Football Director DS Nintendo DS Review
The football management genre is the perfect match for mobile gaming, particularly for those with a long commute. Considering how mainstream the Nintendo DS has become, it’s surprising EA and SEGA have not brought their football management games onto the system. Instead, Football Director is the genre’s first foray onto the DS.
It makes a good first impression, allowing you to pick any team from the top 4 English leagues. Most impressive is the full player licensing, so the real names are included. This adds much to the experience and the player ratings are a fair reflection of their real world counterparts. There’s no national, world or European teams to take control over, but you will come up against the top European club sides if you compete in the Champions League.
Opting for my own team, I chose the lovable Chelsea. The squad list was very up to date, bar a couple of exceptions such as Wright-Phillips yet to move to Man City. However, on the goalkeeping front all was not well, with only Petr Cech making an appearance. No Carlo Cudicini or Hilario, which was somewhat strange. At the very least you’d expect it possible to promote someone from the reserve team but there were no keepers there either. There is an Edit Mode for clubs and players, but this only applies to name changes, so it’s not possible to factor in real life transfers before you start, create a new player from scratch or modify stats in any way.
There’s a nice tutorial that is worth activating on your first run through, which tells you about each screen as you browse around. On your dashboard you will find daily bulletins, covering details such as the latest transfers and the draws for the next round of cups. After choosing your team’s starting eleven, formation, tactics – all of which are fairly straight forward – it’s time to get on with the action.
Matches are presented in text-only form, there is no visual depiction of proceedings. This gives the game an old fashioned feel, but should not necessarily detract from the game as long as the textual description of events are detailed enough. Unfortunately the game’s vocabulary is quite limited, with the illusion of depth overly thin, hampering immersion. A frequent occurance is ‘Player x scored from a corner’, but you don’t even know if this was a header or not, whether you scored through a good run, flapping keeper or poor defending. The descriptions don’t feel consistent, as if being randomly pulled out of a hat, and don’t correlate with other events. For example one line would reading team 1 is awarded corner, only for the line below to say team 2 scored from a corner. It’s not long before you regard them with contempt and distrust, and crucially they feel too limited to accurately assess how your team is performing. It would have been vastly improved had there been more detail, mention of passing, players reacting to the referee, or even humour to get you better engrossed in the game.
Unfortunately the atmosphere is worsened by the highly disappointing audio, that in its entirety features only a grating crowd cheer noise and the referee blowing loudly on his whistle. Outside of matches there isn’t even any zen inducing background music, something I have long regarded as an imperative feature since Sensible Soccer emerged on the scenes.
Halfway through my first season I was now few points clear at the top. This is when some very strange things started to happen. I was shocked to read news bulletins saying Cech had left for Manchester United and Deco had signed for Crewe Alexandra. Both on the same day and there had been no messages warning me about this. Because of the aforementioned Chelsea keeper shortage and my failure to sign a backup, I was now without a goalkeeper. In desperate need for a replacement I ventured into the transfer markets and noticed two of the most promising English keepers, Rob Green and Scott Carson, available for the sum of zero pounds. Bargain I thought, and a week later they were in my squad.
Unfortunately, during said week, I had an away game against Newcastle to play. Michael Ballack was the lucky guy to be picked to go in goal, but my managerial talents proved their worth when he kept a clean sheet throughout the 0 – 5 victory. This was something of a high point for me and proves that even in virtual reality, Newcastle can can be a source of much amusement.
Wait a minute… zero pound players?! It wasn’t just Carson and Green In the transfer market there were many of these including Tevez, Mascherano, Reina and Toure, all of whom would be hard to prise away from their clubs. You wouldn’t expect this kind of thing to happen but its a regular event in Football Director. By the start of the second season everything felt totally jumbled up and it was if all the transfers were totally random, rather than based on likelihood, expected transfer fee and history. Fulham signing Torres a fine example, but it got a lot weirder. In my first reason Frank Lampard started every match yet suddenly his overall rating plummeted to 26/100, without any explanation. When Edwin van der Sar replaced Alex Ferguson as manager of United, the game world felt as if it were in chaos.
From then on I started to get full screen notifications about a player wanting to discuss their contract. If this was happening now, why didn’t I get informed in this manner about Cech and Deco? The whole situation was made worst when my feed reported that J.Terry had been suspended while playing for Bolton. I didn’t even know he’d left! Again, no prompts were given prior to him leaving. In another season it said Ashley Cole had gone under the Bosman ruling, which is probably a case of me not looking at the contract screen, but again there were no prompts, despite the fact you do sometimes get full screen notifications about a player’s contract.
Despite these setbacks and the fact it was my first play through, I won the league by 19 points along with the FA Cup. Your reward is a grey screen telling you of your victory, but there is no imaginative newspaper headline or anything memorable. Strangely, despite selling a number of players and signing none, I didn’t have much new money for the second season. One would expect at least £20m surplus, but what with handing out new contracts, all of which require hefty sign-on fees, there’s very little money left for buying anyone. Disappointingly, once you’re onto season two, there’s no option to look back at last season’s league table. Further limitations are apparent in the realm of transfers. Within the English leagues the search filters work well, but European leagues are not included. The only way I could find to browse a European team’s players was when they cropped up in the Cup fixture list as it’s not possible to look at the league tables of other countries.
As mentioned earlier, coverage of matches is rather limited. This could be overlooked if the right tools were at your disposal to evaluate your team’s performance. Unfortunately you’re only given high level details such as shots on and off target, along with yellow cards and possession as a percentage; the kind of details you would see at the end of a Pro Evo match. You can’t really tell how players are performing, where the team is going wrong and in which areas you excel. In the tactics screen you can choose options such as marking type, e.g. tight, man-to-man, zonal and so on, but there is no way to evaluate their effect on the team other than waiting to see what results come in. Even with a top team it was hard to see whether tactical changes were working or not. If managing a lesser side where it is commonplace to win, lose and draw in equal measure, trying to tinker with your tactics and evaluating performance would be incredibly frustrating experience. There just isn’t the information available you need to monitor progress and make informed judgements.
If you don’t fancy watching each match play out, there is the option of skipping text coverage in favour of just seeing the result. This seems to work fine but there is no match report to look over retrospectively, so it’s impossible to even know whether the A.I. automatically subs injured players or not. It very much felt like a roll of the dice rather than a believable face off between teams. Over the course of 2 hours I tried a full season using view result mode, and still managed to win the league despite suffering a stream of injuries that saw youth players comprise the entire bench. Whether you watch the matches play out or not, too many odd things happen, like defenders scoring far too often, and you can go from losing 0-4 at home to United, only to win 4-0 away to Liverpool the next match, without any apparent reason. You can’t help but wonder if the underlying number crunching doesn’t take enough factors into account when determining results.
I understand the benefits of simplicity, Sensible World of Soccer is a favourite of mine, but Football Director just feels overly hit and miss. The limited match engine and performance evaluation options aren’t deep enough and this will frustrate serious gamers and football fans, while casual gamers would have been better served by a more entertaining visual representation of matches. This is a distinctly mid-table performance with room for improvement, but if you can overlook the limitations you may still find the game quite addictive.