Football Manager Handheld 2013 iOS Review

Football Manager Handheld header

Football Manager Handheld returns with its 2013 version – no, not the two thousand and thirteenth iteration, just the annual release for iOS and Android. You are tasked with managing pretty much any team that takes your fancy, from the lower leagues to the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid. You create your own legacy however you like, whether jumping straight into the big teams or working your way up from the depths. So will you be a shrewd operator, or a big spender?

It all sounds pretty much like the Football Manager Handheld that came out last year, and it is for the most part with a few refinements. In this instance, that is not a bad thing at all. It’s pretty safe to say that Football Manager Handheld 2013 is by far the best footy management game you can get on smartphone/tablet and one that won’t fail to suck up all the free time you dare to allow it.

Football Manager Handheld screen 1

Complementing the original league line-ups of Football Manager Handheld 2012, there are now two new leagues – those from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to further the managerial choice. The game also comes with a variety of new and noteworthy features. These range from the previously-absent ability to name your captain, the ability to recall from and move players to the Reserve squad, and finally a player form ‘hot list’. Previously, comparing players statistics and abilities was a cumbersome experience. This year, things have been streamlined somewhat and now you have a single player comparison where all the required information is presented on one screen. It won’t win any awards, but it does the job as required.

Player Profile screens now have actual player faces like the PC version (which had already been doing this for a few years). This is, however, restricted to licensed players (FiFPro license). Sadly, club emblems are not present for all of the teams, but beggars can’t be choosers. Also, there is a focus on increased media interactivity. The press now directly ask you about a player’s future, question transfer speculation and the like. These are much appreciated additions, but when you read that these are new features, you can’t help but question why they weren’t there in the first place.

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Gameplay-wise the game hasn’t changed all that much from last year’s version. Minor refinements behind the scenes make the game run smoother and brisker, no doubt. Controlling the game can be pretty finicky, however, dependent on what platform you play the game on. (Note: I used an iPhone 4S for the purpose of this review.) I found my fingers struggling to make accurate formation and tactical changes, much to my frustration. The touch-and-drag mechanic used to move players was more fiddly than finessed on the now-smaller iPhone screen. Personally I would rather play the game on the iPhone 5 screen at the least, or, more preferably, the iPad Mini. This all comes down to the use, however, and how your fingers interact with the screen. But for me, as good as the game was, it was a frustration.

Visually the game hasn’t really moved on, but with this type of game, that is less a gripe and more of a given; though I do wonder if moving forward the game will feature the 3D match engine and in-depth tactical tools of the desktop edition… I can’t help but hope so.

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As a means to make the game more user-friendly, previous barriers to the Football Manager experience can be lowered or removed entirely, providing you are willing to pay your way over the hurdles. If the game is too hard you can buy (cheat) your way to the top just like Chelsea, Manchester City and Paris St Germain. Personally this is not what I would be doing in any sense in a Football Manager game, preferring instead to take a team from the lowly leagues, make them financially solvent and finally take them to the pinnacle of their footballing league. That, for me, is what makes the experience. If you don’t want to deal with all that palaver, sure you can buy your way to success… but that’s on your conscience (cue evil laughter).

But without coming across like a total elitist, if you feel you are struggling you shouldn’t feel bad for contributing a little more to the Sega/Sports Interactive coffers and making the game more accessible for you. Gauge it with your wallet. Jokes aside, you can via the IAP (in-app purchases) and buy various extras such as a cash-rich chairman, improve the stadium and also add-on Challenge Modes. Four of these modes are unlocked from the start, with the remaining three (for now) locked until you either complete the challenges or buy your way into entry. What is most perturbing is that these are the same as last year’s version – ‘The Dangers of Capitalism’ is the only new addition.

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The price of Football Manager 2013 Handheld is £6.99, which may seem quite steep for a mobile game, but you get what you pay for, with the addendum of a few more features and easier levels should you want to pay more. It’s a shame that the less-experienced in this instance are the ones who have to fork out money to enjoy more about the experience. But maybe it’s an incentive to make you work at the game and rely on an IAP bailout only when you cannot progress any further? I like to think of it as that, and I think you should too. It really is a magnificent, feature-packed and well-balanced experience, considering its platform. Personally, the game as-is is more than enough for my usage and the game fulfils all the criteria that you would expect from a Football Manager game, ne’er mind a portable edition.

There isn’t much you can say negatively about Football Manager 2013 Handheld. Sure it’s not a drastic evolution from the previous year’s iteration, essentially being a stat and roster update coupled with a few changes, but when it works so smoothly and speedy, considering all the elements running in the background, this game is a technical triumph and without a doubt the best portable manager experience money can buy. Going forward, I would like to see an evolution of the Football Manager experience from desktop to phone/tablet. I’d like my saves to sync over a cloud and continue my management of my team – if even at a watered-down level – whilst on the move. I spend much of my time travelling and being able to dock my handset/tablet and then continue the game I was just playing on a train/bus/sofa would broaden the experience for me unequivocally.

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The game is more of the same, with some slight refinements, which would be an issue if the game was not so fun and addicting as it is. These refinements fit directly into the game and when you are aware that these are new features, you instead query how the game could have been seen as worthy without such elements – but for some reason when you were playing last year’s game, that didn’t seem to matter. It all works into the essentially drip-fed update mentality of the developers regarding the mobile iterations, and if you are new to the series I highly suggest this game. Each year, the game becomes more and more honed, but it does so at a snail’s pace, seemingly content with playing it safe without challenging itself to do better. It works now, but this creeping complacency could begin to hamper the experience in future iterations. It is the best in the class, but when every other contender cannot be considered, it doesn’t feel the need to radically change and improve.

8/10

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Football Manager Handheld boxart

Version tested: iOS

Also available on: Android

Developer: Sports Interactive

Publisher: Sega

Genre: Sports, Simulation