off to a gangbusters start, or you’re gone. Likewise, if you’re an established manager that takes over a team like, say, Macclesfeld in League 2, you’ll be given a little more leeway should you get off to a slow start.

Once in, you’re thrown into the fire; you have to assess your team, check expectations, find out how much money you’re being given for transfers, and set up your tactics, and you really don’t have much time to do it. The rules change and depend on what league or country you’re in, but the game sets things up so that you can find out how your league does things with a mouse click or two.

Just about every option you could want to do with your team is available in this game. You can set training schedules, ask your players to learn new positions, change scouting assignments, determine your lineups and tactics… going over everything you can do here is exhausting and would make this article go on for a very long time. Let me just state for the record that when I gave FIFA ’07 a 10 in this category, it was because it was the best franchise mode in any game where you are an actual on-field participant. This blows FIFA ’07 away by leaps and bounds. No sports game is this in-depth. Period, end of story, it even blows away other games by Sports Interactive. The fact that all of your options are readily available, and easy to find, makes this a much easier game to play. And for every screen, there’s a tutorial that explains everything for you.

The main difference between this and any other game in which you can manage your squad is that you can use the press to your advantage. If a player isn’t playing well for an extended period of time, you can call him out in public, or if he’s doing well, you can praise him. Beware his personality, though; at best, a public calling out will get him focused, and at worse, he could destroy your locker room with transfer requests and bitching in the press. You can also talk about other managers, which will also have an effect on both yours and the other team. Even the slightest thing can affect your team’s morale, and affect their performance.

The biggest difference between this year’s title and all other prior versions is the addition of feeder and parent clubs. Basically, think of feeder clubs as minor league affiliates, like we have in baseball and hockey in North America. Using Sunderland as an example, they have agreements with Harlington and York, lower division teams, where Sunderland can send their younger players for first team experience. There are plenty of reasons to affiliate with a team – for foreign teams, it can be for knowledge of the area, or to expedite getting work permits – and when used right, it can benefit both teams; lower level managers want to affiliate with parent teams so that they can use the good players to move up divisions… and not need parent teams.

Finally, what impresses me the most about this game is how realistic other clubs and their personnel react. Chelsea stole my best fullback in one game with a ÃÆ'”šÃ‚£30 million offer that was so good my chairman took the deal for me, and didn’t give me a choice. Mick McCarthy polarizes his players, Sven-Goran Eriksson is a pussy, Mike Newell is a piece of shit… you name it, it’s in the game.

SEASON/FRANCHISE MODE: 10/10


GRAPHICS

The bad news with manager titles is that they always lack in the graphics department. FM ’07 makes no qualms about where the concentration is, as the graphics are very plain; the skin is plain, and focuses more on being streamlined for easy access than being pretty, and the actual, in-match graphics are nothing more than dots following around a ball. Granted, you can tell exactly what the ball’s doing and how high it is, but let’s face it; they’re dots. It’s very reminicent of the old Genesis game Sports Talk Football, when you played in “Blimp” mode.

Some players have pictures, but thanks to the incredibly dumb liscensing rules for professional football (Thanks, EA! Another fine situation you’ve successfully f*cked up!), anyone who you’d recognise doesn’t have a picture. Most of the teams and players that have pictures are mid-level teams and younger players. Some managers also have pictures, but the percentage is even lower there. The pictures themselves are relatively low-res (the pictures in Eastside Hockey Manager, where there are no licensing rules, are much better).

GRAPHICS: 3/10


SOUND

Some manager titles, like FMA Manager, try to spice the relatively boring gameplay with menu music and other sorts of audio goodness to distract players from the bland nature of the game. Not Football Manager. There is absolutely NO sound to speak of for 95% of the game. None. Not a blip, not a chime, nothing. The only time there is anything to be heard is during matches, and that’s just the crowd. Thankfully, the crowd sounds relatively good, with their activity going up and down depending on how the game’s going for the home side; they perk up if the home squad is making a run, and go bonkers if they score. Unfortunately, they always sound the same, no matter what; their loudness doesn’t matter upon the level of the club, and I’m sorry, but a crowd of 6,000 doesn’t sound QUITE as loud as Old Trafford filled with 70,000+ fans. I think that’s something that can be improved upon next year.

