Football Manager 2006 PC, Mac Review

This is the second Football Manager game from the new team of Sports Interactive and SEGA, following SI’s split from EIDOS. EIDOS retained the use of the old name, Championship Manager, but if their most recent game is anything to go by, they’ll destroy the CM reputation within months. SI, in contrast, maintained the game engine and slapped a new name onto it. In one fell swoop, they kept their grip on the football management genre intact. Football Manager 2005 was awesome, as have been all of the games that SI has done. Whether under the CM or FM name, they’ve not let us down in producing games that are incredibly addictive and fun to play with an amazing depth to the game found in few titles. I have spent (see ‘wasted’ in the dictionary) more of my gaming time on these games over the years than I have on any other series, so each new version is both an exciting and worrying time for me. Exciting in that each new release brings endless possibilities in my gaming future, but also worrying, in case it finally happens: the first SI release that just doesn’t catch my imagination. I needn’t have worried, though, as the magic is still there!

Graphics

The graphics in Football Manager have always been pretty basic, whilst remaining functional. This version is no different to be honest. SI has resisted the calls to bring us a 3D football engine, and I for one am glad that they did. What they have given us is an improved 2D match engine which is an absolute treat to watch. You may think that there is only so much you could do with a two dimensional flat pitch and twenty two little dots running around kicking a ball. However, these matches look and, more importantly, feel like real football. The movement of the players is extremely realistic in things like the runs that they make and the battle to find time and space, that any ‘add-on’ 3D engine remains unnecessary to me. The ball moves with excellent physics and you will soon forget it’s 2D you’re watching as you scream at your forwards for straying offside again, or your midfielder for delaying the pass a fraction too long. Suffice to say that no other game captures the feeling of being a manager so well, 2D or 3D!

The rest of the game is made up of a series of text based screens, a fact which has led some critics to always dismiss this series as ‘glorified spreadsheets’. This is rubbish, of course, and each screen is packed with so much vital information that there are few other ways to display it. Graphically, this game does what it needs to do and excels in the representation of the matches, and that’s certainly enough for me. One little tip: if you run the game full screen, the resolution defaults to, I think, 800×600. This means that the text looks quite rough if you are used to playing games at higher resolutions. If, as I do, you play the game in windowed mode, it will default to your desktop resolution. On my 17″ TFT, the game looks bright and the text very clear in 1280×1024.

Gameplay

The gameplay in this version remains every bit as addictive as ever, retaining that ‘one more game’ feel that can see you playing for hours longer than you mean to. Despite looking almost identical, SI has included numerous tweaks and improvements to make the game deeper than ever before. The most obvious of these is increased interaction with your players, staff and the media. You will now feel that you have far more individual relationships with players who each have their own motivating factors, from their favourite players at the club, to whether they are settling into the area. These were apparent in the previous game, but you now have more ways than ever to interact with a player in a bid to influence these.

A really welcome addition is the introduction of team talks, at both half and full time. These allow you to give the team a pat on the back, a dressing down, or to comment individually on player’s performances. These can have a real effect on the game, too, so be careful. Feel like telling your temperamental forward that he’s been useless in the first half? Feel free, but the effect on his game could vary from losing interest and sulking, to bucking up his ideas and turning in a match winning performance. It all depends on other factors: how much does he respect you as a manager, how happy is he at the club etc. It all develops into its own story that you play through week to week. During matches, too, you can now introduce new tactics without pausing the game, effectively letting you shout instructions from the touchline. Top stuff!

You will also now have your own contract with the club, initially just for a year at the beginning of the game. It’s up to you to convince the chairman to offer you a new deal, and then to negotiate your wages and terms. This has no real effect on the game, but it’s another good barometer of your performance and standing within the club.

Training has received a welcome overhaul, with a series of graphs and bar charts now showing at a glance the effect your training schedule is having on individual players. These schedules can increase a player’s stats, but they can also decrease them if you don’t get it right. The option remains to have your assistant look after training, but doing it yourself can make a real difference and is well worth the time investment.

The game runs faster than ever before, but still needs a beefy PC to run multiple leagues at once. If, as suggested previously, you run the game in a window, at least you can check your emails if there is a lengthy processing delay. This doesn’t happen often, though, and overall the speed of the game is entirely satisfactory when you consider the complexities of what is going on behind the scenes.

Sound

I almost missed this category out as there is so little sound in the game to comment on. Matches are still accompanied by sound effects of crowds cheering, but these samples remain poor. For me, I usually play with speakers/headphones turned off and my own choice of music playing on the stereo.

Lifespan

Theoretically, this game is endless. You can play season after season and even when all the true life players have retired; the game will keep on creating new players for you. In reality, you will play this until next year’s update is released. SI are also an amazing company for supporting their products, and you can expect numerous updates and patches as the months roll by. In a genius move, the day of release for this game was also accompanied by the release of a major patch. This included many gameplay tweaks and bug fixes, but brilliantly also included transfer data updates right up to the day of release…superb when you want your chosen club’s squad to be as accurate as possible.

I have yet to encounter any bugs, and this seems the most stable release of the series so far, with nothing preventing me getting my head down and getting right into my own world as a Manager.

Overall

This is the best in the CM/FM series to date, no doubt about it. Improvements remain more about evolution rather than revolution, but they are there and they are significant in affecting how the game feels. This remains a world you can become lost in, a game that can engross you, can make you ecstatic, tearful, angry all within the space of a few games. Furthermore, it FEELS just right, you have the right amount of control but there are also enough random elements to make you believe that you are dealing with real people rather than a computer program.

Again, this game remains unlikely to attract those that have previously dismissed it, but I feel that unimportant. I don’t want SI to dilute my gaming experience in a bid to please the masses. I want them to do exactly what they are doing: keep on improving the world’s best management simulation for those of us that value what they have done and continue to do for all of us wannabe football managers.

9 out of 10
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