SOUND: 2/10


CONTROL/GAMEPLAY

This is going to talk more or less about matchday; how you can prepare for it, and manage it inside the match itself.

Before every game, you have the chance to determine your lineup, your subs, and your tactics. You will also receive a betting line, showing who the favourite is and by how much (keep this in mind), and chances are good a newspaper journalist will ask you about your chances; your answer will determine how your players react, and it’s important to know how your team’s personality is before you answer. For example, if you have a professional or resolute team, you can raise the expectations a bit, as they will be geared up and ready to go, while if you have a more timid group, you will drop morale, as the pressure will get to them. Let’s say you’re playing a Championship match between Sunderland and Leeds. The Leeds manager can say that he doesn’t respect you much, or doesn’t want you to get promoted to the Premier League. You can respond, but this will affect morale, either positive or negative, depending on your words and the personality of your squad. When you are about to go to the match, you have one more chance to set tactics. The only thing that annoys me here is that your pre-match tactics setting carries over to the next match; you can’t just use a tactics setting for one game, which is just as well, as managers that change up their tactics a lot will end up unsettling their team, and the results will show.

After you set tactics, you go to the pre-game talk, unless you’ve set it so that your assistant manager handles that. This also is going to depend on your team’s personality, but also, how your team is doing, the odds of the game (translation: don’t tell your team you expect a win if you’re a heavy underdog), everything. After your initial talk, the game starts. You have the chance to determine how much of the game you actually want to watch (everything from the whole match to highlights/goals to just a text based play-by-play), and while the game is going, you can also check statistics, or change your tactics. Tactics changes are in two categories: quick and detailed. Quick is for minor changes, like formations and mentalities, while detailed – which, when initiated, wait for a stoppage in play – allows you to make more detailed changes and also substitutions. My only complaint with hwo this works is that the timer, if you’re not watching the entire match, goes very fast, and if you’re trying to time your substitutions (say, taking out a defensive midfielder for an attacker when down late, and trying to get it around the 80th minute), you have to have your mouse set on the “detailed” button, or you have a chance of missing that window.

The part where you’re actually watching the game… it looks a lot more realistic than dots should look. Your dots have little notches that reflect their feet, so you can see what direction they’re looking and turning, and the game itself flows very well, with the play-by-play – down below the pitch – being extremely accurate. The play moves just like it would if you were watching Fox Soccer Channel, and you can even notice the differences between the higher and lower levels of play in the way passes are completed and players react. You’ll even see the occasional boneheaded play; when playing Manchester United in the FA Cup, in a draw of a game where we were underdogs, my goaltender, Stipe Pletikosa, basically shit his pants, kicking the ball right onto Wayne Rooney’s foot, and well… that was it for my FA Cup run. Of course, due to Pletikosa being a little… skittish, I had to compliment him to keep his confidence from taking a nosedive.

I feel like some sort of paid shill, but Football Manager is as close to realistic football you’ll find. Period. My one qualm with substitutions is what keeps this score from going higher.

CONTROL/GAMEPLAY: 8/10


REPLAYABILITY

This game is almost infinately replayable just due to the depth of what you can do. Bored with running a major club? Cool, either resign, or start another game, and take over a lower level club, or even more interesting, take over a club in a country that doesn’t have a very highly regarded professional system. You’ll know that you’re good if you can take some cash strapped club in Russia to the top.

The depth of what you can do is limited only by your interest in the sport.

REPLAYABILITY: 9/10


BALANCE

The game is balanced more or less by it’s unpredictability, but due to the intense depth of the game, and all the statistics, the learning curve is very steep for newcomers, or people that don’t know a lot about football; a “beginner’s mode” or more in-depth tutorial would have been in order for this title, as even the tutorial that the game gives you for each menu doesn’t explain the intricacies of the stats, and what they mean for each position (example, why “marking” isn’t important for your striker). This is helped – and this is new for this version – by the fact that little tips and tricks pop up while the game is processing the rest of the football world; when you click “continue”, other matches are played, and while it gives you random news, the screen also gives you tips, like how to talk to players, what stats are good for certain positions, etc; it also gives tips in the “saving game” screen. These tips are genuinely helpful, however, some of them come and go too fast, and there’s no “archive” for them, so it’s frustrating to see that a tip has come and gone while you’re in the process of reading it.

BALANCE: 4.5/10


ORIGINALITY

The fact of the matter is that any other football manager title, be it FIFA Manager or LMA Manager (Americans, nod your heads and pretend you’ve heard of these games), is that they all strive to do the things that Football Manager does. No other game holds this much depth, so they all try to steal ideas from SI, while making the games prettier. By nature, yearly sports titles aren’t innovative to begin with, but Football Manager does things that no other game will likely do for years.

ORIGINALITY: 7/10


ADDICTIVENESS

Let’s put it this way: This game has an addictiveness rating category on your game screen. I’m not making this up, check the evidence. As you can see by my own rating… uh, yeah.

This definately falls into “one more game” territory, as there is so much shit to do it’s almost illegal. Basically, you get distracted with stuff to do between matchday, and then bang, you’re coming up on a match, so you decide to do the match, but that results in even more shit to do, and… oh, shit, is that the transfer market coming up?

ADDICTIVENESS: 10/10

APPEAL FACTOR

I struggled with this rating; on the one hand, for truly hardcore football afficinados, this is THE game to get, as there’s no other game that does what it does. On the other, I am writing this from America, where in the only form of football that matters, the “kicker” is the team’s wimp, a bigger pussy than the equipment manager. Instead, I’ll find a happy medium: fans that give this game a chance will learn to love it, and those that don’t care, likely won’t care that they’re missing a gem, yet they’ll wish that games like NFL Head Coach did half the shit this one does.

APPEAL FACTOR: 6.5/10


MISCELLANEOUS

This is where I’m going to talk about the editor mode that Football Manager packs with. When you install Football Manager, it installs an editor that allows you to edit anything and everything in the database, and save it as another database. Prior versions allowed you to do this, but it was horribly hardware intensive; this year, Sports Interactive rebuilt the editor from scratch, and while it is much easier on your computer, it’s very confusing to use, and doesn’t have everything you would want it to do. For instance, you can create players, but you can’t upload photos for said players (no chance of getting photo packs for the zillions of players that don’t have photos). Also, since you’re basically using a simple programming tool with a GUI, it’s a little confusing to input stats; if you don’t use traditional metric measurements for your players, you’re going to input the wrong values on a lot of statistics for players and money. Furthermore, while this could be intentional, you can’t go TOO high with numbers, depending on league. For example, you can’t have a Conference South team with a balance of a billion dollars, nor can you have a player with 100% perfect statistics.

And should you decide to put all the best players on a low level team, don’t worry, the game will balance you out. Those players will want a move to bigger clubs ASAP, and will whine and bitch and moan until they get it, and if you don’t give it to them, relax, another bigger club will come along and steal them off your hands for you.

Overall, the editor needs work, but to enjoy the game, you really don’t need it anyway.

MISCELLANEOUS: 5/10

THE SCORES

SEASON/FRANCHISE: 10/10
GRAPHICS: 3/10
SOUND: 2/10
CONTROL/GAMEPLAY: 8/10
REPLAYABILITY: 9/10
BALANCE: 4.5/10
ORIGINALITY: 7/10
ADDICTIVENESS: 10/10
APPEAL FACTOR: 6.5/10
MISCELLANEOUS: 5/10

FINAL SCORE: 6.5/10 (ABOVE AVERAGE)

Short Attention Span Summary
If you take out Graphics and Sound – two categories that couldn’t be less important to a game like this – this goes up to a 7.5 average. Needless to say, a person’s interest in this game is predicated on weather or not they like stat management games in the first place; basically, anyone reading this article in the first place, most likely, is interested in the genre.

If you’re one of those people that needs to have action in a sports title, then go ahead and skip this; there are no shortage of quality football titles that cater to those needs, be it FIFA or Pro Evolution.

If you’re a stat head with even a passing interest in football, grab this title. It’s simply the best management title that traditional sports has, and comparable with the exceptional Total Extreme Wrestling.